Timothy B. Strawn, CAE, is President of the Benevolent Endowment Foundation of The Ohio Masonic Home, a continuing care facility that is part of the larger Masonic organization. A member of the Masonic Fraternity, Mr. Strawn has been able to combine his vocation with his avocation to ensure passion for his work. Here he shares with Give & Take how his personal commitment and a renewed focus on planned giving have led to fund-raising success.
Give & Take: Can you give some background to the Masons?
Tim Strawn: Freemasonry is the world’s oldest and largest fraternal organization. While we are not really connected with an occupation today, Freemasonry evolved over time from the guilds that took root in the Middle Ages. To make the distinction between the Masonic Lodges and those who still practice masonry, we have adopted the name “freemasonry.”
The mission of our organization is to take a good man and make him better. To this end, freemasonry is centered on three cardinal tenets: brotherly love, relief, and truth.
Freemasonry boasts several million members worldwide and a couple of million in the United States. However, there is no overarching national or international leadership. Each state is sovereign unto itself, with its Lodges, or chapters, organized under a single state Grand Lodge. Some of our best-known members are the Shriners, but we have other organizations as well. The Order of Eastern Star was created for the wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters of Master Masons. The Fraternity also sponsors a number of youth groups.
Give & Take: What kind of charitable work do the Masons do?
Strawn: I’m very proud of our charitable work. The Masonic Fraternity is responsible for more than $2 million of charitable care every day in this country, and 60 to 65% of that goes to people who are not affiliated with our Fraternity.
A large part of our charitable work is done through our Shrine hospitals. Shrine hospitals were started to treat children with orthopedic problems and are now also known for their expertise with burns.
Unlike most other hospitals, all of the medical care the children receive—from hospital stays to follow-up care to prosthetic devices—is done free of charge. This was made possible through wonderful gifts over time and the outstanding work of our 101 local Shrine centers.
In addition, the Masons operate Masonic Homes in 37 states to care for the elderly and for children.
Give & Take: How does Ohio Masonic Home relate to the larger organization?
Strawn: The three basic tenets of Freemasonry—truth, brotherly love, and relief—led naturally to the establishment of Masonic Homes for the care of children and the elderly. Our Home began in 1892 as a refuge for worthy Master Masons and their families who had fallen on hard times. Since our founding, we’ve served over 10,000 adults. For a period of time, we also served as a Masonic Children’s Home.
Give & Take: What led you to work at the Masonic Homes?
Strawn: My uncle was a Mason, so I’ve always been familiar with the good work they do. I grew up in the Order of DeMolay, which is one of the youth groups sponsored by the Freemasons. It was a very natural thing for me to become involved with Masonry, and I’ve been a Mason ever since.
However, I didn’t always work with the Masons. My undergraduate degree is in journalism and public relations. After graduate school in public administration, I worked on a University staff for about nine years and in association management for twelve years. I then came to the Masonic Home as Vice President of Development and became President of the Foundation when we reorganized our activities here.
When I first started in development work, I had a lot to learn. Sharpe’s training seminars and consultants were very helpful in getting me educated quickly. Most of what I know about planned giving has come in one way or another from a Sharpe seminar, brochure, newsletter, or Give & Take, and I’m very pleased with the response we’re getting from the use of Sharpe materials.
I’m very fortunate in this job in that I’m able to combine my vocation and my avocation. I’m happy and excited to get up and come to work because I love what I do. Somebody in my business can’t ask for more than that. When you really love something and are truly committed, it comes through.
Give & Take: Who are your constituents?
Strawn: They are, not surprisingly, almost exclusively members of the Masonic community. However, we’re trying to expand that to include the general community. Prior to 1997, our facility was available exclusively to Ohio Master Masons and their wives and widows. For the past eight years, however, we have extended care to the community at large. One of our goals is to increase awareness of our facility within our community, and we’ve had some success in doing that with several fund-raising initiatives, such as our annual golf event.
Give & Take: What fund-raising techniques have been the most successful for you?
Strawn: We are fortunate that The Ohio Masonic Home established an endowment more than 80 years ago and began at that time to encourage people to support our work through outright gifts and bequests. Currently, roughly 75-85% of our gifts every year come from bequests and trusts.
Most of our bequest gifts have been “over the transom”—in other words, without our previous knowledge. Our efforts in the past through Sharpe’s booklets and brochures, and currently with our new planned giving newsletter, are helping people self-identify so that we can have an opportunity to thank donors and cultivate relationships with these special people.
I have wanted to start a newsletter program for some time, and earlier this year we mailed our first issue of Cornerstone. We sent it to around 2,500 people, and so far we have had 26 responses! It’s exciting for us. Five of those 26 told us that we were already in their wills. Maybe more importantly, 10 people indicated that they would consider putting us in their wills.
I remember from one of the many Sharpe seminars I have attended that when donors put a charity in their wills, they are elevating that charity to the status of a family member. Of the 26 responses from our newsletter, 15 have either done just that or are considering doing so.
In addition to our Sharpe newsletter, we also have a planned giving column in a quarterly newsletter that we mail to about 130,000 Masonic members in conjunction with our Grand Lodge. We’ve also just added an annual appeal in addition to a year-end appeal.
Give & Take: What is your favorite thing about your job?
Strawn: It’s wonderful to be able to help people support causes that are important to them. At The Ohio Masonic Home, I have the opportunity to work for an organization that I love and from which I have personally benefited. It’s a wonderful opportunity that a lot of people don’t have, and I feel very fortunate.