WETA-TV/FM Receives Largest Bequest Ever | Sharpe Group
Posted April 1st, 1997

WETA-TV/FM Receives Largest Bequest Ever

A recent gift in the high six-figure range was unanticipated by WETA-TV/FM, Washington, DC, when it materialized in late 1996, but turned out to be the largest estate gift in the station’s 35-year history.

Bequest supports public affairs

In her will, drafted in 1989, Mrs. Rosalie Koch directed that her bequest to WETA be used for “television news and public affairs programs similar to Washington Week in Review and the Bill Moyers programs that promote peace through understanding.”

Chronology of a full life

A look at the life story of Mrs. Koch reveals a pattern familiar to those regularly engaged in planned gift cultivation. Mrs. Koch was born in 1908. A graduate of Radcliffe College, she earned her masters degree from the University of Chicago School of Drama. From 1931 until 1943, she headed the speech department at Lassalle Union College in Auburndale, Massachusetts, and served as a speech instructor at Boston University.

Mrs. Koch joined the Navy in 1943, then moved to the Washington, DC, area with her husband Herman in the 195Os. In 1958 she retired from the Naval Reserves as a Lt. Commander. From 1959 to 1973 she was the national director of women’s affairs at the American Forest Institute.

An extraordinary “regular” member

Like so many of those who remember charitable interests in their will or trust, Mrs. Koch was a modest contributor to WETA. In fact, she gave 15 gifts averaging just under $30 each over approximately 7 years.

By making her ultimate gift from part of her “personal endowment” when she no longer needed the funds, she preserved her own economic freedom and well-being while enjoying the satisfaction of planning a wonderful legacy with her assets.

The size of her gift was in part due to its structure. Rather than a specific dollar amount, Mrs. Koch designated that three charities share equally the residue of her estate after all other bequests, including several small specific charitable bequests, had been distributed. Her bequest underscores the fact that residual bequests are predictably several times the size, on average, as bequests stating specific dollar amounts.

The profile of Mrs. Koch that emerges is typical of many other donors. She was a person who…

  • cared deeply about the organizations she remembered in her plans
  • lived modestly while managing and preserving a lifetime’s assets
  • was widowed and without other living heirs
  • gave modestly, but regularly
  • Importance of follow-through

WETA’s senior development officer, JoAnn Azzarello, wanted a photograph of Mrs. Koch to run in the station’s publications as well as more information about her. A brief request to contact the station was run in The Washington Post television column along with an announcement of the gift.

Immediately, a woman who was part of the same community group as Mrs. Koch contacted Ms. Azzarello and invited her to join the group of Mrs. Koch’s closest friends for lunch. Ms. Azzarello came away from the luncheon with photographs, anecdotes, and a new circle of friends who expressed an interest in becoming more familiar with WETA.

WETA president, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, expressed regret at not being able to thank Mrs. Koch personally, but said “the regret was mixed with joy, both for the programs the gift will bring to audiences and for confirmation that individuals in the DC area value WETA so highly.”

In a follow-up discussion, Ms. Rockefeller expressed interest in helping nurture relationships with others who, like Mrs. Koch, often do not stand out from other donors, but who would undoubtedly enjoy words of appreciation from the CEO and others in the organization.

Mrs. Koch’s gift provides a classic case study of a planned gift. It is at once both a surprise and a predictable capstone to a friendship between an individual and a nonprofit organization. The gift serves as a reminder of the simple, often humble, origins of a donor’s ultimate gift.

Gift Opens Door to Reveal New Ideas

One idea that WETA plans to implement in the future is to have development department staff members give senior managers a short list of older, long-term donors who have demonstrated an affinity for the station’s programs over the years. CEO Sharon Rockefeller and others have committed to personally call these special people to simply thank them for their years of support.

The phone calls represent one key to opening up enduring relationships with donors who may be capable of making major deferred gifts, but are only able to give modest current gifts.

Often, when the CEO dons the fund-raising hat, activities focus on enhancing relationships with contributors of large outright gifts, as well as with corporate, foundation and political contacts. While this work is critical to the overall success of a nonprofit, chief executives are taking note that the average bequest in America ranges between $25,000 and $30,000 and that total bequest income from individuals to U.S. charities exceeds corporate contributions virtually every year.
With these facts in mind, it makes sense to direct more attention to unlikely “major donors” hidden among the regular contributors to many organizations.

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