“You see it all around you, good (planned) givin’ gone bad….”

20 12 2012

WillWell that is a (admittedly bad) paraphrase of the .38 Special song Hold on Loosely and it is an important issue as many people are working hard to find creative gift solutions. I have heard discussions suggesting that the 90s were the golden era of planned giving, whether that’s true or not I don’t know. What I do know is many people are working harder than ever to make gifts happen and occasionally a good gift goes bad.

I had the good fortune or misfortune (depending on perspective) to have to steward a charitable gift annuity several years ago. The gift had not been well conceived by the organization and as a result, the charitable remainder that would exist for charity would have been surprisingly small – within IRS guidelines, but small. That donor’s words have echoed in my mind ever since “why didn’t they tell me….I would have just given them the money”.

We need to make sure that first and foremost we are honoring our donor’s charitable intent. To do that and be good stewards we should do the following:

1) Expectations – Ensure that the gift meets the donor’s expectations which should include final impact, financial comfort, and timing (e.g. a deferred gift that won’t be realized for 30+ years when they hope to see their money at work).

2) Knowledge – While you are NOT the donor’s financial advisor, you should have a strong understanding of the actual vehicles you are suggesting.

3) Good Business – The financial arrangement should be good for your institution and the beneficiaries of your work. These include no undue financial burdens, risks, or long term commitments.

Planned giving remains an important tool for philanthropy, but with low interest rates, various commercial gimmicks, and some prospective donors with no charitable intent it is important to be vigilant. We need to be able to ensure it is good for our donors, organizations, and our community.
Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall


The Election is Over: What is the Impact on Philanthropy?

7 11 2012

And now, back to our regularly scheduled fundraising. It was painful for non-profits to watch the amount of money flow into campaigns, super-PACs, and God only knows what else. Even worse is the amount of donors “waiting to see what happened”. There is no doubt that uncertainty is a danger to the markets and ultimately philanthropy.

Historically, the most important indicator for philanthropy is the stock market. Since philanthropy is a trailing indicator of the economy, it is important we think about the impact of the election on the economy. The Washington Post indicated that a known leader would offer a short term gains. These same short term gains will bolster philanthropist’s decision making ability – even if there may be some pessimism by select donors.

Long term, all of our elected officials need to address serious issues in the health of our economy. Issues of national debt and sluggish economic growth will continue to haunt the markets and philanthropy if there are not long term solutions.

Keep an eye on the markets and get out there with your prospects.

Good Luck!

– Mark J. Marshall

Donor Benefits, Grateful Patient Programs, Etc.: Not a perk, but an opportunity to understand the mission.

3 05 2012

Recently, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an editorial about a Texas hospital that had been the subject of an investigative report on a “grateful patient/VIP program”. While I know little about this particular instance, it raises important questions about these types of programs.  Are they necessary and do they matter? Absolutely! Not just at hospitals, but at zoos, orchestras, colleges, etc.

What do I get in return for my membership at the zoo, gift to my alma mater, or local hospital?  Well often I get special educational e-mails, invitations to special events, and finally the occasional extra access opportunity.  The payoff for the organization is steady support and most importantly – an opportunity to deepen my commitment to their mission and as a result, more support. There is a third beneficiary that is often ignored – the general public.  My steady and/or increasing support helps make programs available for the general public. 

Why the issues at hospitals? There is a perception that there is “better care”.  It is not better care, you don’t get more blood because you are a donor, docs don’t try a bit harder during surgery, but you get a visit from an executive who shares the vision of the hospital with you, “free parking”, or perhaps a bottle of water.  So it might be a slightly better experience. Who is the real beneficiary?  The community members who cannot afford to make that gift and now enjoy a new emergency room, better rooms, or the tests performed with equipment purchased through philanthropy. 

Programs like these are critical to deepening the understanding of organizational missions and relationship building.  The development community must implement programs like these ethically and with sensitivity.  Not every grateful donor program should be alike.  They should be shaped by factors such as their community, needs, and history. Grateful donor programs and benefits are important to public and private institutions alike if we want to have both of these types of organizations thrive in our communities.

Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Diversity and Donors: Are You Preparing to Engage Your Future Prospects? (Part I)

12 01 2012

Take a look at your prospect pool and think of it as a snapshot of your world today.  Then take a look at what the prospect pool might look like in 5, 10, or even 15 years.  The reality is it will look vastly different.   Change will occur for some non-profits much faster than it will for others, but it will change for everyone. We must prepare to engage our future prospects.

Diversity, in this instance, means a variety of things: gender, race, sexual orientation, age, etc. There is tremendous change occurring in our donor bases, and our programs and donor strategies must be inclusive to allow all prospects to become partners in philanthropy. Not to mention, ignoring these changes only allows us to underperform.  Look at a few examples of the differences:

Women in Philanthropy

  • Barclay’s Wealth Study in 2009 indicated that women give away a higher percentage of their wealth than their male counterparts. 

    More women tend to be donors than males in most cultures.

  • The 2010 World Giving Index demonstrated that in most societies a larger percentage of women are donors.
  • The American Council on Education indicates that women represent 57% of student enrollment. At the same time, a cursory review of several higher education boards shows that women make up only 33% of the membership.

 Young Donors

  • The Barclay’s study also indicated that younger, entrepreneurial individuals are far more likely to be committed to philanthropic causes.
  • The CAE report indicates that our alumni participation is on a 10 year decline at both public and private institutions.

    Alumni participation continues to decline.

  • If the Barclay’s study is correct, then our young alumni programs are clearly off the mark and need to be revisited.

 People of Color

  • A recent Reuters study indicated that there is growing disparity in wealth between white Americans and Americans of color.
  • That same study also indicated that African Americans are more likely to cite philanthropy as an important goal.
  • The US Department of Education indicates that between 1976 and 2007 the percentage of African American Students nearly doubled.  Is this represented in our alumni programming?

 What does this mean for fundraising programs?

At the CASE V conference in Chicago, I had the pleasure of presenting with Monique Dozier of Michigan State University and Marilyn Foster Kirk of the University of Illinois Chicago. Both of these Universities have several things going for them.

1)      They have a good understanding of the diversity that exists currently in their prospect pools and, most importantly, understand what their prospect pool will look like in the future.

2)      They have developed strategies for inviting broader communities to participate in philanthropy at their institutions.

3)      There is a commitment at the highest levels of the organization to broadening participation in philanthropy.

In a few weeks, I’ll continue this topic in greater detail, but I want to leave you with some things to review in your own program:

  • Do you understand the diverrsity, the life cycle of wealth, timing, and nature of giving in your prospect pool?
  • Do you know what your prospect pool will look like in 5, 10, and 20 years?
  • Have you developed strategies and tactics that match your current and future pools?

Your thoughts about this important topic will be appreciated as we explore this further!  Good Luck!

Mark J. Marshall

Development Officers: Are Your Call Reports and Donor Related Emails Appropriate?

10 10 2011

I often challenge gift officers to this simple litmus test about their call reports. (I have now already made the assumption that call reports are actually being completed!) If someone read your call report would they be offended and angry?  In all fairness, they might not be thrilled that we created a record of the visit, BUT there is a significant difference between being offended and being unhappy.

The unspeakable may happen at Brown University as they are being asked to turn over donor records as a result of some civil litigation. This court order includes “unredacted” employee email that is being requested.  The issue is not about Brown, but about how development staff everywhere retains data. Reflect for a few moments about your own call reports and emails – how would they withstand the litmus test?

This is not the first run at donor records, but it is a serious concern.  Like wikileaks, some of the damage may be collateral.  Many public universities, museums, etc. have had issues with their state’s open meeting and sunshine laws.  These laws essentially create complete transparency of many donor records and select communication. In states like Minnesota, laws were passed to exempt the University and other state institutions from having to open donor related records.

Additional issues exist for development staff members who keep “other records” whether at their home, on their hard drive, or in writing in a file.  Such documentation is “discoverable” in court issues, is most likely something that should never be written down, and often lies outside of the organization’s record keeping policy.

Some quick guidelines for call reports and work emails:

1)      If you wouldn’t say it to the donor or prospect – don’t write it down, electronic is a permanent record. Use the litmus test – “If the prospect saw this…”

2)      Create a working guide for your organizatin about what is appropriate: a brief summary of the contact, pertinent details, next steps with the relationship, and a plan.

