Two of the keys to success in gift planning are building relationships with donors and then stewarding the relationships over the long term. First and foremost, understanding how—and when—to communicate with your donors is critical.
Sharpe Group talked to Rochester Regional Health Development Officer Lori Aratari about how a simple act of kindness fostered a meaningful relationship that resulted in a gift of a lifetime.
In 2013, Lori Aratari was a newly hired development director for United Memorial Medical Center, a hospital in New York that later merged with Rochester Regional Health. After spending a few years at United Way in corporate giving, Lori transitioned to the healthcare sector with little experience in gift planning. She relied on her relationship-building skills as she navigated her new role. Early in her now 10-year tenure, she received a note from a donor requesting an appointment and expressing interest in leaving a legacy gift to the hospital.
When they met, the donor provided information about her plan to include United Memorial Health, now Rochester Regional, in her will. “When I am meeting with donors, I focus on building a relationship with them. I don’t ask many questions about the actual gift amount. The gift will come in the long run if you do the right thing.”
That was one of only two in-person meetings Lori had with the donor. The donor politely declined Lori’s invitations for a meal or coffee. “She was a very humble woman. She preferred to keep in touch through written notes. I knew she was interested in our fundraising events, so I would write her and tell her what that year’s gala theme was or the items we were auctioning off.”
“Typically, we corresponded three or four times a year until this past May when she passed away.” After learning of her death, Lori reflected on their first meeting. “I asked about her experience with the hospital and why she chose to leave a gift. She explained that while she had had great experiences there, she decided to include the hospital in her plans because of the sympathy card she received from me when her brother passed away.”
“I was new and doing my best to train myself,” Lori explained. “I looked up donors who had made consecutive gifts. I saw this donor had been making smaller gifts for about 15 years and wanted to establish a relationship with her. I happened to notice that her brother passed away, so I sent her a sympathy card.”
“People don’t send cards anymore. I just want my donors to know that I am there for them. I’ve built relationships over the years by recognizing the things that are important in their lives, whether it’s a baby, a wedding or even a death in the family. I think we all find it touching when we receive a handwritten note.”
Lori was stunned when she got the news of the donor’s $1.3 million gift. “I was a bit emotional when I found out how much the gift was. I was overwhelmed by her kindness and generosity.”
“This is actually my first planned gift. I’m just thrilled to know we are going to put it to really good use.” ■
Ainsley Willis is an editor, working with clients to create custom printed and digital communications. She has authored Sharpe Group blogs and is a contributor to Give & Take.
MEASUREMENT & METRICS: Steward Your Donors
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