Attracting Real Estate Gifts – What Works

By Dennis Bidwell
July, 2016

It is clear to me that the likelihood of a non-profit receiving desirable real estate gifts (properties that are marketable, free of environmental and title problems, and with net value of at least $100,000) increases as the organization puts more effort in to marketing and outreach efforts. Conversely, non-profits that do little or nothing in the way of marketing their interest in real estate gifts tend to receive the occasional real estate inquiry, but it is often a “bad” piece of real estate that is offered (questionable marketability, title defects or environmental issues, likely net value way less than $100,000).
graph sept 2015

 

More and more I am seeing really significant real estate gifts come about because the institution reaches out to older individuals and couples who are at a point in their lives where they must make decisions about disposing of a vacation home or other property. Such property owners are sometimes quite intrigued at the gifting possibility when reminded – through the right marketing materials or in a conversation with a development officer — that they have considerable charitable capacity in their real estate, that a large number of charitable options are available to them, and that substantial tax advantages can accompany such gifts.

The graphic above, which I have shared with my readers before, tells the story:

Twenty-five years of experience helping non-profits attract, structure and dispose of real estate gifts tells me that when an organization doesn’t market its interest in real estate gifts, and doesn’t initiate conversations with donors about their real estate holdings, the organization is likely to receive only the occasional, haphazard inquiry about a piece of property. Very often, but not always, the property offered will be problematic in one way or the other – it’s an unmarketable time share, or a property with very little equity value once the mortgage has been paid, or a property with access issues, or a property with a complicated family ownership story, or a property with some sort of environmental complication.

Often, organizations that have been offered such gifts over time come to the conclusion that all real estate offered as gifts must be similarly problematic.

We all know of many organizations with a history of having accepted one or more of these “bad” real estate gifts, way back when, which has left behind the lore that real estate gifts are bad.

But hundreds of non-profit organizations are accepting many high quality real estate gifts every year. To a large extent the organizations receiving these gifts are the organizations that make these gifts happen through their marketing and outreach efforts.

Several years ago, I worked with the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning to conduct a survey of its members nationwide regarding real estate gifts. Thirteen percent of the organizations responding reported that 10% or more of their gifts in the last three years, measured in dollars, had come from real estate gifts.
Among these organizations reporting a high volume of real estate gifts, these are the percentages that rated various marketing and outreach approaches either “very effective” or “somewhat effective”:

graph 2 sept 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The conclusion? Real estate gift activity – particularly opportunities to close “good” real estate gifts — increases with the intensity and type of marketing and outreach effort undertaken.

The single most effective approach? Identifying prospects who fit the profile of a likely real estate donor (typically involving people over 65 owning multiple properties, geographically dispersed), and then initiating a conversation with them about their real estate holdings and their plans.

Screening out the “Bad” Gifts

Because marketing and outreach efforts have been shown to increase the number of properties being offered as gifts, it becomes very important that a development office is adept at quickly screening out the “bad” gifts, in order to devote scarce resources to the truly promising gifts. Fortunately, there are proven ways to quickly identify – and tactfully decline – the “bad” gift, while working in a donor-friendly way with the “good” properties offered.

More about this in a future article.

 

The Fractional Interest Donation, and When to Use It

by Dennis Bidwell
April, 2016

I’ve previously written about bargain sales – appropriate for situations where a property owner is ready to dispose of a property, has charitable desires, but isn’t in position to give the entire property away. By selling the property to a non-profit at a discounted price, the property owner gets cash from the sale and a tax deduction for the difference between the appraised value of the property and the sales price. The non-profit, in this situation, pays cash for the property, and then sells it, presumably at a price in the vicinity of appraised value. For the non-profit, the difference between what it paid and what it realizes on sale is the net gift amount.

There’s one big problem in this scenario for many non-profits, however – and that’s coming up with the cash for the initial purchase.

A solution to this – an approach that is not used by non-profits with the frequency it should be, in my opinion – is to work with the donor on a gift of a fractional interest in the property. (This is sometimes referred to as donating an undivided interest.)

