Growing Non-Profit Attention to Real Estate Gifts

November 23, 2009

I attended a recent meeting of the Planned Giving Group of New England in Boston. It was “Real Estate Theme Day” at PGGNE, with presentations on real estate gifts by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, and by Harry Estroff, Real Estate Gift Manager at The Nature Conservancy. Coincidentally, on the same day, my colleague Chase Magnuson was presenting on real estate gifts at the National Capital Gift Planning Council in Washington, DC. Chase joined the development staff at George Washington University to develop a comprehensive real estate gifts program for the University, drawing on his background as founder and principal of Real Estate For Charities.

In February, I’ll be presenting at PGGNE on Real Estate Gift Basics.  I’ve also been asked to make presentations on real estate gifts in the coming months at the Chicago Planned Giving Council, the Minnesota Planned Giving Council, and the Greater Cincinnati Planned Giving Council.

Why all the attention to real estate gifts?

Here’s my short list of reasons that development offices across the country are turning more of their attention to real estate gifts:

  1. There is growing awareness of the dramatic success of some real estate gift programs. For example, The Nature Conservancy has generated $300 million in real estate gifts (this doesn’t include gifts of conservation land) since 1982.
  2. Some charitably –minded donors want to proceed with plans to make gifts, but are cash-strapped and don’t have much in the way of appreciated securities, so are turning to the real estate portion of their balance sheets to make gifts.
  3. More and more property owners, particularly aging property owners, are finding the continued ownership, management and carrying costs of property – especially second, third or fourth homes – are more burdensome than enjoyable. They are thus quite interested in ways of disposing of their property with as little hassle as possible.
  4. Some property owners are wary of the process of marketing their properties in volatile times. They are therefore more inclined to gift the property, letting the charity undertake the marketing process.
  5. More financial advisors, as well as gift planners, have become knowledgeable of the range of real estate gift structures and how they can be helpful in addressing the retirement planning, estate planning, and charitable objectives of the families they work with.

Thoughts on How to Market a Real Estate Gift Program

October 16, 2009 

Research and anectodal reports point to one marketing theme that tends to work better than all others when it comes to attracting gifts of real estate to a non-profit organization.  It isn’t an emphasis on the tax deductions that can be generated by real estate gifts. And it isn’t an appeal to the wonderful mission and good works of the organization.  

What is it? It’s an appeal to the fact that many aging property owners find the continued ownership and management of properties (especially second or third or fourth homes) burdensome and worrisome.  

Such property owners are often eager for ideas on low-hassle ways of disposing of their real estate, especially when it furthers their charitable objectives and serves their tax planning needs.

So, rather than run magazine and newsletter advertisements that say “Give us your real estate because we’re a wonderful organization and will do good things with your gift,” try something like this: 

“If you’re approaching a time in your life when you need to make decisions about parting with a property that has become more burdensome than enjoyable, give us a call. We have ideas that might work for you and work for us.”

For information on how Bidwell Advisors can help develop a real estate gifts marketing program, click here.

Real Estate Prospect Research

September 18, 2009

It always surprises me when I learn that a non-profit client uses estimates of a prospect’s real estate wealth as one of the indicators pointing to the size of the cash gift they will solicit.  I recently talked with a development officer who was aware that a prospect owns four pieces of property with an estimated total value of about $5 million. He estimated the total net worth ofhis prospect at about $10 million. He then laid out a plan for asking that prospect for a $2 million cash gift.

Why, I asked him, didn’t you just ask your prospect  for one or two of her properties, which she appears to not be using as she ages? Well, I’m just not comfortable talking with folks about the complexities of real estate, he responded.

To which I say: It’s time to get comfortable with at least introducing the real estate topic, knowing there’s expertise waiting in the wings to help you out.

This points to the need for many organizations to think differently about their prospect research.  I contend that organizations should be mining their data bases and their collective organizational histories to identify  prospects who fit this pattern: own multiple pieces of property in multiple states; are age 65 or over; are charitably inclined to your organization.  When this fact pattern is used for screening, very strong real estate gift prospects emerge that in many cases may not have even been rated using traditional prospect rating systems. Identifying real estate gift prospects requires a different approach to thinking about wealth and thinking about donor motivations.

We know from a report on second home ownership prepared by the National Association of Realtors in 2005 that:

  • 1 in 10 households owned 2 or more properties
  • 1 in 25 households owner 3 or more properties
  • 40% of the residences sold in 2005 were either vacation homes of residences owned for investment purposes

Fundraising consultants can provide a valuable service to their clients by reminding them to turn their attention, and that of their researchers, to the real estate holdings of their donor prospects.  Often, friends of the organization that are short on cash and appreciated securities can realize their charitable objectives through real estate gifts they had not previously considered.

For more information on how  Bidwell Advisors can help fundraising consultants to better advise their clients, click here.

Real Estate Gifts: Why, and How, to Pursue Their Largely Untapped Potential in Difficult Economic Times

July 23, 2009

As the effects of the deteriorating economy ripple through development offices of non-profit organizations of all sizes and shapes, increasing attention is being paid to the potential of real estate gifts. This shift in attention is due to several factors:

  • With growing liquidity concerns in most households, cash gifts – current or deferred – are becoming harder and harder to come by. This is causing development professionals to turn more of their attention to the non-cash assets of their donors and prospects, particularly real estate assets.
  • Real estate assets comprise over 35% of the assets of U.S. households. Yet only about 3% of charitable giving in recent years has come from real estate gifts. Development offices are increasingly recognizing the need to go where the wealth is – the largely untapped potential of real estate.
  • More attention is being paid to the experience of those non-profits that have consistently attracted large numbers of substantial real estate gifts. A survey conducted by the National Committee on Planned Giving, published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Journal of Gift Planning, reported that 13% of institutions responding received over 10% of their total contributions as real estate gifts over the previous three years, as measured in dollars.
  • The collective experience of institutions that have enjoyed success in pursuit of real estate gifts has led to an increasingly accepted body of “best practices” that permit the opening of the doors to real estate gifts while carefully managing and minimizing the potential risks of real estate.
  • Institutions at one stage or another of campaigns – planning phase, quiet phase, or those that have gone public and are concerned about hitting their targets – are increasingly turning their attention to the potential of real estate gifts. Indeed, there is evidence that the methodology for many campaign planning/feasibility studies in the future will devote more explicit attention to the role of real estate gifts in campaigns.

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Making the Right Real Estate Gifts Happen

July 14, 2009

More and more non-profits are becoming aware that they are receiving fewer real estate gifts than some of their peers. They are realizing that other organizations have enjoyed considerable success in attracting a portion of the estimated 30 percent of the nation’s private wealth that is in real estate holdings.

In some cases, these organizations have responded by transitioning from a program that occasionally accepts gifts of real estate in various forms, to one that seeks to make such gifts happen. This transition needs to occur, of course, while taking appropriate precautions to manage the various types of risk (environmental, liquidity, holding cost) associated with owning real estate.

A review of the experience of those non-profits that have successfully made this transition reveals several important steps in developing a more active and lucrative real estate gifts program.

Get the key players on the same page

Successful programs tend to have clear gift acceptance policies and procedures governing real estate. These policies assure that everyone in the institution is on the same page regarding the types of properties (residential, commercial, farms and ranches, etc.) that will be accepted and the gift structures (CRTs, CGAs, retained life estates, etc.) that can be employed. These policies also tend to establish minimum gift amounts that take into account the often time-consuming and costly process of structuring, analyzing, and closing gifts of real estate.

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