It’s the people, pure and simple. What other job permits us to talk with successful and generous people about their families, backgrounds, values, and dreams?
I first started in this business in the early 1980s at the Ohio Historical Society. Perhaps because of that institution and my interest in history, I would begin nearly every face-to- face meeting with prospective donors by asking them about their own family’s history. I asked questions such as “How long has your family been in Ohio?” “Where did you grow up?” “What was it like?” “What lessons did you learn from your grandparents?” From beginning with the person’s background, the conversation usually moved to current employment, volunteer commitments, and current family members. In subsequent visits, our discussions would cover the prospects’ accomplishments, finances, hopes, and values—especially as they related to the Society’s mission to protect and promote Ohio’s rich history.
I always brought along a notebook and took lots of notes, so after each visit I could type them up and send them back for corrections and additions with a personal note of thanks for meeting with me. I told the prospective donors I wanted to be sure I had accurately recorded our conversation, since the corrected copy would be permanently retained in the Society’s archives. “Why would they want to keep information about my family?” they would sometimes ask. “When the Society receives your planned gift years from now, people will want to know about the person with the foresight to provide a lasting legacy for future generations.” The Society’s prospective donors appreciated that their “stories” would not be lost to time.
During the past three decades of visiting with other potential philanthropists for many organizations—in diverse fields such as community foundations, education, social services, the arts, and health care—I have found nearly everyone wants his or her story to be heard and taken seriously. And they want to uncover their personal philanthropic dreams and learn about effective ways to bring about positive change in their communities. This is the work that we are privileged to do on a daily basis. I love planned giving.