Here’s how it works, in the case of a property with a value of $1,000,000, where the property owner was contemplating selling the property to a non-profit at the bargain sale price of $250,000. (Representing a potential gift to the non-profit, more or less, of $750,000.)

In the comparable fractional interest donation scenario the property owner would donate a 75% undivided interest in the property to the charity, generating a charitable tax deduction for doing so. (More on tax treatments later.) The charity and the donor would then, as co-owners, jointly market the property. (In some cases the donor would be delighted to let the non-profit assume the lead role in marketing. In other cases, the donor may want to stay very much involved. Either way, both owners sign the listing agreement.) When a buyer is found, a purchase agreement is executed by the parties and at closing the donor and the charity emerges with their respective portions of the net sales proceeds. In our hypothetical case, let’s say the property sold for $1,000,000, for a net (after broker fee, legal, closing costs) of $920,000. The donor’s 25% would be $230,000, with the charity netting $690,000 in cash.

Similar results for donor and charity

In both cases – bargain sale and fractional interest gift – the property owner receives about 25% of the value of the property in cash, generates a charitable tax deduction for the gift portion of the transaction, and is potentially exposed to capital gains tax on the sales portion of the transaction. Also in both cases, the charity will proceed only if its due diligence investigations – title, environmental, marketability – reveal no problems with the property.

But there are differences, pro and con, for both the donor and the charity.

For the charity, the big advantage is that in a fractional interest donation the charity is not required to find the cash for an initial purchase. Also, between the time of the gift and time the property sells, the responsibility for carrying costs (property taxes, utilities, maintenance, etc.) is shared proportionally among the parties. (Hopefully, the donor will agree to cover 100% of these costs.)

A potential downside for the charity is that it may not be in total control of the marketing process, as both parties presumably need to agree on the listing agent and the sales price. Often, however, as mentioned, the donor is more than happy to be a fairly passive participant, involved only when documents needs to be signed.

(The charity would only accept this sort of gift if it had a firm agreement with the donor about marketing the property. Ownership of a 75% undivided interest, absent an agreement with the other owner to market the property, would never be desirable.)

For the donor, a major difference in the fractional interest gift scenario is that they share in the marketing risk with the non-profit. Unlike the bargain sale situation where they receive their purchase price and are out of the deal, with a fractional interest situation they don’t receive payment until the property sells, and the property could of course sell at a lower or higher price than the donor originally thought likely. And, of course, the donor will continue to be responsible for their proportional share of carrying costs until the sale.

Tax treatments

In terms of charitable tax deductions, the outcomes for the donor in the two scenarios are similar but via a different path. The charitable deduction available to the donor in the case of the bargain sale imagined above would be $750,000, assuming a qualified appraisal establishes a fair market value of $1,000,000. The deduction is triggered at the closing on the sale. In the case of a fractional interest donation, the starting point would also be an appraisal, but technically the appraiser is valuing a 75% undivided interest in the property. It’s possible that the appraiser would apply a partial interest discount to the valuation (reflecting the impact on marketability of an interest less than 100%), resulting in a valuation, and thus a potential charitable deduction, somewhat less than $750,000. Here, the deduction is triggered by the conveyance of the property interest.

In both cases the charitable donation deduction flows from the donor’s appraisal, and is not affected in any way by the eventual sales price for the property, regardless of whether that price is higher than, lower than, or the same as the appraised value.

In either case, of course, the donor would be limited to a charitable deduction no greater than 30% of adjusted gross income in the year of the gift, with an ability to carry forward unused deductions for up to 5 additional years.

Sometimes, the donation generated by the fractional interest gift can largely, or perhaps totally, shield the capital gains exposure from the sales component of the transaction.

Applicability

Where is this scenario most likely to be of use? In my experience, whenever a charitably-minded property owner is preparing to sell a vacation home they’re no longer using, or “downsizing” from a current home, or disposing of a commercial property, they should be made aware that there’s a simple way to incorporate a meaningful charitable gift into the real estate transaction. Sometimes, when preparing to dispose of a property, the owners realize the property has appreciated a great deal, providing them the ability to make a meaningful gift while retaining a substantial amount of equity.

