This month Give & Take talks with Tamara Sperling, director of gift planning at The Wilderness Society in Washington, D.C. The Wilderness Society recently completed a third charitable lead trust (CLT) from a long-time board member. Here Sperling explains how the benefits of the lead trust—for the donor, his grandchildren and The Wilderness Society—have influenced this donor’s decision to fund multiple trusts over the past 13 years.
Give & Take: Will you tell us about your recent charitable lead trust, the third from this particular donor?
Sperling: This gentleman, who is 86 and was in the financial industry, is on our board and serves on our finance committee. He is one of our highest level donors and volunteers. Before I worked with him on this gift, he had already funded two other lead trusts with The Wilderness Society—one for $2.5 million in 1998, and one for $1.5 million in 2002. Obviously, he is thrilled with the lead trust as a way to give—he thinks it is the best thing since sliced bread!
Last fall, our president and major gift officer were preparing to meet with him about his annual gift. Before their conference, they asked me what planned giving ideas they should mention to him as well. I suggested they discuss how he liked his current lead trusts. I also recommended that they make a subtle inquiry about whether The Wilderness Society was in his will or estate plans. At his age, I felt this might be an appropriate time to try to confirm his intentions. I suggested they talk with him about how he plans to leave his legacy to this organization that he loves so much and has entrusted with so much of his time and other resources over the years.
My colleagues went in to the meeting with a proposal for a combination outright gift and endowment gift in his will. The donor’s focus, however, was the lead trust. I then sent him a proposal for a new trust with a 6 percent payout that would result in a generous gift while completely eliminating gift tax on the amount used to fund the trust. While he listened to me and asked a number of questions, the donor did not want a payout that high and already knew what he wanted to accomplish. He had already worked with his own advisors on the details of this gift. I worked to formulate language specific to the gift and its uses and spoke with him and his advisors several times leading up to completion.
I contacted the donor’s attorney, and he explained the low payout rate the donor wanted and how it could result in more benefits to the donor and us in the end. So I learned a great deal from both the donor and his financial advisors as we worked on this gift, which will ultimately benefit the donor’s grandchildren. This donor wanted to make a gift to The Wilderness Society while at the same time providing generously for his family. He was very methodical about choosing the lead trust as a way to accomplish these dual goals.
G&T: Your program has obviously been successful. What led you to a career in fundraising?
Sperling: I have been in planned giving since 1994. I trained as a paralegal in college. When I decided to apply for a planned giving/foundation assistant’s position here at The Wilderness Society, the planned giving director really liked my legal services background and the fact that I had done legal research. So I was hired and divided my time between the planned giving and foundation groups. Later, when they asked me if I wanted to focus solely on one of these two areas, I chose to join the planned giving group because I felt it suited me best.
I also spent a few years working in planned giving at World Wildlife Fund. I learned a lot in my time there. But when the president of The Wilderness Society asked me to come back as director of gift planning, I happily accepted the challenge.
G&T: What is it about planned giving that you like most?
Sperling: I really love working with older people. Maybe it is because my own grandparents died at relatively young ages and I miss them. Older people have such great stories to tell and they are so forthcoming and honest.
I also like that planned giving is so multi-faceted. It is not just about proposal writing or major gift fund-raising. There is a marketing component, a technical component, relationship component, etc. You have to have these different skills to be successful.
I remember a Give & Take article that Robert Sharpe wrote explaining that a good gift planner needs the heart of the Tin Man, the smarts of the Scarecrow, and the courage of the Cowardly Lion. [See “A Brain, a Heart, and Courage” from the Feb. 2010 Give & Take at www.sharpenet.com/bhc.] I definitely see that with myself, since I am much more the analytical type and enjoy crunching numbers all day long. But I have learned to enjoy the heartfelt relationships that I have developed with our donors.
G&T: Tell us about how your planned giving program communicates with donors.
Sperling: With the Sharpe Group’s help, we have designed a newsletter specifically for our planned giving donors so they are recognized for what they have already done for us. I think it is beneficial because people call us to talk about the newsletter—donors want the answers to our crossword puzzle, to talk about an article they read or find out more about a photo they liked. It may be hard to measure this newsletter’s success with precise numerical metrics, but I know the calls and responses we receive serve to confirm donors’ commitment to the organization.
We send newsletters three times per year to our planned giving prospects. We also send postcards in between the newsletters. We call donors and visit them when possible. We also stay in touch with those who have expressed interest through our website and email and invite them to events.
We have had to be a bit more proactive in our marketing efforts because between the years 2004 and 2007, there was no planned giving marketing. I am definitely seeing a dip now as a result of that lapse in activity just four to seven years ago. So we are trying harder to make up for lost time.
G&T: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in planned giving?
Sperling: Get out of your office and visit with as many donors as quickly as you can. You will influence gifts while also learning who your donors are and why they give to your organization. Make as many phone calls and get as comfortable talking to people as you can. Put yourself in those awkward situations. All of this will make you more effective in talking with people about planned giving as your technical knowledge grows. Doing is the best experience.