D. Kay Malone, J.D., is the Senior Director of Gift Planning with World Wildlife Fund. She started her career as a trial attorney before becoming Director of Major Gifts and Planned Giving for Project HOPE, and later Director of Major Gifts at American Farmland Trust. She has served in her present position at World Wildlife Fund since 2008. Here she shares with Give & Take the story of a remarkable donor devoted to helping preserve the tiger population in Russia who chose to accelerate her giving during her lifetime so she could see her gifts in action.
Give & Take: I understand some planned gift donors at WWF have decided over the years to accelerate their giving so they can witness the impact of their generosity during their lifetimes.
Malone: Yes. One donor in particular comes to mind. In 2000, at age 81, this donor contacted our planned giving office to inquire about setting up a life estate arrangement. She had been a member of WWF since 1985, but this was our office’s first interaction with her.
This donor had a particularly interesting history. Born in Austria July 2015 in 1919, she immigrated to the U.S. shortly before WWII without any family or other support. Over the next 45 years she enjoyed a successful career in marketing for the aircraft industry in California. She then retired to a ranch in rural Oregon, where she spent more than 20 years devoted to her land. An ardent conservationist, she even set up a conservation easement alongside a beautiful creek that traversed part of her property.
It was this ranch that she wanted to give to WWF in the form of a life estate. After talking with her, we learned that the ranch was her biggest asset. We were concerned that she may eventually need to sell it to fund her living expenses, so we encouraged her to consider gift annuities instead to enhance her income. This interaction was the start of a long relationship between my predecessor in the planned giving office and the donor. He first visited
her in 2003 and over time developed a close friendship. He became truly fond of her, as development officers often do with special donors. When he realized she didn’t have many other people in her life, he started calling her regularly just to check in and make sure she was well.
As he got to know her better, he realized one of her main conservation interests was protecting Amur tigers and leopards and their prey in the Amur-Heilong region of the Russian Far East and northeastern China. Once an avid traveler, she had learned much about the issue while exploring the tiger-range areas of China, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, where poaching and illegal trade are rampant.
Since she no longer enjoyed leaving her ranch, WWF arranged for our experts in the field to occasionally visit her to keep her updated on their progress in the region. When they couldn’t meet with her in person, they would phone her or send her information about their work. This partnership with our program staff was a vital component in maintaining and building our relationship with the donor over time.
This donor let us know early on that WWF would receive the bulk of her estate. As she became more informed about our critical needs in tiger conservation, she decided to start accelerating her gifts so she could help fund vital programs straight away. After she sold her ranch in 2007, she gave WWF her largest outright gift to date, a gift of $500,000 from the proceeds of the sale. From 2007 until her death, she continued supporting WWF’s work in the Amur region with subsequent five- and six-figure gifts. In explaining her reasons for making these gifts during her lifetime, she once told WWF that she didn’t know how long she would live but that she did know the tigers needed her help now rather than later.
When I came to WWF in 2008, my predecessor transitioned to a different role that doesn’t involve regular contact with planned giving donors. In spite of this, he decided to remain this donor’s main contact at WWF because of his longstanding friendship with her. He visited and called her regularly until her death in 2011 at the age of 92. As she had always promised, WWF was the sole beneficiary of her estate and also received the remainder interest in her gift annuities and life insurance policy proceeds. Despite the substantial outright gifts made during the last decade of her life, these bequest gifts totaled close to $1 million. Her total giving after first expressing interest in a planned gift at age 81 was $1,857,000.
I am so happy she decided to accelerate a portion of her giving so she could witness the impact of her gifts during her lifetime, and I know she would be gratified to know that her estate is being used to help protect the Amur tigers and leopards she so passionately loved.
Give & Take: Are you seeing any trends in the types of gifts you’re receiving?
Malone: Some of the demographic trends we have been hearing about for years are proving to be true. More people are including living trusts in their estate plans, and we are seeing many more estate gifts come from this source
than we did 10 or 15 years ago. Also, it is becoming more common for us to be named as the beneficiary in life insurance and retirement plans. I think this is the result of a change in the way people save for retirement. In the past, many donors had pension plans at work, which did not allow for beneficiary designations. Most of the donors who have recently started to pass away instead had defined contribution retirement plans such as 401(k)s, which they chose to leave to charities as the most tax-efficient choice.
Give & Take: What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Malone: Although working with donors like Gertrude is wonderful, in recent years I’ve become more focused on the marketing side of my job. WWF has well over one million active members plus several million more names on
our house file. These donors come from a variety of backgrounds and age groups, so it’s vital to segment our list and target our messages. Taking the time to learn more about our donors and then segmenting the donor list using predictive modeling is vastly more efficient than sending the same communications to everyone on our list. And it’s pretty powerful to be able to mail the most appropriate thing to the donors who are most interested in what you have to say.
Segmenting and modeling help us not only be good stewards of the funds we are investing in marketing but also allow us to have better conversations with donors. Surfacing leads from those who are genuinely interested in what we are doing enables us to get back to those potential donors quickly, efficiently and in a very targeted way.
Give & Take: Do you have any advice for those who are new to the field?
Malone: Get to know your fundraising colleagues— both in your office and at other organizations. The relationships I’ve formed throughout my career with other planned giving professionals have made a huge difference in my ability to perform my job well and in my enjoyment of my work. Every year when I go to the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning conference, I walk into an auditorium full of old friends.
Everyone needs help now and then. It’s nice to know I can pick up the phone and ask Robert Sharpe or someone else a question, and others can do the same with me. There are so few professions that have the level of collegiality and support that exists in gift planning. That’s what I think people new to fundraising should embrace. And for those who have been in fundraising for a while, if you’re not reaching out to other colleagues, I think you’re missing out on one of the best things we have going for us. ■
Consider using Sharpe’s Donor Data Enhancement Services to segment your donor list. For more information, contact a Sharpe Group representative at info@SHARPEnet.com or 901.680.5300.