Other times, it’s appropriate to introduce the fractional interest gift when a bargain sale is proposed, but the charity is not in position to find the upfront investment dollars necessary for such a transaction.

A hybrid

Sometimes a donor will be willing to give the fractional interest donation scenario a try, but will want certainty that at some date certain they will get the cash they are looking for. This could be accomplished by having the donor initially donate a fractional interest, but to backstop this with an agreement with the donor that if the property has not sold by a certain date, then at that time the charity would buy out the donor’s remaining interest at an agreed price. This would effectively convert the fractional interest scenario in to a bargain sale.

Three Reasons to Engage Your Board of Directors About Real Estate Gifts

By Dennis Bidwell

February 2016

As I work with non-profits around the country, helping them attract and structure charitable gifts of real estate, I am finding more and more of them choosing to engage their board of directors in the real estate gift process. Here’s why.

First, a very large majority of real estate donors fit this profile: people over 65 years of age who own multiple properties (generally residential), often scattered geographically, whose children (if they have any) are otherwise taken care of in their estate planning, and who have a charitable interest in the institution. (See this article for more on this.) In my experience, that’s not a bad description for many a trustee at a college or university or hospital or museum, etc. For this reason, I’m seeing presentations made at board meetings, or at development committee or campaign committee meetings, simply because that’s where some of the very best prospects for such gifts are gathered in one place. At such meetings I’ve sometimes been asked to present a hypothetical case study whose fact pattern was eerily similar to the circumstances of a particular board member in attendance. Furthermore, once such a board member (or former board member, or advisory committee member, or long-time close friend of the institution) recognizes the reasons for gifting, rather than selling their unused vacation home, they often are more than happy to have their gift experience broadcast far and wide as an example of giving real estate.

Planned giving pioneer John Brown was fond of saying: “At the table of every Board meeting sits at least one potential real estate gift. It’s just that no one has ever connected the dots.”

Second, board members and other close friends of an organization often travel in circles where they’ll encounter people contemplating disposing of an unused second home, or an investment property. When a trustee of your organization, in a cocktail party conversation, learns that his or her friend is, say, getting ready to put their Nantucket home on the market, it’s important that at that moment they suggest that rather than immediately listing the property, would they mind a brief conversation with someone in the development office about a more tax-advantageous way of parting with the property that would also provide enormous benefit to the institution? The trustee need not be an expert on the tax treatment of various giving vehicles. But it is important that they recognize an opportunity staring them in the face and be ready to suggest a friendly next step.

And finally, successfully incorporating real estate gifts into an organization’s development program depends on institution-wide buy-in. It’s important that revised gift acceptance policies (see article here on gift acceptance policies for real estate gifts) that incorporate best practices regarding real estate gifts be run past the board not just for purposes of pro forma approval, but also because board members need to understand the magnitude of the real estate opportunity and why the organization has decided to pursue real estate gifts. Also, should there be resistance to real estate gifts in, say, the finance office or the office of the general counsel, it’s important that those offices understand that the Board of Directors has endorsed the initiative.

Case Study: Gift of Texas Ranch Subject to Retained Life Estate

By Dennis Bidwell
December, 2015

Take-aways from this gift scenario:

1. A retained life estate gift can accomplish essentially the same charitable results as leaving a property by bequest, with two important exceptions: the owners are entitled to a current income tax deduction when they donate the property subject to a retained life estate (unlike a gift by bequest); and the donors can enjoy the satisfaction, and praise, for making the gift in their lifetimes, rather than such recognition coming posthumously.

2. In the case of a property gift likely to generate a very large tax deduction, the donor can make fractional interest gifts over time, thus spreading out their tax deductions over sufficient time to enable use of such large tax deductions.

