In this “Gift Planner Profile,” Give & Take talks with David Schaeffer, senior development officer for the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia. As a veteran fund development professional, Mr. Schaeffer reflects on his role as a fundraiser and what that means in today’s economy.
Give & Take: How did you come to work in fund development?
Schaeffer: After graduating from college in 1985, my first job was an entry level position with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. After gaining several years of experience, I ultimately moved to running the planned giving program nationwide. I also have worked for another major health care organization before joining the Shepherd Center in 1999. So my entire professional work experience has been in development.
Give & Take: Tell us a bit about the Shepherd Center.
Schaeffer: We are a private, 100-bed, specialty hospital focusing on catastrophic care. The Shepherd Center opened in 1975 as a result of the efforts of James Shepherd and his family and friends. During a college graduation trip, James Shepherd was injured and suffered paralysis from the neck down. When his parents brought him home to Atlanta, they discovered there was no adequate medical facility that could provide James with the level of care he needed. James did walk again thanks to extensive rehabilitation in a facility in Denver. Once James recovered, the Shepherds began asking, “Why doesn’t Atlanta have a medical facility to help people like James?” So they talked with leaders in the community and eventually opened the Shepherd Center as a 6-bed unit focusing on spinal care in an Atlanta hospital. Now we have expanded our programs to include care for brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, and other neuromuscular disorders. We are now the largest center of our type in America.
Give & Take: What do you think your chief role is in the fund development process?
Schaeffer: My main role is to nurture my organization’s relationship with friends of the Center. And making them aware of how they are making a difference to our mission is so important. I also feel it important to continue the education process with donors and their advisors, making them all aware of ways they can do more and what options are available to them. I have discovered over the years that you can’t overeducate your donors when it comes to planned giving. You may think that since you have already sent out materials about gift annuities that you shouldn’t send any more, but people’s interests change constantly. For example, we believe that now may be the perfect time for a donor to hear the gift annuity message again. A large part of my role is continuing that education process so that when the time is right for a donor to think of a planned gift, they will think of us.
Give & Take: What have you learned over the years that might help fellow development professionals in their work, especially regarding gift planning in our current economic environment?
Schaeffer: What I have learned is that the people who care about you the most are going to be the ones most likely to take the step to include your organization in their estate plans. So continuing to educate our friends about planned giving options is very important in our current environment. And we must be patient. Even in these economic times, we are still regularly hearing from people who are notifying us that we are in their estate plans. We still have people calling us interested in specific planned gifts. We must remember people do want to continue to support the charities that mean a lot to them. Just because we may be in uncertain economic times does not mean that people stop giving to causes they care about, they may just look at different ways of doing that. But you still have to stay visible to your donors.
Give & Take: I understand you have just helped complete a significant planned gift. Could you tell us about it?
Schaeffer: We are in the middle of our 25th Anniversary Campaign. I am staffing the major gift committee that consists of volunteers who are helping us identify who could make gifts to the Center. One of our volunteers brought several friends to a lunch presentation and tour. We talked about our goals, our medical programs, and our gift planning program.
The day after the luncheon an attorney who attended the tour called me. He said he had a client who was highly invested in one stock and needed to diversify his assets. He wanted me to put together some examples of a lead trust, a charitable remainder unitrust, and a gift annuity for his client. It turned out the client was very familiar with the Center and was very interested in supporting our work. He was attracted to the idea of a deferred gift annuity. But he was concerned about perhaps needing the income before the scheduled start date.
So we decided to use what is known as a “flexible deferred gift annuity,” which allows the donor to choose each year whether or not the deferred gift annuity will begin payments. For example, in this particular gentleman’s case, on December 31 of each year for a number of years, he can decide whether or not he will kick in his deferred gift annuity and begin receiving payments.
This $5 million gift, which is actually two flexible deferred annuities of $2.5 million each, is a good example of how planned giving can be incorporated into a capital and endowment campaign.
Give & Take: What aspect of your job gives you the most satisfaction?
Schaeffer: I think for me it is the relationships you build and the friends you make with people who believe in your organization’s mission. Many times donors will say, “I really wish I could do more for your organization.” And then I have the opportunity to ask if they are aware of the various planned giving tools. That often leads to an opportunity to explain that there are ways they can do more for the organization and at the same time protect their financial needs. It is fun to see people being able to achieve their philanthropic goals often when they didn’t realize they could do something significant at the time.