Professional advisors key to planned giving

By Ret Boney

For a number of years, the owner of the Kansas City Royals major league baseball team had wanted to make a large charitable gift that would benefit his community.

So as part of his estate plan, the baseball team was transferred to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation in 1995.

The foundation sold the team six years later for undisclosed millions to an owner who vowed to keep the team in Kansas City, and invested the proceeds in charitable funds serving the community.

“We accomplished multiple things,” says George Bittner, executive vice president of the foundation, “from estate planning to keeping the team in Kansas City to funneling charitable resources back into the community.”

But that type of complex planned gift, and countless others popping up across the U.S., would not have come about without the help of professional advisors.

As the number and sophistication of planned gifts escalates, professional advisors, such as bank trust officers and tax attorneys, are becoming an increasingly important part of the process, experts say.

“Having relationships with professional advisors is critical to what we do,” says Bittner.  “They’re a significant part of the equation.”

His foundation, which manages about 2,000 funds totaling about $1.1 billion in assets, raised $180 million last year, marking the 10th year the foundation has raised more than $100 million.

“A good part of why we’re so successful is our relationship with professional advisors,” he says.

Bittner’s database of advisors numbers over 2,000 and includes estate planning attorneys, corporate attorneys, real estate lawyers, certified public accountants, financial planners, investment managers and life insurance experts.

Not only do those professionals help Bittner and his team structure and execute complex contractual transactions but, in their role as trusted advisors to their clients, they also provide an excellent source of leads for planned-gift donors.

“They are a vital part of our networking with the prospective donor,” he says.  “There’s a big trust factor.  Over the years, they become our advocates as well.”

Forging those relationships is win-win, professional advisors say, because it lets advisors serve their clients better by helping them realize their philanthropic, tax and financial goals.

“Professional advisors want to develop those relationships, too,” says Ranlet Bell, an attorney of counsel in the tax section of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Winston-Salem, N.C.

To do that, Bell says, she and her colleagues hold seminars for charities and potential donors and sometimes serve on boards or advisory committees for nonprofits.

And charities often make presentations to professional advisors as well, says Bell’s colleague, Edward W. Griggs, an associate in the firm’s trusts and estates group.

In particular, he recommends nonprofits tell their planned-giving success stories, which show advisors they can handle complex donations.

“It’s nice to see that a charity can implement that gift and you’re not leading your client down a path of administrative frustrations,” he says.

While Griggs and Bell don’t recommend specific charities to their clients, they do offer suggestions of organizations that fall within a prospective donor’s sphere of interest.

“To the extent you can get your name on the top of the thought list, that’s helpful,” Griggs says of charities.

That information comes in handy for advisors now that wealthy donors increasingly are turning to fundraising and financial professionals, says Regina Collins, vice president and director of planned giving for Bank of America, which manages more than $30 billion for its 9,000 philanthropic clients.

Charities need to provide donors with a wide range of giving options, allowing them to become more strategic rather than transactional, she says, and professional advisors can help them do that.

“Development people understand we’re no longer in competition,” she says of charities and professional advisors. “It’s really all about designing it for the donor’s needs.  So the professionals and the development office should work in concert with each other.”

Gifts will continue to become more complex, as will donors’ portfolios, so fundraisers will need to strike partnerships to ensure transactions are structured appropriately and donors’ needs are being met, she says.

“Never turn away a gift because you don’t know how to handle it or because it has a unique asset,” says Collins.  “Seek professional assistance.”

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