3. The non-profit recipient of the gift, based in Virginia, was able to assemble a team of experts to structure and close this gift in Texas. Such expertise had its cost, but was well worth it in relation to the ultimate value of the gift.

George and Jennifer Jackson were owners of a 150-acre ranch in Karnes County, Texas, that they used on the weekends and as a base of operations for their frequent birding expeditions. Their primary residence was on the outskirts of San Antonio.

The Jacksons were long-time members of the National Wildlife Federation, based in Virginia, as well as other conservation organizations. They had no children and had decided some years ago that they would leave their ranch by bequest to a conservation organization. When they became acquainted with the option of donating property during one’s lifetime, while retaining rights to continue using the property by way of a retained life estate, they contacted NWF and other organizations to find out who might be interested in working with them on such a gift.

The Jacksons decided to make their gift to NWF because of the good work of NWF, but also because of NWF’s access to the sort of expertise necessary to complete a gift of this sort within a reasonable period of time.

Discussions with the Jacksons involved a mineral rights lease on their property (which was likely to become quite profitable in the years ahead) and their desire to spread out their tax deductions over time in order to take maximum advantage of those tax benefits. (Donors can take charitable tax deductions up to 30% of adjusted gross income in the year of the gift, with unused deductions rolling over for up to five additional years.)

Along the way, NWF’s due diligence included a title search, an environmental assessment, consultation with knowledgeable local realtors, and careful review of the mineral rights lease. The Jacksons, before finalizing their gift, worked with NWF, their accountants and their appraiser to estimate the tax deductions that their gift might trigger. The parties also worked diligently on the details of a life estate agreement that spelled out, among other things, the responsibilities of the parties for property taxes, utilities, repairs and maintenance, etc. during the time of the life tenancy. This agreement also made it clear that the Jacksons would have sole claim to any mineral rights lease payments made while they continued to use the property.

In the end, the Jackson’s donated a 50% undivided interest in the ranch (including its mineral rights, subject to lease) to NWF, subject to a retained life estate. They also signed a document pledging the donation of the remaining 50% interest (also subject to a retained life estate) six years later. This arrangement allowed them to spread out their tax deductions for a period of up to twelve years (because they didn’t have sufficient likely adjusted gross income to use their deductions in six years or fewer), but it also provided NWF with the assurance that it would at some point have 100% ownership of the property, putting NWF in position, at some point after the Jacksons had died (or relinquished their life estates), to market the property.

The gift closed prior to year-end, which met the Jackson’s tax planning objectives. When they filed their taxes the following April, they were able to claim a very substantial deduction, in anticipation of continued deductions in the following five carry-forward years. After those carry-forward years, they expected to proceed with the donation of the remaining 50% undivided interest in the property.

Is It Time to Revise Your Gift Acceptance Policies?

By Dennis Bidwell
December, 2015

In my experience there is often someone or some office in a non-profit organization—perhaps the CFO, maybe the general counsel’s office—that is exceedingly cautious about accepting real estate gifts. Often this is due to a bad experience from 20 years ago, such as the now legendary story of the gift of the former gas station owned by three warring siblings.

My response is that those of us who have worked with real estate gifts for decades—and there are many of us at this point—have figured out a pretty good way to open the doors wide to potential real estate gifts, while at the same time putting in place rigorous—but donor friendly—screening and due diligence procedures. The result is that only the promising and generally non-problematic gifts make it through the process, while the bad gift potentials get discarded early on, with a minimum of donor disappointment.

This approach starts with clear gift acceptance policies and procedures that adopt best practices for screening and receiving real estate gifts in various forms. And then it proceeds to a two-stage screening and due diligence process.

Gift acceptance policies

State of the art real estate gift acceptance policies these days specify whether, and under what conditions, various real estate gift types are acceptable (outright, bargain sale, charitable gift annuity, charitable remainder trust, retained life estate, fractional interest) and what gift minimums apply in each case. (With the understanding that allowance always need be made for exceptions.) These policies also tend to clarify the “who does what” within the institution—screening, due diligence coordination, gift approval, handling closings, coordinating property disposition, etc. Better to have all of this thought through in advance than to be left scrambling while an impatient donor prospect feels put off for weeks and months on end.

