The Teacher Learns a Lesson

Last week, I spoke at the monthly meeting of the San Antonio chapter of Partners for Philanthropic Planning.  The topic:  Prospect Research for Planned Gifts.  I’ve recently written a white paper on the subject in conjunction with my colleague Michael Quevli, and along with one of Target Analytics’ founders, Lawrence Henze, have presented the paper to a variety of professional groups over the past year.  You’d think that by now, I’d be able to point out everything there is to know about the subject matter.  But I was wrong.

Our paper is a great guide to thinking about and collecting or purchasing data points that aid in identifying planned gift prospects from nonprofits’ constituent pools.  We point out that single variable data such as age, income and presence or absence of children it in home are a few characteristics that help to narrow groups of prospects likely to consider planned gifts.  Our discussion continues with suggestions for more advanced ways to use data including multiple-variable information that does some of the work for you.  But there isn’t a mention about in-person research in the presentation or in the white paper; and the lovely people of the San Antonio roundtable put a spotlight on that error without even knowing it.

In just under two hours, the attendees knew more about me than some of my closest work colleagues.  They weren’t sneaky about it or sly.  They simply asked questions, took an interest in me and before the presentation was over, here’s what I had shared.

  • Two things that most people don’t know about me: That I had once kissed Arnold Schwarzenegger and that I first landed an airplane when I was around 9 or 10 years old.  Okay, okay.  The Arnold thing was just on the cheek and it was when I met him for no more than 30 seconds at a publicity event in the early 1980’s at the U.S. Olympic Sports Festival and wanted a picture with him.  So when he bent down to my height, I plopped the pursed lips on his cheek.  I doubt he remembers our short-lived romance, but I do! And I really did land an airplane at that young age. My father, a former Air Force jet pilot, taught each of his daughters to land and to take off in a small prop plane. A skill, I have since forgotten.
  • That I was born in Peoria, Illinois and that I grew up in Estes Park, Colorado.
  • That I have made planned gifts to my law school and to my undergraduate institution and that one of them is getting far more than the other one based on the relationship that they continue to develop with me.
  • That I have a sister who has taken her undergraduate institution out of her will based on the relationship that they failed to maintain with her.
  • That I have one nephew, who doesn’t call much and is in jeopardy of losing a grand inheritance if he doesn’t pick up the phone more often.  Yes, I know, it’s mostly just a threat, but he really should call.
  • That I was on my way to the Redwoods of California soon for vacation and that travel is a passion of mine.
  • That my parents began and have since sold a restaurant in Estes Park where they were known for their yummy hamburgers with grilled onions and pickles and for their fresh-cut French fries.  That I thought my father was a marketing genius and knew that too much data was a sale-killer. (i.e. too many choices of snow cone flavors paralyzes a hungry child – and his paying parents).  The same can be said for too many choices of planned giving vehicles.
  • That at one time I lived in Phoenix and then in California, but that I had decided that Colorado was really where I wanted to live.
  • That the Plaza Club lunch buffet in San Antonio is the best buffet ever!  And that I’d come back just for lunch any time they offered.
  • That I’m on a low-carbohydrate regime but that I’m not doing so well lately.
  • That I really can present a 75-minute speech in just under 60 minutes and that even though I talk faster to get it all said, I’m still understandable and heck – loads of fun to boot!

Whew!  That’s a lot to learn in such in a short time.  But they did!  And I was enchanted with their warm and welcoming demeanor and their true interest in me.   I just kept answering questions and telling more. I think we all walked away having learning more than we expected.

Yesterday, when I returned from the Redwoods, a handwritten card was waiting.  A “thank you” from the presentation hostess – sent, not to Blackbaud, but to my home address (their own prospect research).  It’s the first handwritten “thank you” note that I’ve received in years – one that will not be thrown away; not forgotten.  Do you think I’ll accept another invitation to be with this group?  The answer is: “Yes!”  Do you think that I’ll be delighted to hear from them again and be willing to provide a bit of my time if they ask for advice or my thoughts?  Another “Yes!”

So today’s blog is an official revision of the “Prospect Research for Planned Gifts” white paper and it starts and ends with the fact that nothing – repeat nothing – takes the place of getting face to face with your constituents, your organization’s friends, and asking questions and listening.  It’s the best research you’ll ever do.

*Katherine Swank is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at [email protected].