Bequests on the Rise | Sharpe Group
Posted December 1st, 2002

Bequests on the Rise

In this month’s “Gift Planner Profile,” Give & Take features David Mays, Director of Gift Planning at the University of Wyoming Foundation. A graduate of Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina law school, Mr. Mays has worked in gift planning for over ten years.

Give & Take: Why did you choose a career in development?

Mays: My father worked in higher education development for over 30 years, so I was brought up in that atmosphere. When I graduated from law school, I knew this was the career path I wanted to take.

In my first job I worked as the interim Director of Planned Giving at the University of Northern Colorado. I then spent over four years at Colorado State University as the Assistant Director of Campaigns and Planned Giving there. I spent two years at the College of William and Mary as the Associate Director of Gift Planning before coming to the University of Wyoming in 1998.

Give & Take: Bequest notifications at Wyoming have more than tripled in both amount and number since you started working there. What is the secret of your success?

Mays: I believe that the increase in bequest notifications from living donors is due in part to consistent and quality communications with the appropriate persons among our constituency about the importance of including the University of Wyoming Foundation in their wills. Response devices that we include with each mailing on this subject provide opportunities for people who have included us in their estate plans to tell us they have done so.

In addition, our development staff is well versed in this area and comfortable with the subject when visiting with friends and prospects. We also on occasion work closely with a number of allied professionals when they are speaking with interested clients about the importance of charitable estate planning.

Give & Take: Can you be more specific about your marketing strategy?

Mays: When I got here, the gift planning office had never mailed any sort of newsletter to our donor pool, so one of the first things I did was to set up a fairly aggressive communications effort. With the assistance of the Sharpe team, we created our Horizons newsletter, which we mail several times a year to our alumni and friends age 50 and older, including board members. Along with the newsletter, we send out response cards that allow donors to notify us if they have included us in their estate plans, and we’ve had really good response with that. I think that’s part of the reason for our increase in notifications. The other part is just the fact that we’ve been consistent in getting the word out about planned gifts. I am convinced that most people have to hear things more than once before it starts to sink in and they actually take action.

We mail out two other newsletters as well. Twice a year we send out a Legacy Society newsletter to all of our friends who have included us in their estate plans. We usually feature three or four donors and show how their gifts have been put to good use. We also send out on a quarterly basis a technical newsletter to our expanding network of allied professionals around the country—attorneys, CPAs, trust officers. While I often work with donors, we also work with their advisors, and this newsletter helps to remind them of the various gift planning tools that are available to them to help them fulfill their clients’ wishes.

Give & Take: Are you seeing interest in other types of planned gifts besides bequests?

Mays: Yes, gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts (CRTs) in particular. It helps that we are currently in the midst of our DISTINCTION campaign the largest fundraising campaign in the history of the university. These types of gifts count not only in the campaign but may also be eligible to receive a corresponding state match to an endowment if the gift is designated for endowment purposes and is at least $50,000. We have found that, in spite of recent market fluctuations, several donors have chosen these instruments to make their campaign commitment. Most of the realized bequests we have received, as well as the CRTs and gift annuities that have been established, are going toward endowment support, be it for scholarships, faculty, or programs. In some instances, the gifts are large enough, with the corresponding state match, to establish endowed chair positions in various academic disciplines on campus.

Give & Take: Can you tell us more about your DISTINCTION campaign?

Mays: July 2000 was our official kick-off, and at that time our goal was to raise $100 million over a five-year period. In the first 24+ months, we were already over $78 million, so this past September we decided to raise our goal to $125 million. The campaign’s goals are centered on four major areas: endowed faculty chairs and professorships, student scholarship and internship endowment, enhancement of technology and facilities on campus, and expansion of outreach programs to extend the services of our university to the rural areas of the state.

Give & Take: What special opportunities or challenges does working at a state-funded university present?

Mays: Obviously, the $30 million endowment-matching fund that the state legislature established has helped us raise money in our campaign. To receive a match, a gift has to be at least $50,000, and I believe a lot of our donors who were thinking of making a smaller gift are inspired by the match to increase their gift to the $50,000 level. Another bonus is that even donors who establish life income gifts who may not have been able to see their gift in action in their lifetimes can now see the matching funds put to good use immediately.

On the other hand, sometimes people think that a state university receives all its operating expenses from the state and shouldn’t need to raise money. Everybody that’s in this business knows that isn’t true. We receive 40% of our operating expenses from the state of Wyoming, but the rest comes from tuition, research moneys that are drawn in, and private fund-raising. While we’re not bringing in the bulk of the university’s funds, we are providing that extra edge of excellence to create chairs, to offer more student scholarships, or to enhance certain academic programs—things that state funds normally will not cover.

One benefit of being at this particular state university is that we are the only four-year institution in Wyoming, so the university is embraced by the entire state. That’s an advantage that we enjoy that other state universities may not.

Give & Take: What is your guess about what 2003 might hold for gift planners?

Mays: Everyone hopes the market will rebound. We have had friends tell us they plan to make a major gift, but want to wait a little while until the market improves somewhat so their gift can have a larger impact. This is true not only with outright gifts, but also with regard to the establishment of charitable remainder trusts and charitable gift annuities. All we can do is keep these concepts and opportunities visible to our friends and work with them to secure their financial and charitable goals when appropriate.

That being said, we will continue to stress the importance of remembering the university in people’s wills or living trusts. This has, and will continue to be, the most important, and ultimately beneficial, aspect of our gift planning program.

So, for 2003, it will be full steam ahead, as usual.

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