A two-stage screening and due diligence process

The aim of the first stage of a screening and due diligence process is to gather essential information about the property, the donor prospect, and the proposed gift structure as rapidly as possible in order to provide the prospect with a prompt indication of whether or not your institution wants to pursue the gift. Providing such an answer quickly not only avoids wasting a great deal of time and effort on the part of the donor prospect, but also assures that your institution’s staff is spending its time on the truly promising gifts.

[Contact me if you’d like a one page set of essential questions that will allow you to efficiently gather the essential information needed to decide if you want to pursue the potential real estate gift further.]

For potential gifts that pass such an initial screen, a period of due diligence then follows. It is generally at this point—and not sooner—that the donor prospect is asked to provide much more extensive information—sometimes the right questionnaire at this stage of the process is helpful—and documentation about their property and their financial situation.

The key elements in a due diligence process designed to identify, manage, and minimize risks generally consist of the following:

  1. title investigation with the assistance of a local real estate attorney;
  2. a Phase I environmental assessment, with follow-up as needed;
  3. an independent assessment of local market conditions and the property’s market value (usually stopping short of a full-blown qualified appraisal);
  4. a building inspection (if appropriate), along with a personal visit by a representative of the institution.

Moreover, non-profits are recognizing that in order to be in control of the due diligence process, as well as to be more “donor friendly,” it makes good business sense to assume the costs of these investigations, rather than ask the donor to do so.

I am convinced that the key to increasing the quantity and quality of real estate gifts is, first, to broadcast an institution’s interest in accepting real estate gifts in various ways, and then to work the prospective donor in a two-phase process that initially screens out/in in a donor-friendly way, saving the more burdensome parts—providing documents, completing questionnaires, allowing people on the property for inspections—until a later stage when it’s fairly clear that this indeed a promising gift.

What is the Profile of a Likely Real Estate Donor?

By Dennis Bidwell
October, 2015

Based on survey results and years of collective experience of those of us who are practitioners in the real estate gift field, it is possible to describe the profile of the individual or couple who make substantial gifts of real estate. I venture to say that at least 80% of real estate donors fit this pattern:

  • Age 65 and older
  • They own multiple pieces of real estate, typically in multiple states
    • The more geographically dispersed the properties, and the more jurisdictions with which they are dealing (property taxes, income taxes…), the more likely they are to be a real estate donor
    • The gift property is only occasionally one’s primary residence. It’s much more likely to be a vacation home or an investment property.
  • The property being considered for gifting is usually appreciated in value
  • Ownership and management of one or more of their properties is becoming more burdensome than it is enjoyable.
    • Opening and closing the property every year, paying increasing property taxes, worrying about future roof replacements – the cumulative effect of this causes many second home owners to decide to dispose of their property, one way or the other
  • They either have no heirs, or their children are otherwise provided for in their estate planning
    • Typically, if there are children, they have moved away and are no longer using, for example, the family summer home on the coast
  • They have the capacity to use a considerable income tax deduction.
    • Often this is not just because of their normal adjusted gross income but also because of a pending sale of a family business, or of another appreciated property, thus triggering large gains in search of deductions.
  • They have charitable motivation

And here are other situations that often lead the property owner to consider making a gift of real estate:

  • They are wary of marketing the property themselves, and having to face the emotionally-troubling reality that their property is now worth, say, “only” $850,000, as opposed to its value of $1.2 million a few years ago.
  • They may want to supplement their retirement income by converting a “non-performing” real estate asset (i.e., an asset generating no income) into income, either through a Charitable Remainder Trust or a Charitable Gift Annuity.
  • They may want to resolve, once and for all, a long-simmering debate within the family about the fate of the shoreline property.
  • They may want to continue using their property for the rest of their lives and then gift it to a non-profit of meaning to them, but they want to generate a tax deduction now for their gift (i.e., they want to make a current gift subject to a retained life estate)

There are also ways in which real estate donors often differ from the profile of a typical planned giving donor:

  • They may not have a strong giving record to your institution.
  • They may not show up in your organization’s wealth screening.

