Unified Communication Plan Generates Gifts | Sharpe Group
Posted September 1st, 2013

Unified Communication Plan Generates Gifts

Hugh Haskins is Director of Planned Giving at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. Founded in 1776, Hampden-Sydney is one of the oldest educational institutions in America and is one of only three remaining all-male colleges or universities in the country. Below, Mr. Haskins offers tips on working well with other fundraising departments, building strong relationships with donors and making the most of the unique challenges and opportunities of working at an all-male college.

Give & Take: What led you to a career in development?

Haskins: After I graduated from Hampden-Sydney in 2001, I took a job in the college admissions office. Two years later, I left admissions to start a career in banking. I worked in banking for about four and a half years before deciding to return to higher education. I joined the staff at Ferrum College as Director of Development in 2008. Two years later, the opportunity became available for me to return to my alma mater, and I started work as Director of Planned Giving at Hampden-Sydney.

Give & Take: How does the gift planning function interact with the other fundraising departments at Hampden-Sydney?

Haskins: In addition to my position in planned giving, Hampden- Sydney has four major gift officers, one annual giving officer and one person responsible for reunion giving. The other development officers and I work very closely together. They have become knowledgable concerning planned giving and have increasingly learned how to recognize an opportunity to augment a potential gift by combining it with a planned gift component. Our offices work in tandem, with high levels of communication.

Give & Take: What are some of the most effective ways you communicate with donors?

Haskins: When I first started at Hampden-Sydney, the planned giving office did not have a unified communication effort. One of my first tasks was  to construct a marketing plan with the help of Barlow Mann, Ashley McHugh and the rest of our Sharpe Group team. We tailored a planned giving newsletter,

The 1776 Society, which we mail twice a year to alumni and widows from the classes of the 1930s through the mid-1970s. I coordinate my efforts with the other development staff so that our communication efforts will coincide with reunions and other events at the college.

I’ve been very pleased with everything the Sharpe Group has done for us. All of the materials Sharpe has helped us produce have been extremely polished and professional. Our donors comment very favorably on our newsletter, and, more importantly, they read it. This is going to be our third year with Sharpe, and we’ve accumulated a significant number of new bequest notifications each year as a result of the planned giving newsletter.

For example, the newsletter recently generated a $1 million bequest that we would not otherwise have received. The donor’s widow told us after he passed away that her husband was planning to make a bequest to another institution, but our newsletter caused him to reflect on his time at Hampden-Sydney and make the bequest to the college instead. I’m grateful that, through our marketing efforts, we were able to help that donor make a very lasting impact on the college.

In addition to our regular newsletter, Sharpe designed and implements our planned giving website. I email our donors each quarter with information about planned giving topics and include links to the website. I also direct donors to our website when they want to explore a topic in depth on their own or with their advisors. Our donors find the website very easy to navigate and like the fact that they can quickly get to the information they need through interactive gift examples.

Give & Take: What efforts do you undertake to engage not just alumni but also their spouses and widows?

Haskins: We always try to remind alumni how important their support of the college is. By making a gift, they are paying it forward to future generations. We host scholarship luncheons so donors can meet our honor scholars and learn about the research opportunities their gifts have made possible. Seeing the impact of their generosity on current students firsthand and on their alma mater does more than anything else to encourage donors to give again, and perhaps even more significantly, in the future.

Given our demographic base, the connection to the institution has to be meaningful not just to our alumni but also to their spouses and widows. I try to make sure that the widows of our alumni continue to receive all communications from the college. Once a year, I remind them of the opportunity to make memorial gifts in honor of their husband. I also send them holiday and birthday cards throughout the year. I would say roughly 20 percent of my planned giving efforts revolve around making sure widows of our alumni remain engaged with the college and feel that their involvement with Hampden-Sydney is substantive and meaningful.

Give & Take: Do you have any advice for people who may be starting out in development?

Haskins: Obtain the knowledge you need to be effective. When I first came to Hampden-Sydney, I was encouraged to register for all of Sharpe’s seminars. During my first six months on the job, I attended three Sharpe seminars and got to know Barlow Mann and Robert Sharpe. I recommend Sharpe seminars to everyone who works in planned and major giving. They will provide you with an indepth understanding of your donor base that will allow you to marry your institution to the donor’s needs and coordinate the efforts of various components of your fundraising program. Also, try to budget at least an hour every day to interact with donors. Thank them for past gifts and update them about major events at your institution or organization so that they feel involved and connected. The payoff is well worth the time you invest.

For instance, a few months ago I called a gentleman who hadn’t made a gift since 1997. I thanked him for his past gifts and let him know about the exciting things going on at Hampden-Sydney. About a month later, he made an unsolicited gift that was the largest gift he had ever made to the college. Development officers are always going to have more on our to-do lists than we can possibly complete, but taking one hour out of your day to thank donors can have a huge impact on the sustainability of your institution in the future.

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