Georgina West is director of gift planning at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, N.J. Monmouth recently received an interesting real estate gift from a dedicated supporter. Here Ms. West shares with Give & Take how the donor’s choice to give a portion of her residence enabled her to maximize both her tax savings and the impact of her gift to the university.
Give & Take: What led you to a career in fundraising?
Georgina West: I’ve been at Monmouth University since 1997, but I started my career at Gonzaga University. During my eight years at Gonzaga I was responsible for university relations and worked closely with development. I moved east to Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, then accepted a position as director of a community hospital foundation. It was there that I became heavily immersed in fundraising and planned giving for the first time. When I moved to Monmouth a few years later, I began as a major gifts officer and then assumed a more specialized role in planned giving in 2003.
G&T: Can you tell us about the life estate gift you recently received?
West: A long-term friend of the university now in her 70s approached us about making a significant gift to Monmouth. She already had several gift annuities with us and had been a regular annual fund donor.
The donor wanted this to be a substantial gift but did not want to exceed the maximum charitable deduction she could use. This amount had declined with her income as she had recently retired. After exploring various scenarios with our Sharpe Group consultants and the donor’s advisors, we decided that her residence was the best choice to fund the gift. Her home had more value than she could use as a tax deduction in the current year, so she deeded a percentage of it to the university and retained the right to use the home for the remainder of her life.
This will be a very valuable gift when received, but nothing about this gift was straightforward or easy. The donor and her advisors live in a different state, so we worked long distance with various parties for more than a year before the gift was funded. But with the help of her advisors and a number of people at our university, we were able to help the donor make the gift. Better still, we anticipate that the donor will continue to give portions of her residence as her tax situation allows.
G&T: What techniques have you found to be most successful in your planned giving work?
West: All of our development officers work closely together, so we are attuned to each other’s efforts and responsibilities. For instance, our major gift officers often identify those who could benefit from more effective gift planning as they visit with donors. They pass that information on to me, and we are then able to work together to establish a more in-depth relationship with those individuals.
Our university president has also been a tremendous asset in our fundraising efforts. He’s well-respected in our area and is able to speak knowledgeably about ways to give to Monmouth, including planned gifts.
This kind of one-on-one contact is not always practical, so we also try to keep up a regular stream of communication with our donors. The Sharpe Group helps us produce a regular newsletter with a response device that allows donors to request additional information or notify us that they have included us in their estate plans. Our donors also receive our university magazine, which always contains information about campus activities and academics and an envelope for returning a gift or requesting information.
G&T: How has the economy affected giving to the university?
West: We have been relatively fortunate. We do not seem to be having an issue with existing commitments, and so far our annual fund is ahead of last year. That being said, we have not received as many notifications of planned gifts as we did last year. Several estates currently in the settlement process have taken longer than usual, but just one of them is projected to be less than the amount specified in the donor’s will.
G&T: What advice do you have for people just starting out?
West: Know what you don’t know and don’t be afraid to ask those who do. Most people in this profession are more than willing to let you benefit from their experience. All you have to do is ask.
Bringing Donors Together
Special events for top donors can help remind them that they are an important part of a larger community. At Monmouth, says Georgina West, “the planned giving office hosts several events throughout the year to honor members of our society for planned gift donors and others who have made irrevocable gifts to the university.
“One of our most successful events is an estate planning program we offer every fall. The speaker, who is a member of our faculty, is very well respected in the community, so attendance is always high.
“This event gives us a good opportunity to meet with donors and prospects, but we make sure they do not feel any pressure to make a gift. The topic changes each year to ensure the material we cover is relevant to our donors. This year, the speakers shared ideas about ways to handle the uncertainty surrounding estate and capital gains taxes.”