Let me say something more about the motivation of folks who make real estate gifts. Two surveys – one of the membership of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning and one of the membership of Planned Giving Group of New England–yielded this clear conclusion about the three principal motivations that drive property owners to gift their properties:

  • Support for the mission and good work of the organization.
  • A belief that the real estate gift would fit well with their tax-planning, i.e. they could use the deductions (and benefit from the avoidance or minimizing of capital gains exposure)
  • They are ready to get out from under the ongoing responsibilities and hassles of continued ownership and management of the property.

Real Estate Gift Readiness Audit

By Dennis Bidwell
June 2015

I have recently been asked by several clients to help them conduct an “audit” of their institution’s readiness to actively pursue real estate gifts.

At the end of this audit exercise, sometimes the conclusion is: “We’re just not ready to tackle real estate gifts. We’ll come back to it in another year.” Increasingly, however, the response is: “We’re leaving so much wealth on the table by not pursuing real estate gifts that we’ve decided to build up our capacity in this area now.”

I hope this audit template is of use to your organization.

Institutional support
1. Is pursuit of real estate gifts (with appropriate attention to minimizing risk) supported by your VP of Development? By your CFO? By your general counsel or equivalent?
2. Is top management at your organization familiar with the real estate gift experience of peer institutions?

Gift acceptance policies and procedures
1. Do your gift acceptance policies address the forms of real estate gifts you will and won’t accept, and under what circumstances?
2. Do you have a policy on real estate gift minimums?
3. Do you have a clear assignment of responsibility for handling the different stages of a real estate gift: initial conversations, detailed gift structuring, gift acceptance letter, due diligence, gift closing, interim management, sale of property?
4. Would you describe your policies as a balance between “donor-friendliness” and “institutional protection”?

Training
1. Do your gift officers have a basic familiarity with different types of real estate gifts and the situations for which they are appropriate?
2. Do your gift officers have a comfort level with discussing/initiating real estate gifts with donors?
3. Are your gift officers expected to bring forward at least one real estate gift scenario every six months?
4. Do your board members (or development committee members) understand enough about real estate gifts to recognize an opportunity when it presents itself at a cocktail party?

Marketing
1. Do you promote your interest in real estate gifts prominently on your website?
2. Do you market your interest in real estate gifts in your newsletters/magazines/etc.?
3. Do you provide information about real estate gifts at member/alumni gatherings?
4. Does the content of your marketing emphasize a “problem solving” approach?

Prospect research/outreach
1. Have you attempted to identify prospects who specifically fit the profile of a real estate donor?
2. Do you have a plan to reach out to identified prime prospects for real estate gifts?

Campaign work (where appropriate)
1. Have you built real estate gifts into your campaign strategy and structure from the start?

Making Good Real Estate Gifts Happen

By Dennis Bidwell
February, 2015

Experience continues to show that the likelihood of an organization receiving “good” real estate gifts (properties that are marketable, free of environmental and title problems, and with net value of at least $50,000) increases as a function of the effort expended in marketing and reaching out to likely real estate donors. Conversely, non-profits that do little or nothing in the way of marketing their interest in real estate gifts will tend to receive the occasional real estate inquiry, but it is often a “bad” real estate gift offer (questionable marketability, title defects or environmental issues, likely net value way less than $50,000).

This graphic tells the story:

Twenty years of experience helping non-profits attract, structure and dispose of real estate gifts tells me that when an organization doesn’t market its interest in real estate gifts, and doesn’t initiate conversations with donors about their real estate holdings, the organization is likely to receive only the occasional, haphazard inquiry about a piece of property.  Very often, but not always, the property offered will be problematic in one way or the other – it’s an unmarketable time share, or a property with very little equity value once the mortgage has been paid, or a property with access issues, or a property with a complicated family ownership story, or a property with some sort of environmental complication.

