If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now | Sharpe Group
Posted November 1st, 2000

If I Only Knew Then What I Know Now

They say hindsight is twenty-twenty. This is true in most areas of endeavor, and is certainly true of charitable gift planning.

Give & Take asked five gift development professionals, whom you may remember from past interviews and articles, to share brief thoughts on what they wished they had known about gift planning when they began their careers. We hope their insights from over 110 years of combined experience will enlighten and inspire fellow development professionals.

Focus on cause, not tax benefits

From Judith Kaufman, vice president for development and external affairs, Chicago Historical Society, Chicago, Illinois:

When I first started working as a planned giving director I became lost in the process. I was excited and delighted with the various vehicles that provided income for a donor, tax savings, oh, and by the way, a charitable gift. The very vocabulary enthralled me. I spoke of CRATs and CRUTs and CGAs and NIMCRUTs. I even thought of people who should be advised to flip their NIMCRUTs. I sounded wonderfully wise at cocktail parties. But while swimming in this alphabet soup, I one day realized I had lost sight of the fact that donors, first and foremost, give to causes, not for tax and financial reasons, but to support their charities’ goals. It also dawned on me that the planning tools were the same for all organizations so the ones that actually completed the gifts were the ones who understood the broader motivators that were at work.

Now that I’m wiser (though certainly not older) when I call on donors I first speak about funding opportunities. I present naming opportunities. And when the donor has agreed that (s)he wants to support my project but that perhaps the cost is more than they are able to provide at this time, only then do I suggest that there are ways to give that can facilitate their wishes. I then offer to think about ways they can accomplish multiple objectives and suggest that we could perhaps meet again with their tax advisor to discuss more options. Remember it’s the project, not the process!

Listen and learn

From Lindsay Lapole, territorial planned giving director for the Southern Territory of the Salvation Army, Atlanta, Georgia:

Twenty-two years ago, one of the first donors I met with told me she wanted ‘an annuity ’ during our first meeting. After discussing the annuity, I felt compelled to share my newfound knowledge of pooled income funds. After all, I was making this call on my way home from a conference where I had become an expert on our pooled income funds, which were paying a double-digit return. However, my suggestion was made without knowing the gift would be $80,000 that had been in the bank since 1933. Needless to say, I was quite the hero in August 1979 when ‘my’ $80,000 gift to the Salvation Army pooled income fund was the largest gift made to the fund up to that time.

When I called the donor in January 1980 for a routine follow-up visit, her response was startling. She did not want to see me then and she said she never wanted to see me again! As we discussed the gift with its higher income, higher deduction, and opportunity for growth, I learned the most valuable lesson of my career. Her simple response was, ‘Yes, but if you had let me have the annuity, part of my income would have been tax free!’ In the previous visit, I had forgotten to ask her why she was interested in an annuity. She was the only donor I could never again visit until the day she died. But when she died, a note to the Territorial Director was found about the unsatisfactory gift I had sold her. She was also the last person I failed to listen to before I started making recommendations.

No need to know it all

From Robert T. Bridges, president of Asbury Foundation for Theological Education, Inc., Orlando, Florida:

I began in the field of gift planning in 1979 at a social service agency serving children in the Chicago area. I came into development with absolutely no experience. Everything was new to me. Being a person who has to have all the T’s crossed and I’s dotted, I wanted to know everything there was to know about planned giving before I worked with donors and prospects. I felt I needed a complete understanding of unitrusts, annuity trusts, charitable gift annuities, life agreements, life insurance, etc. My fear was that my donors would know more than me or, at the very least, think I was severely deficient if I came to them not knowing it all.

I wish I knew then what I know now… that is, you don’t have to know it all to be successful in planned giving. It is much more important to build positive relationships with those who have the interest and capacity to become donors than it is to build a knowledge base of revenue rulings and technical information which may only have one application every five years. Relationships are what is important. Relationship building is really a synonym for many aspects of nonprofit financial development. You can outsource technical support, but you cannot outsource relationship building. Knowing people… loving people… being committed to the cause. That is what is important. Being technically astute is certainly important and often necessary, but understanding your donors is required. I know that now… I wish I knew that then.

Dilemma: defining gift planners’ limits

From Dave Dunlop, 38-year veteran development officer from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. Mr. Dunlop now consults with a number of America’s leading nonprofits:

Unfortunately the most significant gift of a lifetime must sometimes be treated confidentially because of family, business, community, or other sensitivities. As a result, knowledge of the gift and recognition of the generosity and nobility of spirit that prompted it may be limited to a few people. The planned giving professional is often one of those few. Because of that fact, he or she will also be one of the few who are in a position to participate in the ongoing acknowledgments of that gift and to help sustain and develop the giver’s satisfaction in making it.

The planned giving professional’s familiarity with what may be a confidential gift presents both an opportunity and a dilemma. It presents a unique opportunity to develop both the satisfaction of the giver in making the gift and the giver’s relationship with the organization. However, the planned giving professional’s time and talent are needed to help others with the gift planning process. The high demand for the specialized knowledge of the planned giving professional leaves little time for him or her to nurture the relationship with a giver once a gift agreement is signed.

The solution to this dilemma is twofold. Planned giving professionals must recognize that their unique knowledge and awareness of confidential gifts may, on occasion, make them indispensable to the development of the giver’s relationship with the organization. Secondly, just as major gift fundraisers must have some knowledge of planned giving, so too must planned giving professionals have some knowledge of the person-centered, relationship-based fund raising used to nurture selected individuals’ relationships with the organization.

I realize now that it is sometimes more important for the planned giving expert to spend a portion of his or her time helping steward past gifts they were an integral part of than to devote all their attention to new situations while leaving the ongoing cultivation to others.

Forget the board—go for the volunteers!

From Aviva Shiff Boedecker, J.D., director of gift planning, Marin Community Foundation, Marin County, California:

What I know now that I wish I had known earlier is that the best planned gift prospects are donors, volunteers, and long-time staff members. People join boards for many reasons, some of which are unrelated to love of your organization or mission. They may have joined for professional reasons, to make social connections, or for the prestige. They may be fine board members who contribute generously to the annual fund or campaign for capital funding, as well as give their time, but they frequently do not feel the commitment to your organization that is requisite for making a bequest or life income gift.

On the other hand, regular donors, volunteers, and longtime staff members often regard the organization as ‘family.’ Their commitment is strong enough for them to elevate the organization to the status of a family member and include it in their estate plans. A bequest or life income gift is the ideal way for them to give the gift they would really like to make but don’t feel comfortable with on an outright basis.

Bequests are easy for donors — non-threatening because they are revocable and because there are no complicated tax rules to comprehend and remember. There are no special documents to prepare (everyone needs a will anyway!) and they are familiar tools for ‘leaving a legacy.’ Life income gifts may also help the donors meet their current needs for income and diversify an unbalanced portfolio.

An informed board is important to the continued viability of any planned giving program. Some board members may become, or identify, planned gift donors themselves. But do not make them your primary prospects for planned gifts. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy and won’t waste precious time that is needed to make a new program successful or to reinvigorate a long-term planned gift development effort.

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The publisher of Sharpe Insights is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Sharpe Insights may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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