As the new year began, a question was posed on the PPP Leadership Institute listserv: How do we see the future for gift planning? A lively discussion ensued, as will happen when a question like that is posed to a bunch of professionals who are passionate about philanthropy and, admittedly, perhaps a bit proprietary about this field we call charitable gift planning. There was mention of blended gifts (a combination of outright and deferred), being good stewards of our organizations’ long-term interests, and the pendulum-swing from separate planned giving departments in charities, to combined major and planned gift departments, back to gift planning specialists. And that was before we even got into the issues of the economy and financial markets. On that one, the Magic Eight Ball says, “The answer is unclear.” Indeed.
To me, the question is more about the future of philanthropy and the role of what we have been calling “planned gifts” in that future. My mantra has always been that a planned gift is simply a specially structured major gift that helps a donor fulfill both charitable and personal financial goals. If that’s the case, then major and planned gifts are inherently integrated. It is also a bit of the philosophy behind the PPP mission: Charitable giving made most meaningful.
In the early days of gift planning, those special techniques we called planned gifts – gift annuities, pooled income funds (remember those?), charitable remainder trusts in their many variations, and charitable lead trusts – were almost exclusively the purview of specialists on staff at charitable organizations, especially universities and colleges, major health care institutions, and large national organizations. Charitable bequests were more widely understood and often discussed in the offices of estate planning attorneys, but not too many of those practitioners were suggesting these other tools for fulfilling clients’ goals.
A lot has changed in the past 20 years. Many more estate, tax, and financial advisors are very familiar with, in some cases expert in, various charitable techniques. There are a number of planned gifts being crafted without the involvement or even the awareness of the charities they will benefit. And more and more development professionals know at least something about planned gifts, and many small organizations effectively incorporate them into their fundraising efforts. Even if they’re not quite sure what it is, just about every person of significant wealth who is middle-aged or older has at least heard of a charitable remainder trust. Perhaps they don’t all need one, but their eyes may be open to the possibilities of long-term charitable planning.
I still think there is a place for the gift planning specialist at the not-for-profit organization, someone who knows more than the average bear about these special techniques and about the tax and financial planning structures that underpin their potential. But if those people are simply advisors, sitting in an office cranking out gift annuity illustrations, reading IRS bulletins, and waiting for their colleagues to call, that organization is going to miss out on a lot of great revenue – and their donors are not going to fulfill their greatest philanthropic potential.
Fortunately, that isn’t happening much anymore, at least as far as I can see. Development professionals, whether generalists or major gift officers, are eager to know more about different giving techniques. Universities and other institutions are including planned gifts in their multi-year fundraising campaigns and developing gift counting policies that appropriately include and recognize all gifts. And once a major gift professional is part of a team helping a donor make a gift that includes both an outright contribution and one that is part of her long-term plan, that gift officer is a planned giving advocate for life – as is the gift planning specialist who just helped bring in current revenue for a cause he is passionate about.
If all development professionals, non-profit CEOs, and donor advisors think of planned gifts as specially structured major gifts that help donors fulfill both charitable and personal financial goals, the future is bright. So bright, in fact, we might have to wear shades.
About Shari Fox
In her role as Assistant Vice President for Development at the University of Michigan, Shari Fox has senior responsibility for the Office of Gift Planning, Stewardship and Donor Relations, the faculty and staff campaign, and several constituent fundraising programs. Before joining the University of Michigan in 2006, Shari was Director of Gift Planning with The University of Cincinnati Foundation for almost four years. Prior to joining UC, Shari led all development and community relations efforts for Beech Acres, a 160-year old child-focused family service agency in Cincinnati, served as Endowment Director for Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, and worked in endowment and planned gift administration at Fifth Third Bank.
Shari is a past chair and former board member of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning and a past president of the Greater Cincinnati Planned Giving Council. She is currently on the faculty of the Planned Giving Institute at University of Richmond and has served on the Editorial Advisory Board for the monthly newsletter Planned Giving Today. Shari is currently an active member of the Planned Giving Roundtable of Southeast Michigan.
Shari received her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a major in Finance from Miami University and her M.B.A. with a concentration in Management from Xavier University.
Shari enjoys travel and reading and is a closet writer, penning personal essays, memoir, and opinion editorials, perhaps for publication in the future.