Often, organizations that have been offered such gifts over time come to the conclusion that all real estate offered as gifts must be similarly problematic. They don’t know what they are missing out on.

We all know of many organizations with a history of having accepted one or more of these “bad” real estate gifts, way back when, which has left behind the lore that real estate gifts are bad.

But hundreds of non-profit organizations are accepting many high quality real estate gifts every year.  It’s just that the organizations receiving these gifts tend to be organizations that make the gifts happen through their marketing and outreach efforts.

Several years ago, I worked with the National Committee on Planned Giving (now Partnership for Philanthropic Planning) to conduct a survey of its members nationwide regarding real estate gifts. (See Journal of Gift Planning, Volume 12, Number 3 for complete results.) Among the organizations reporting a high volume of real estate gifts, these are the percentages that rated various marketing and outreach approaches either “very effective” or “somewhat effective”:

The conclusion? Real estate gift activity – particularly opportunities to close “good” real estate gifts — increases with the intensity and type of marketing and outreach effort undertaken.

The single most effective approach? Identifying prospects who fit the profile of a likely real estate donor (typically people over 65 owning multiple properties, geographically dispersed), and then initiating a conversation with them about their real estate holdings and their plans.

That’s how most of the really good real estate gifts I see happen. By making them happen. 

 

Real Estate Gifts: Common Questions, My Answers

By Dennis Bidwell
December, 2014

Q: What’s the best way to approach a donor about a possible real estate donation?

A: First, you’re on the right track by thinking in terms of approaching potential donors, rather than waiting for them to contact you about their real estate.  In fact, the most transformative real estate gifts I’m seeing these days are those that result from conversations initiated by a development officer.  What I believe is most successful is this: 1) Do your research (internally or with assistance from outside contractors) to identify folks who fit the profile of a real estate donor. 2) Decide who is best positioned in your institution to visit with this prospect. 3) Be clear on what types of real estate gifts your organization will and will not accept. (Hopefully your gift acceptance policies reflect best practices in this area.) 4) Rehearse with a colleague the way you will handle the conversation. 5) Be confident that if you’ve done your homework well (i.e. if the prospect really does fit the profile of a real estate donor) your prospect will likely welcome a conversation about a situation that is very much on their minds these days. 5) Recognize that you don’t need to be an expert on the technical aspects of real estate gifts, and trust that that expertise (hopefully) resides back in your shop or with outside assistance you can tap. 6) Enjoy your conversation, and keep your ears tuned to real estate situations that might lend themselves to gift scenarios.

Q: How worried should we be about environmental problems in gifted real estate?

 A: It’s my experience that very often the risk of environmental contamination on a property is overstated, often reflecting a story involving acceptance of a property 30 years ago with a gas tank, or with spilled chemicals, etc. Often this story, apocryphal or not, has become legend and been used to cut off discussions of real estate gifts. The reality is that tried-and-true gift screening and due diligence approaches commonly in use today would quickly identify the existence of such an environmental problem and would lead to dismissal of the gift possibility very early in the process. Increasingly, non-profits are agreeing to cover the cost of a Phase I environmental assessment as a cost of doing business. Also, sometimes it’s worth looking at a property that might require some investment in clean-up.  Would it make sense to turn down a $1,000,000 gift because of a $10,000 cleanup?

Q: How do I convince my bosses to open the door to real estate gifts at our institution?

A: My September, 2014 newsletter was devoted entirely to this subject.

Q: Does an organization have to be a particular size before it considers real estate gifts?

A: I am seeing organizations with 2 and 3 person development shops ramp up their capacity to handle real estate gifts.  And I am seeing smaller development operations seek real estate gifts, knowing they can turn to outside expertise (community foundation, sometimes an area university, a real estate gift consultant) to help them handle the gift.  Some community foundations look for opportunities to partner with smaller non-profits in structuring and managing planned gifts involving real estate.

