Real Estate Gift Training for Development Officers: One Part of Ramping Up Real Estate Gift Activity

by Dennis Bidwell
March 2013

Over the years I have been asked to provide training on one aspect or another of real estate gifts for numerous institutions. I’m always pleased to do so, because I enjoy helping more and more development professionals become comfortable initiating conversations with prospects about their real estate holdings and the philanthropic capacity represented by those properties.

But I’m not always convinced that such training sessions, in and of themselves, are all that helpful. Why?    

Because, if not part of an ongoing effort to attract, structure and close real estate gifts, a training session on real estate gifts can easily become just one more set of notes and one more PowerPoint printout that goes into the files of a busy gift officer.

On the other hand, I have seen numerous instances where such training sessions proved to be quite effective.  At the organizations where such training sessions really paid off (meaning they led to completed real estate gifts), the training sessions were part of a sequence of events that typically include the following:

  • Review of gift acceptance policies and procedures, incorporating best practices regarding real estate gifts. Before training gift officers about real estate gifts, it makes sense to be totally clear on what sorts of real estate gifts the organization will and will not accept, and to be clear on the who-does-what within the organization when a gift possibility materializes.
  • A fresh look at marketing approaches. Real estate gift inquiries rarely materialize out of thin air. They are usually prompted by an organization letting its constituents know that they are eager to talk to people about their real estate and its gift possibilities.
  • Prospect research. Because we know so much about the profile of a likely real estate donor, it makes sense to focus some prospect research activity on the task of identifying good candidates for real estate gifts. Often, the prospects that surface through this process are prospects that hadn’t previously appeared on an organization’s radar screen.
  • Gift officer training. Good gift officer training can: help staff (and board members) identify a potential real estate gift situation that is staring them in the face at a cocktail party; provide an overview of the different structures appropriate for different donor situations; help develop a comfort level with initiating a real estate conversation as part of a donor visit.
  • Coaching. Training sessions can really pay off when combined with the ongoing availability of a consultant or coach who can offer technical support and strategizing advice to a gift officer starting to work with a potential real estate donor. Some organizations have taken this a step further and required all gift officers to be prepared at least twice a year for a conversation about a specific possible real estate donor and their situation.
  • Transaction assistance. Some organizations have the capacity in-house to handle real estate gift transactions, start to finish. Others need to identify the outside resources that can be on-call when real estate gift situations arise.
  • Metrics.  I am aware of a few development shops that have included “real estate gift conversations” and “real estate gift proposals submitted” in the metrics they use in evaluating gift officer performance.

The point here is that real estate gift officer training is a necessary, but not in and of itself a sufficient, step in increasing the quantity and the quality of the real estate gifts being accepted by a non-profit organization. The real payoff comes from the carefully designed steps that precede, and that follow, gift officer training sessions.