This month, Give & Take talks with Margaret Holman, President and Founder of Holman Consulting in New York, and long-time presenter in Sharpe’s popular seminar “An Introduction to Planned Giving.”
Give & Take: How did you get started in gift planning?
Holman: I had worked at a variety of nonprofit organizations in New York City, including CARE, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and Barnard College. I had also done some fundraising and public relations for a number of nonprofits in California, but I hadn’t done fundraising related to planned giving until 1986, when I became the Senior Vice President for Development and Communications at the ASPCA in New York. Since its founding in 1866, the ASPCA had included a box in its annual report that featured the wording for how to leave the ASPCA in your will. Since we had a rich history of receiving bequests without a great deal of effort, I wondered what would happen if we put our shoulders to the wheel and started a program? So I looked around for a consulting firm to help, and after many interviews we selected The Sharpe Group. I attended Sharpe training courses as well. So that was my first real exposure to organized planned giving.
G&T: How have you seen gift planning change over the years?
Holman: There has been a huge change, which has a lot to do with the demographics. The so-called “Greatest Generation,” or “GI” Generation, is gradually dying out now, with the youngest World War II veterans now over the age of 80. We are going to have a big gap between the Greatest Generation and the Boomers.
When I first started out in planned giving, most organizations hired a director of planned giving who specialized in planned giving and did nothing but planned giving full-time. When you attended the Sharpe “Introduction to Planned Giving” seminar in those days, virtually everyone there had the term “planned giving” in their titles. Now, I see the gradual blending of planned giving into the broader development world. Today, you see titles such as Director of Major and Planned Gifts. We used to say this was the perfect job for someone who understood broad-based fundraising because most of the planned giving donors came from the masses of annual fund, direct mail, and membership donors. But when organizations realized that planned giving techniques could also be used to structure larger gifts from traditional major gift donors, planned giving began to be incorporated to a greater or lesser extent into the major gift fund-raising efforts of many organizations.
G&T: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? What inspires you?
Holman: Because I am a consultant, I get a chance to see a wide variety of clients and situations. I have had the opportunity to work with very interesting fundraising professionals, from major gift officers to planned gift officers to special events people. But for me, the most intriguing aspect is having the opportunity to work with trustees and boards of directors. To see an organization both from 50,000 feet above as well as right on the ground makes my life very exciting. Having the opportunity to use my 30+ years of fund-raising experience to get boards to listen to their own development people is fun.
G&T: What do you enjoy most about teaching others about planned giving?
Holman: I love the feedback from students and participants. I teach at NYU over the summer in their continuing education program, and I love the great questions the students have about things we as fundraisers take for granted. Having to slow down and give them a better explanation of how we do things is often a fascinating experience. And seeing the light bulb go on over their heads is a very rewarding part of the job.
G&T: As someone who has worked for a number of years in nonprofit fund development, what attributes do you find are common in the most successful fundraisers?
Holman: If I could get my students to take two courses—one in sales and one in psychology—I would be a happy camper. That’s because the people skills each teaches you are invaluable. A really good salesperson is someone you like to go back to and buy things from because they’re courteous, knowledgeable, interested in you, and want to provide you with the best possible service. Fundraising, like selling, is not coercion; it is helping people realize that they need to support your organization.
When you study psychology, you figure out what motivates people to do things and what kind of signals they are giving off when they’re making this kind of decision. For example, you can’t ignore the body signals that donors send you. If you are talking with a donor and she starts to tune out, she will often sit back and cross her arms over her chest. Inexperienced people will plow on and not realize that the donor is basically saying, “Stop, I am either overwhelmed or this is really not of interest to me.”
To prove my point, during a presentation I made yesterday, I said, “Ok, is everybody ready to learn about a NIMCRUT?” Their eyes glazed over. I said, “If you feel that way, how do you think a donor is going to respond when you come in with charts and tables and diagrams trying to explain a NIMCRUT to them? Why not just introduce the concept of making a gift in such a way that, if times are bad, it may actually help the donor make it through those bad times?” Understanding what motivates donors to make these gifts is very important, much more so than the raw technical knowledge. You can get help with the technical aspects. You can’t buy people skills that get you to the point where you need and can use the technical ability.
G&T: You have written articles for Give & Take in the past on myths about women’s philanthropy. What myths do you think still exist today?
Holman: There are still a lot of myths out there about women’s giving. For example, many people are just astonished to hear that women own almost 52% of the assets in America today. Don’t ask me why. I think some people think that women are still like their mothers, who may have gotten an allowance from their husbands to do the grocery shopping and buy clothes, etc. Now, women are starting businesses at three times the rate of men and have become savvy investors.
Another myth is that women give differently than men do. I think that is very far from the truth. They give in the same ways that men do, they just approach the act of writing the check differently than do men. Women are consensus builders who like to give in groups or like the idea that other women are significant donors to organizations. In my experience and very generally, most men regard giving as a business proposition requiring facts and figures, while women give from the heart and want to be involved in some way with the recipient organization. The approaches should be tailored not only for each individual donor, but also with the idea that women are more likely to become involved through personal experience with the charity. Women and men make the same gifts; they sometimes just arrive at those gifts from different paths.
G&T: Why do you believe people make charitable gifts?
Holman: It makes them feel good. I think it was John Rosenwald who said, “Don’t give till it hurts; give till it feels good.” I think giving, if handled properly by the recipient organization, makes people feel really good. And that’s why they make these gifts. If donors feel good about the gifts they’ve made, you’ll get bigger, better, and more frequent gifts.
G&T: You are currently President of the Planned Giving Group of New York. What do you hope to accomplish during your term?
Holman: We are becoming more inclusive with our membership. Because the nature of planned giving is changing, we can’t survive if we only look for members among the ranks of planned giving officers. So we need to expand the benefits of membership to include folks who are handling planned giving as part of their other development duties, such as major gift officers and annual fund people.