1997 Tax Act Changed Gift Planner's Life Judith Kaufman | Sharpe Group
Posted March 1st, 2000

1997 Tax Act Changed Gift Planner’s Life Judith Kaufman

In this month’s “Gift Planner Profile”, we talk with Chicago gift planner Judith Kaufman. Ms. Kaufman, who most recently served as the executive director of planned giving at Illinois Institute of Technology, has just assumed a new position as vice president of development and external affairs for the Chicago Historical Society.

Give & Take: What led you to a career in fund development?

Kaufman: I had worked for 17 years for nonprofit organizations and found myself gravitating toward major gift planning. At that time I was working with the founders of an organization who were in their seventies and eighties. They were very active in the organization, and were very much ready for someone to focus on fund development. When the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 was enacted, for me it represented a perfect time to start thinking about working on planned giving fulltime. At that point it became apparent that many of the rules were changing, and it might be an opportune time for me to do what I always wanted to do on a fulltime basis.

Give & Take: What is it about your work that inspires you the most?

Kaufman: When you are working with a donor and you wind up in a win/win situation and when you are able to help someone make a great gift they might not otherwise be able to make. You get to sit down with this donor and help them fully realize their charitable intent and make the biggest gift they are capable of making. And when that happens successfully, it is wonderful to see the look on a donor’s face. They realize they have made a significant contribution to their favorite charity, perhaps improved their financial status, and are benefiting from significant tax savings. This is a very satisfying experience.

Give & Take: How do you balance serving your donors and serving your institution at the same time?

Kaufman: I don’t think this necessarily needs to be a balancing act when you are working with¬†donors who really want to do what is best for the institution. The only conflict that you normally run into is if the donor has a gift in mind that the institution does not really have a need for. In my experience, this is rare, and generally the donor and gift planner can reach a mutually agreeable compromise when it does.

Give & Take: What is the most challenging aspect of gift planning? How have you handled it?

Kaufman: The most challenging part is convincing major-gift-oriented staff that planned or deferred gifts are wonderful and necessary. They are what keep the organization going long-term and are often the source of the institution’s endowment if you look very deep into history. Planned gifts are thus what the chief financial officer can look toward to determine where the organization is going to be financially down the road. The planning of organization’s campaigns increasingly hinges on deferred gifts. Nowadays when people start talking about major capital campaigns, they are often budgeting for 30% or more of that campaign to be fulfilled with deferred gifts. So getting that message out is the biggest challenge. I think all of us who work in planned giving need to keep pointing out the benefits of planned gifts until the rest of the major gift community says, “Yes. You’re right. We need to have a strong in-house program for planned giving.”

Give & Take: What has been some of the best advice you have received about planned giving?

Kaufman: The best advice I ever received about planned giving was “just do it.” It goes back to the summer of 1997 when the Taxpayer Relief Act was enacted. At that point I was vacillating about whether to go into planned giving. I always wanted to do planned giving, but I was thinking to myself, “I am not an attorney. Do I know enough? Am I smart enough? Can I learn enough?” My mentor told me there would never be a better opportunity than at that point to make that switch, and he was right.

Once I decided to dive into planned giving, I attended a Sharpe training seminar in the fall of 1997. I was so glad to know there were experts out there who could teach me what I needed to know. I knew that even if I had to take that seminar and 50 other courses before I learned it, at least I could become what I wanted to become because there was assistance out there.

When I started IIT, we were lucky to have Robert F. Sharpe and Company under contract. I knew if I ever had a question, I could call on them to help. It was interesting because at first I had to call quite often, but now I know a lot of the answers myself!

Give & Take: Working at an educational institution, you must have dealt with a wide variety of alumni and friends from all age groups. How do you communicate effectively with such an age-diverse constituency?

Kaufman: It is really easy to work with a wide spectrum of ages in planned giving because there are so many gift planning vehicles to work with when you understand how they fit in the age and wealth spectrum. In most donor situations, you can look at the vehicles and look at your donor and find a match. And that is fun. That to me is one of the most interesting and challenging parts of gift planning.

When you realize that you are working with someone with strong charitable intent, you communicate with every age group the same. . . you only have to speak much louder with the older donors!

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