Putting the Donor First | Sharpe Group
Posted July 1st, 2002

Putting the Donor First

Eleven years ago, in July 1991, Give & Take featured Marty Matula, then Associate Director of Planned Giving at Morton Plant Mease Foundation in Clearwater, Florida. In this issue of Give & Take, Ms. Matula, now Executive Vice President of the Foundation and Dean of the Planned Giving Track at the AHP Institute for Healthcare Philanthropy, shares her reflections on how her program and the field of gift planning in general have evolved since we last spoke.

Give & Take: How has your gift planning program changed since we last spoke to you?

Matula: We’ve grown a great deal. Our expectancy list of irrevocable and revocable gifts has really grown as well. It currently stands at around $90 million. As a result, we’ve been able to commit $50 million to our hospitals’ plans for renovation over the next 10 years. That’s in addition to what we raise for programs and services. All of those years of work and documenting and booking and caring for people have paid off in the form of the major impact we are now having on this hospital and our community.

One thing that has not changed since we last talked is our commitment to earning the donor’s trust. I feel that this can best be achieved if the donor feels a familiarity with not just the person running the planned giving program but with all of those within the Foundation. For this reason it is very important for development executives to stay with their programs, to get to know the people, and to do the things that keep them out in front of donors all the time.

Give & Take: Tell me more about how you communicate with your constituents.

Matula: I’ve always known that direct mail and publications have been a huge part of our success. We have a gift planning newsletter, Legacy, in which we highlight donors that have given through their estates. The awareness that creates—and the consequent marketing of planned gifts—is a very important way of keeping in touch with the donor. We also highlight donors in our Foundation publication, The Circle. That’s a way to give feedback and make certain our donors see what their dollars are doing for the community.

In addition, we have a variety of different programs, services, and activities that keep our donors happy and involved with the hospitals and the Foundation.

Give & Take: How do you keep your program fresh and up to date?

Matula: Every year we look at our program and decide which planned gifts we’re going to promote. In the post-September 11 economy, we’ve found that certain types of trusts have not been as attractive as they have been in the past. Our donors now seem to be more interested in the charitable gift annuity. As a result, this year we’ve focused on the annuity in all of our publications. We’re also seeing more interest in the deferred gift annuity. Over the years, it seems that when the investment markets are flat or down, the charitable gift annuity is more popular, and when people are more bullish on the markets, charitable trusts hold more attraction. And, of course, bequests are almost always the bread and butter of a planned giving program. For that reason, it’s important to maintain relationships with people who have told you that they’ve included you in their will or trust. You don’t just say thank you and never talk to them again. These people are very important. We include them in our Heritage Club, which we named the Adler Guild Society after William and Elizabeth Adler, whose bequest to Morton Plant is the largest to date. We send them cards and flowers, and we just keep thanking them, loving them, caring for them, and we find they never change their minds unless there are unforeseen circumstances beyond their control.

Give & Take: As someone who has obviously had great success in building relationships with your donors, what do you think is the most common mistake gift planners make?

Matula: Going in and talking to a person about all the technicalities of a planned gift before first building the base of a relationship through nurturing and shepherding them. You have to focus first and foremost on the donor’s needs.

Another mistake, especially in the case of a community-based organization, is not to also focus attention on the professional advisors in much the same way you do your donors. If you gain their trust, their respect, and preserve their dignity, gifts will be more likely to come from those in the community that are both your donors and their clients.

One of the keys to our success is our effort to build good relationships with professional advisors in our community. At the time we last talked to you, we had relationships with around 40, and that number has now grown to 170. It’s become a really important part of our program and has made a huge impact on our community.

Another common mistake is to lose patience and focus energies elsewhere. And as I mentioned before, if you’re starting a program, you need to stick with it. I’ve been with the Foundation for 16 years now, and most of our staff has been here for at least 10 years. I think a lot of our success can be attributed to efforts to minimize staff turnover and the relationships we’ve been able to build over time as a result. Our board members have also been key to our success, not just as donors themselves but as advocates of the Foundation. They know and understand planned giving and have seen firsthand what it has done to build the hospital. They support it, they back it, and they participate in it. We’re very fortunate to have them and, again, they have been a valuable key to our success in planned giving.

Give & Take: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in development?

Matula: This may sound obvious, but it is important to have a deep understanding of what they are raising money for. Every cause is different and as a result different planning tools may be more appropriate in some cases than others. Possessing a thorough knowledge of special programs and projects allows development executives to confidently share that information with donors and professional advisors. The better informed they are, the more they will be able to help.

I think it’s important for every development executive to take at least a basic course in the tax and other financial aspects of gift planning. If they plan to make a career of charitable gift planning, I would urge them to go as far as they can in obtaining information that will be useful in working with donors and advisors. I became a certified financial planner in 1993, and I attend the National Committee on Planned Giving national conference every year. Everyone has to find his or her own comfort level with the more technical aspects of gift planning, but over the years I have found the more knowledge I have as a gift planner, the more helpful I can be to our donors.

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