3)      Avoid judgmental comments about personalities – little good can come from them. Make decisions about the situation instead.


Good luck!

Mark J. Marshall

The Double Dip Recession and Philanthropy: Knowing When to Step on the Gas

11 08 2011

As my rental car sat on the front edge of the ferry boat (see picture), I thought “this would be a horrible time to step on the gas by accident”. This seems to be a good analogy for fundraising in this economy. Donors and prospects are understandably nervous about the economy and watching cautiously, but we should reflect on lessons learned from the first dip. Certain prospects, we don’t want to step on the gas just now!

So like my ride on the ferry where I had to wait for the right time to step on the gas — there will be a right time to step on the gas. There were a few fundraising related secrets in the last recession – some people made a lot of money. The economy did not affect everyone the same and some people utilized low prices to accumulate market share, their business sold at just the right time, or their personal situations changed. The trick? You have to know when and when not to step on the gas.

 What I did do was stay in the car and was ready to go at the right time. Frontline fundraisers need to stay in the driver’s seat with their prospects so that they know who is ready to go and who is not. It is likely that this possible dip will be met with less narcissism than the last dip. Some individuals have diversified their portfolios and are more comfortable that it will come back.

• Stay in front of your donors – possibly more aggressively than ever.

• Focus on your mission. Don’t dwell on the economy with your development staff or volunteers – or – don’t give people permission to not contact prospects.

• Have thoughtful conversations with your prospects.

• Adjust your cultivation and solicitation strategies based on the information available.

So stay behind the wheel ready to go, just don’t step on the gas at the wrong time. Oh, and just to be safe… better buckle up! 

Good luck! – Mark Marshall

Philanthropy Under the Microscope – Real Risks to the Fundraising Environment

26 05 2011

Philanthropy as we know it has been uniquely American and has deep societal roots that allow people to support others in ways that market forces and other mechanisms sometimes miss. Alexis de Tocqueville recognized almost two centuries ago that Americans seemed uniquely supportive of each other, despite our frontier spirit. And, the rest of the world is catching up. However, events in May have increased the focus on fundraising in ways that will affect most development shops.  Last year, Tom Friedman foretold changes in our non-profit funding environment in an interesting op-ed piece . Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal just reported on the potential for tax law changes from the Obama Administration, which could impact all nonprofits.

My colleague Chris Cannon and I have been discussing the impact of the economic and political climate. So how is this manifesting itself?  This became a small challenge about what would make the biggest impact.

Mark’s picks:

1)      Healthcare Reform – I am seeing that the uncertain impact of federal healthcare law and widely varying applications of HIPAA have created an uneven fundraising environment.  The Association of Healthcare Philanthropy identified some additional responsibilities on healthcare organizations right after the bill was signed. Uncertainty of what this all means will offer challenges.

2)      Education (and Public) Funding – We’ve seen for a few years now what a single senator’s focus can do to the nonprofit agenda at the federal level.  And, at the state and local levels, it will be even shakier.  For state-supported universities, budgets remain depleted. The LA Times just reported that Governor Brown is likely to cut deeper into one of the world’s most respected public higher education systems. I was interviewing a board member the other day who commented that his alma mater was “no longer state supported, really. Instead it is more or less state chartered. That’s it.”

Chris’ picks:

1)      Increased Scrutiny – A recent IRS-giving article in the New York Times, makes it look like advocacy groups’ fundraising is really being scrutinized. I understand some of the focus; the influence and the potential to hide behind the nonprofit veil. But the donor privacy issues and the overall slippery slope here are a little troubling.

2)      Taxing Non-profits – Some of the biggest cities in the U.S, such as Boston and Los Angeles, are proposing potential avenues to tax nonprofit real estate holdings and possibly revenue, not just unrelated business revenue.  This affects budgets and may change donor behavior.

With all of these changes, it’s hard to know what the impact may be, but these are some serious risks. We find that maintaining a focus on the top of our pyramids and working top-down, inside-out allow nonprofits to ignore some of these changes, but some are too big to avoid. We should also be preparing to manage these risks. So, what impact are these risks having  on your mission?

– Mark