Q: What should be our approach when we know a donor intends to leave us property through their will?

A: If the property they have in mind is a residential or agricultural property, you should arrange to visit them next week to explore the suitability for them of a current gift subject to a retained life estate. Most property owners, even those with excellent legal and tax counsel, aren’t aware that they could achieve essentially the same results as a gift by bequest by making the gift now, retaining a life estate. The difference is that in the case of retained life estate gift they are entitled to a substantial income tax deduction, and they would have the satisfaction (and recognition) of making the gift during their lifetime.

Overcoming Institutional Resistance to Real Estate Gifts

By Dennis Bidwell
September 2014

Though it happens far less frequently than it used to, I still encounter development staff who are frustrated that their institution is not more open to considering real estate gifts. Sometimes this caution is housed in the office of the CFO, the General Counsel, or maybe even the Chief Development Officer.

Often the reason cited for such opposition is a now-legendary story of a gift, decades ago, of an abandoned gas station, or a time share, or a property that turned out not to have road frontage. In most cases the specifics are vague, but what has remained is the lore that real estate gifts are problematic, and a headache for the person that wound up dealing with the mess.

I am often asked how to overcome this resistance — how to help open the door to the real estate gift opportunity. Here’s my answer:

First, do an informal survey of the practices at your peer institutions. There is a very good chance that other organizations you’re familiar with have become more open to real estate gifts. It’s a good possibility that some of them have decided to actively seek out the right real estate gifts and have results to show for it. In my experience, few things are more likely to open the eyes of folks in senior management than a reminder of innovations and successes at peer institutions.

Second, marshal the facts and figures about the magnitude of the real estate gift opportunity, the average size of real estate gifts, the volume of real estate gifts flowing to other institutions, the profile of the typical real estate donor (which will often align nicely with your own institution’s demographics), the motivations of real estate donors, etc. (Previous articles in my newsletter, and various articles I’ve written, here, provide all of this information. If you want more, contact me.)

Third, figure out the right team of people to accompany you in meeting with whomever stands as the roadblock to real estate gifts at your institution. Every organization’s politics are different, so there’s no one answer to this. But, assemble your team and arrange the meeting.

Once you have your audience, I recommend making these arguments:

  • Present the basic numbers: proportion of the nation’s wealth that is in real estate compared to cash (something on the order of 30% to 10%), average real estate gift size, success stories at peer institutions, etc.
  •  Offer the reminder that probably over 30% of the massive intergenerational wealth transfer surrounding us in the form of real estate. What are we doing to capture our share?
  •  Remind him/her that there is now a set of best practices regarding real estate gifts that, if used at your institution, would virtually eliminate the chance that the problematic real estate gift of decades ago would ever make it past the initial screening process. Emphasize that institutions enjoying great success with real estate gifts have tightened up their screening and due diligence procedures (while making them more user friendly) while opening the doors wider to real estate gift possibilities.
  • Discuss the eagerness of aging property owners to turn over to someone else the burdens of property management and marketing, particularly when educated about the tax benefits of doing so, and when reminded that turning their equity into cash flow is sometimes possible.
  • Share examples of ways that other institutions are marketing their interest in real estate gifts (web pages, enewsletters, alumni magazines, class reunion presentations, etc.)
  • Remind him/her that there’s a very good chance that a “leadership” real estate gift is sitting around the table at your own Board of Directors’ meeting.
  •  Talk about the increasing role of real estate gifts in campaigns. Many institutions are realizing that the next campaign is predicated on harvesting gifts from donors who already think they’ve made their final gift – and to do this means turning to other assets, chief among them real estate.
  • And, of course, offer that there is abundant expertise regarding real estate gifts available through professional conferences, gift planning literature and websites, and, of course, real estate gift consultants.

My advice is to not be deterred by resistance to real estate gifts at your organization. I’ve seen reluctant CFOs and CDOs turn completely around when they realize they can be perceived by their peers as innovative and revenue-enhancing by embracing, rather than resisting, real estate gifts done properly.