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All about relationships

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By Ret Boney

Building and nurturing relationships with donors, prospects, professional advisors and coworkers is at the center of Patrick Weiner’s job as the sole gift planner for his community foundation.

Weiner is vice president of donor services and development for the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro in North Carolina, a $90 million-asset foundation that houses more than 500 funds and awarded $9.5 million in grants last year.

Overall, he estimates, he spends more than three-quarters of his time building relationships.

Fully half his time involves talking to donors and prospects, he says, getting to know them better, and helping them get to know him.

“You need to establish a relationship with your donors and know what they want to accomplish,” he says, and that takes time.  “You don’t just sit down at the first meeting and ask, ‘What do you want to accomplish in your life and what are your assets?’”

A planned gift is usually just the beginning of a long long-term relationship, either with the donor or, in the case of a bequest, with the donor’s family.

And nurturing those relationships is important because people who have made a planned gift to a charity are often the best prospects for making additional gifts, Weiner says.

“Most of the donations that come into the foundation are planned gifts,” he says.  “It could be real estate, a bequest, a life-insurance policy or an IRA [Individual Retirement Account] beneficiary designation, anything other than an outright gift of assets.”

With a staff of one, it’s impossible to meet with each prospect individually, Weiner says, so he spends a portion of his time on marketing efforts.

Among other things, the community foundation sends out a quarterly newsletter to about 4,000 people that includes articles about charitable gifts and how they work, stories about donors and their motivations and articles on giving techniques and tax consequences.

He spends about a fifth of his time building relationships with professional advisors, or “gatekeepers,” in the community, he says.

That includes accountants, attorneys, investment advisors and other professionals who help people do their financial and estate planning.

To reach those people, Weiner works with the local bar association, the local estate planning council, and the local society of financial services professionals, and he seeks out opportunities to speak one-on-one with professional advisors.

The foundation also has formed a committee of professional advisors, and it holds “lunch-and-learn” sessions to help the community understand more about community foundations and the opportunities they present.

Weiner is a lawyer by training and a former charitable trust officer with Wachovia, roles that, while not necessary for gift planning, are helpful, he says.

“There’s so much interaction with attorneys and CPA’s, it’s helpful to be on a peer-to-peer basis,” he says.

Weiner also spends time with his foundation’s 10 other staff members to better understand how the funds are affecting the community, information that is critical when helping donors envision how their contributions can come to life in their neighborhoods.

“You need to spend some time talking to coworkers inside your organization to know what is going on,” he says.  “You have to have those stories to engage donors.”

But that type of education is a two-way street, he says.

The foundation’s board and development staff are the “best ambassadors” for the organization, Weiner says, so he spends some of his time helping them understand the kinds of gifts that can be made and what a potential planned-giving prospect might look like.

He also takes the time for continuing education, which he says is important when presenting yourself to donors and the community as a planned-giving expert.

“You don’t want to have a gift that is structured inadequately,” he says.  “The professional advisor that referred the donor to you won’t be likely to refer future donors.”

And, of course, there’s actually doing the deal, which includes meeting with the donor’s advisors, structuring the gift, transferring the assets and coordinating with investment professionals to determine how the assets will be invested.

“It’s a unique combination of left brain and right brain,” he says.  “A lot is technical, but a lot is intuitive as well.”

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