The Summit: 5 NCPP Storytellers You Won’t Want to Miss

Posted by National Association of Charitable Gift Planners on Aug 20, 2015 4:22:41 PM

The SummitWe asked André R. Donikian, chairman and founder of Pentera, Inc., now in its 40th year, to design The Summit track for this
year’s National Conference on Philanthropic Planning in Orlando. Here is his take on the speakers he selected for a track designed to appeal to the most experienced gift planners.

When you’re asked to come up with the speakers for the NCPP track called “The Summit,” you know the pressure is really on. Last year my friend Frank Minton did it, but he’s a mountain climber, so summits are no problem for him. For me it took some thinking and what I thought about was, “Who would I really like to listen to?” I think I came up with a pretty good list. They have selected their own topics for The Summit track, but as part of asking them to speak I also asked them to comment on planned giving—past, present, and future. Some of their comments are included here.

Jon Heintzelman (Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt)—Those who attend Pentera planned giving seminars know I tell a lot of stories, and a number of them involve Northwestern University. That’s no coincidence; back in the day when Jon Heintzelman was running their major and planned gifts program, Northwestern had one of the most extraordinary professional staffs ever assembled. At the conference, he’s going to talk about a fascinating study—which he conducted back then and more recently repeated with information from the schools he has been with since—that looks at the predictors for gifts. I can’t wait.

Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in planned giving…

“We had a great run from the mid-’80s to 2000, particularly in life-income gifts—15 years of a golden age. Then life-income plans went into hibernation for a while—about a decade. We may not have the same kind of run going now, but planned giving has come out of hibernation. My sense is that for the next 5 to 15 years planned giving is going to be the major growth area for our business. We now have a healthy tax-law situation and a market that has mostly been running up—so people have appreciation. All of the factors that were in place in 1985 to 2000 are in place now, plus we have the Baby Boomers reaching retirement age—a huge influx of people who are going to be of prime planned giving age for the next 10 to 15 years, if not more. Absent a complete financial collapse and a depression, the signposts are there for a mini golden age of planned giving in the years to come.”

Don Kent (Bernstein Private Wealth Management)—I met Don Kent when he was head of the Council of Jewish Federations planned giving program, doing incredible work. Then he went to Bernstein and developed a planned giving program as part of their services for high-net-worth families—and he will share Bernstein’s latest research. How can you not want to listen to a guy who has a degree from Columbia, sits on the professional advisory committee of the Museum of Modern Art, and is one of the best soccer players of his age you will ever see?

Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in planned giving…

“I of course have crossed over to the ‘dark side’ (wealth management rather than nonprofit fundraising), but we use planned giving vehicles a fair amount in our practice. Some of the classic vehicles such as CRTs and CLTs are very powerful to us—and we promote them and educate our clients about them. The dollar amounts can be very large. When I was on the ‘other side,’ we didn’t do that many planned gifts and they weren’t all that big. The planned giving field has grown tremendously; it seems to me that it’s a healthy world out there.”

Laura Peebles (Bloomberg|BNA)—I heard Laura speak on S corporations at an NCPG conference, and it was one of the best presentations I have ever heard. She is a rare commodity: A CPA who tells great stories! She’s going to tell 11 of them culled from almost 40 years of estate-planning experience—the same as I have. She’s another of these fascinating speakers: She lives and works in the D.C. area now but spent many years in New Orleans and loves that culture. And though she says she’s not a sabermetrician, she’s really into baseball and writes an insider’s blog about the Washington Nationals.

Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in planned giving…

“I feel optimistic looking forward in that philanthropy is getting a lot of publicity, most of it favorable, through things like the Giving Pledge. The publicity about major philanthropy helps keep it in mind with the people who have the wherewithal to do planned giving. To the extent that it makes it into the common press rather than the trade press, that helps when gift planners call on people. It’s also good that Congress doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in planned giving techniques; we’re not fighting an uphill battle about charitable remainder trusts or other techniques. And charities are more willing to be flexible and sophisticated—donor-advised funds have grown significantly in the last 30 years.”

Ron Brown (Columbia University)—Ron Brown has done something few of us storytellers have accomplished: he’s written them down. Just as uncommon, Ron gives his stories away. He frequently speaks for no fee, and his ever-expanding Web site,, is completely gratis. Now at Columbia University, he’s a Princeton man who is totally down to earth and has served as director of gift planning for an eclectic group of charitable organizations including the National Wildlife Federation, Princeton and Fordham universities, and the United Way.

Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in planned giving…

“Looking back, there was much more of an emphasis on the gift vehicles and taxation and running gift illustrations that focused on the numbers. The tax incentives were much stronger then because tax rates were higher. Today the role of a gift planner is focused more on long-term relationships rather than the transaction. It’s partly that the information is more available and partly that the numbers don’t drive the gift the way they used to do. I think there are many more very large gifts—$100 million and up. That reflects the economics of the very wealthy; they are doing exceptionally well since the great recession. But the middle is not what it used to be. The target group for gift planning is not as robust as it once was.”

Jane Peebles (Karlin & Peebles, LLP)—If you want to learn about international fundraising, Jane Peebles is the one. This is complicated, technical stuff, but she makes it sound easy. And she’s a great presenter, partly because she was an actress before going to law school and really knows how to engage an audience. She’s a California attorney now, but I’ll have you know she went to school in New York state (where I went to school as well).

Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in planned giving…

“When I started practicing law, it felt as though only a select few professionals had expertise in planned giving. Then we had the go-go years of the ’90s. At NCPP and other charitable giving conferences, colleagues spent long dinners talking about the ethics in planned giving solicitations and the latest technical tools to help our clients act on their dreams of a better world. The recent major recession substantially lowered disposable income for many; some gave less, but they kept on giving. Now, as the recession lifts, charitable gifts are a major part of our clients' planning again. New generations are working to solve huge underlying societal problems, and the methodology of the larger private foundations has informed philanthropists in ways that lead to more thoughtful and impactful giving. I am very happy that I get to work with can-do idealists.”

The Summit track also features the panel, “What Are We Doing: The Professionals Share Their Own Gift Plans,” led by Bruce Bigelow and Carol Kolmerton with panelists Emil Kallina, Roger Ellison, and Phil Purcell. All five will share their experience of gift planning from a different perspective—that of donors talking about their own planned gifts.

There you have it: The people I’d climb a mountain to hear. I hope you’ll join me on The Summit.

To see the entire program for the National Conference on Philanthropic Planning, click here. For more information on the company André founded, see

Topics: planned giving, General, NCPP