Case Studies and Articles

Getting the New Development Officer Off to a Fast Start – Vaughn Henry & Associates

One of the things I’ve learned about helping new development officers is that the quicker they can find partners amongst for-profit advisors, the faster they can get their programs off the ground.  Why is that?  A Prince survey of wealthy donors published in 1997 stated that for-profit advisors motivated 78.3% of planned gifts.  Since many development officers come up through the ranks as educators or social workers, few have a lot of real world financial experience with significant wealth, so some donors may not feel comfortable divulging information of a confidential nature to employees of charities.  On the other hand, the gatekeepers to private wealth are the professional advisors, so it makes sense to create planning partnerships to further your program’s success. 

Once settled into the job, a new development officer should gather other professional advisors around and create a synergistic relationship.  Where to start?  Find a mentor, even a virtual one, and bounce ideas around.  You’ll never learn if you don’t ask questions because this is a complicated business.  Unfortunately, most development people are thrown into the deep end of the pool without any training and they are soon overwhelmed.  With all of the technical material to learn, information on the charity’s mission and history to absorb, and donor cultivation to keep current, there’s more than enough to stay busy, so delegate the learning to a support group.  Start a planned giving committee and make use of community resources, encourage a bank or financial services firm to co-sponsor an event, find area speakers who are respected and knowledgeable to reinforce frequent presentations.  Offer workshops and ongoing training for advisors, establish relationships and you’ll encourage more cooperation but accept the fact that donors are inclined to support more than one charity.  The problem with some advisors (I’m being blunt here) is that they usually have to see why it’s helpful to them and their clients, and not just an altruistic, tax deductible strategy that many development officers use to motivate gifts from donors.  By presenting objective solutions to donors’ financial and estate planning problems, you can educate advisors how planned giving fits into the process.  Client donors seek advice from many sources, often listening to the last person who talked to them.  If every advisor they refer to validates the planning process and gift planning tools, they will be more comfortable doing something unnatural, i.e., giving their stuff away while they’re still using it. 

Other tools to use?  Make use of the Internet discussion groups, which are especially important in small development shops with no one to bounce ideas around.  Join your local planned giving council and get involved.  Attend workshops and seminars, get as many of your pre-approved committee members as you can to come to your organization and do programs for both the staff and donors, learn wherever you can.

As an example of the collegiality found on the Internet, I asked for some suggestions for new development officers and was offered several excellent ideas, some of which follow:

·      “No one makes a gift until asked to do so.” — Sam Highsmith, JD

·      “Do your giving while you’re living so you’re knowing where it’s going.” — Hal Moorman

·      “Give appreciated capital assets while you’re alive.  Leave IRD assets at death.” — Douglas Wise

·      “if you are benefiting another person who is not your spouse with your charitable gift, it will cost you either unified credit or gift tax” — Stuart Sullivan

·      “if you are wealthy enough, your are going to be a philanthropist when you die, you can choose the charities or the government will choose them for you”  — Stuart Sullivan

·      “Many individuals do not know what the term “charitably inclined” or “nonprofit” means.  However, they are apt to respond positively when asked, “have any organizations meant a lot to you or your family, such as your church or university or Girl Scouts?”  — Kate Busch

·      “Remember, new development person, it costs money to give money away.  Treat a prospect with respect because a gift is an expense from her/his perspective.” — Dick Zinzer

·       “Using a private foundation as the donee charity can permit a family to control the manner in which the family’s wealth is dispensed for social causes, be a focal point for future family interaction, give children, grandchildren, and descendants a clear sense of social and moral duty and purpose, not to mention providing substantial tax deductions.” — Wes Yang, Esq.

·      If you have to make a choice, develop your people skills first and the technical knowledge second.  You meet the people, you can hire the technicians. — Mike Howell

·      “Generally, you should make a charitable bequest out of an IRA or other retirement plan rather than from your will or revocable trust.” — Scott Blakesley, Esq.

Copyright 1999 – Vaughn W. Henry