Persistence Pays Off | Sharpe Group
Posted August 1st, 2002

Persistence Pays Off

In this month’s “Gift Planner Profile,” Give and Take speaks with Robert Wuillamey, Planned Giving and Major Gifts Officer for Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York City. Mr. Wuillamey has been involved in development for over 15 years.

Give & Take: What is the mission of Catholic Medical Mission Board?

Wuillamey: Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB) is a Catholic leader in international healthcare. We provide healthcare services to the poor in developing countries around the world. We work closely with a number of domestic and overseas partners to provide services in four basic areas. We procure pharmaceutical and medical supplies for distribution to hospitals, clinics, and to support our healthcare initiatives overseas. CMMB also has a medical volunteer program which places doctors and nurses for long- and short-term volunteer service in developing countries. In addition we are committed to improving the technical skills of indigenous medical professionals and para-professionals through our training programs. Most recently, CMMB has made a major commitment to develop programs that combat critical healthcare crises such as the spread of TB and HIV/AIDS. As we move into the future, we will focus our efforts on initiating programs that provide primary health services throughout the world.

Give & Take: What strategies have you found to be most successful in generating planned gifts?

Wuillamey: CMMB has a strong direct mail program and most of our planned gifts come about as a result of promoting giving opportunities through this fundraising vehicle. I attribute our success in generating planned gifts with our conscious decision to better show how giving impacts our mission.

There is a tendency for some gift planners to focus almost exclusively on the tax and financial benefits of a planned gift. While these benefits are certainly important, we have found that what primarily motivates a person to make a gift is the belief that he or she can actually make a difference to the organization and the people we serve. Through our planned giving newsletters, brochure mailings, and acknowledgment inserts, we always try to make people aware of how their gifts are going to impact our ability to plan for the future. Once a donor makes that connection, the gift comes naturally. When I came on board in 1998, our gift annuity program, for example, was averaging around $350,000 a year. Now, as a result of this new approach, we are on target to top $1,000,000 annually.

Give & Take: What sort of interaction do you have with your donor base outside of direct mail?

Wuillamey: We have a Legacy Society for donors who have established planned gifts, and we try whenever possible to meet with supporters face-to-face. However, most of our supporters have come to us through our direct mail program, and that tends to be a different kind of relationship from one that is developed as part of a major gift program. I have found that while donors cultivated through direct mail are very willing to support CMMB through outright and planned gifts, they can be reluctant to move that relationship to a more personal level. Cultivating that personal, more intimate relationship is our greatest challenge.

When I worked at a private secondary school it was very easy for me to know who our supporters were and what motivated their giving, because of their affiliation with the institution. My experience now is very different. Catholic Medical Mission Board has over 60,000 very diverse donors and their reasons for supporting us are equally diverse. Though we try to deliver certain core messages, we are conscious of the fact that our donors may have very different expectations of us. Personal contact and phone calls are essential, because they allow us to get to know these individuals better and understand their motivations. These are critical ingredients in the process of completing a planned gift.

Give & Take: You have mentioned the success of your gift annuity program. How did you achieve that success?

Wuillamey: When I came on board here, the average annuity gift was somewhere around $2,500, with a number of $1,000 gift annuities. Now, the average gift annuity is approximately $10,000, and $50,000 and $100,000 annuities are not unusual. We also have a number of annuitants establishing additional annuities each year.

In our literature, we try not to focus exclusively on the details of how a gift annuity works. What I have found to be successful are simpler marketing messages that keep our organization and our mission at the top of the donor’s mind. For example, one thing that we have added to our marketing mix that has been successful in generating interest, inquiries, and even gifts, are annuity postcards. We send out simple postcards updating people about a change in gift annuity rates or tax changes that might affect them. People are already familiar with gift annuities and how they work as a result of our newsletter and other communications efforts. Sometimes they just need a simple reminder as to why this vehicle might be a good opportunity for them. We’ve had good response from these mailings because people take the time to read them. Sometimes less is better.

The important thing is to get a response. Look at what you’re doing and determine if you’re getting the kind of reaction you thought you were going to get. Don’t be afraid to try different things.

I credit our success with the gift annuity program not only to what we have done here. We had a tremendous year this year partly because the market has been so volatile. People are looking for alternative ways to give that stabilize their income. And, I also credit the planned giving community as a whole for making people aware of various planned giving vehicles.

Most individuals are well educated about planned giving opportunities. Our challenge now is not so much one of education, but rather distinguishing our organization and mission from the countless others that are competing for the same supporter. The truth is that people are going to give to the organization with which they feel most closely associated, so the cultivation of individuals and the personalization that you give your program are critical.

Give & Take: What about other types of gifts besides the gift annuity?

Wuillamey: CMMB has had a pretty good track record of promoting estate gifts and that has paid off with a steady stream of income from bequests and trust gifts. Though it can be difficult to measure the immediate impact of your marketing efforts, over the long haul, if an organization sticks with it, you can be assured of a solid return. I am certain that the income we are realizing now from estate gifts is the result of work done by my predecessors several years ago.

Give & Take: In your opinion, what attributes should a successful gift planner have?

Wuillamey: First, it is important that your organization have a compelling mission and one that is clear and readily understandable by donors and prospective donors. Gift planners have to believe strongly in that mission and be able to articulate it clearly and passionately.

You also should have a genuine love for people. Development officers have to really like to meet with individuals and find out what motivates them, what their desires are, and what they’re trying to accomplish. Then, they need to try to match those needs and desires with those of their organization using the most effective gift planning tools at their disposal. There has to be a willingness to work with people and to really listen to what donors are saying. Successful gift planners have to want to help donors meet their goals.

Patience is also an important attribute. It can be a long-term process-first articulating the mission and then learning the prospective donor’s needs, finding what he or she is trying to accomplish, and finally matching the donor’s desires with the organization’s needs. If a gift planner starts out thinking that he is going to get a gift on the first visit or with his first mailing, he’s going to burn out and become disappointed very quickly.

You never know when the right time will be for someone to make a planned gift. That’s why it’s so important to be patient. A prospective donor may not respond in the first month, six months, or a year, but being patient and continuing the relationship lets them know that they are important to you, and that makes a difference.

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