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Friday, January 21, 2022
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Lewis Carroll, whose real name was Charles Ludwidge Dodgson, was the 19th-century English children’s fiction writer probably best known for his great works “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” However, I remember him best for another one of his fantasy works—the most famous literary nonsense poem of all time called “Jabberwocky.”

The first verse always stuck with me and it goes like this:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

Makes no sense, right? The rest of this epic poem isn’t much different. While the linguistic inventiveness was thoroughly analyzed, it remains today as a dish of delightful gobbledygook.

So, what does this have to do with fundraising? Good question. It links well to planned giving, a major building block of fundraising. Let me explain.

Anyone who has dabbled in planned-giving programs understands that these do not generally produce immediate results. When meeting with planned-giving prospects the idea is to introduce them to a unique type of charitable gift that benefits them during their lifetime, or after. These concepts take time to explain, develop and nurture.

Planned gifts take many forms such as legacies and bequests, charitable gift annuities, charitable trusts of different kinds including lead, annuity and unitrusts, gifts of life insurance, 401(k) and 403(b) retirement plans, IRAs, brokerage accounts, and the list goes on.

According to data by the National Philanthropic Trust, giving through bequests alone in 2019 “equaled about 9% of all charitable donations or $43.2 billion” in the United States. This is not inconsequential loose change and represents only legacy gifts, a component of planned giving.

For donors to consider planned gifts, concepts must be marketed to them in ways that are understandable and reveal favorable tax advantages, as well as how assets are preserved for the next generation and even generations thereafter. We all know an uncle by the name of Sam who loves to dip into our wealth estate and take big chunks from it. We don’t want that, do we?

You will drool over attractive rates older folks are eligible to receive with, for example, charitable gift annuities. You need only look at some interest rate tables promoted by many nonprofits. The principal inures to the charity following death but generates income at high interest levels while donors are alive. The rates make you salivate because their rate of return is guaranteed. Unlike stocks and dividends, which can be risky, these rates are safeguarded by the charity. This makes them lucrative to older folks because they are age-based and rise the older the donor is at time of purchase.

One method I used to market planned giving was to host seminars featuring speakers whose expertise revolved around such financial instruments. The seminars came with the requisite bagels and cream cheese refreshments, as well as free premiums for the senior citizen attendants. We gave away a lot of tote bags with all kinds of goodies inside. Our programs were educational, but also satisfied hunger pangs.

One day a small group neatly packed up their bagels and pastries into their tote bags and got up to leave the session early. I went over to them and asked why they were leaving? They told me: “There’s a UJA-Federation seminar down the street. We can’t be late.” Well, that wasn’t comforting. Needless to say, we didn’t fare well that day.

However, at one program we sold several sizable charitable gift annuities and realized a $1.3 million unitrust. A unitrust, also known as a charitable remainder trust, is a legal device defined by federal tax law from which the beneficiary annually receives a fixed percentage of the fair market value of its assets. Needless to say, that was a great day for us.

But what does this have to do with Lewis Carroll?

Well, the speaker that day went into a convoluted description of how a unitrust works. He was long-winded, quite elaborate, giving an unusually complex explanation of every possible intricate detail about unitrusts. He lost me and most of our audience. I could see most eyes were glazed over and I thought to myself: What a wasted opportunity!

And then it happened.

An older gentleman wearing a tweed hat, a torn and stained shirt, unlaced tennis shoes and an overcoat reminiscent of Detective Columbo, walked over to me at the end and said: “You know, everything he said sounded to me like ‘Jabberwocky,’ but I am sold on this unitrust idea.” He subsequently signed up for the $1.3 million unitrust and transformed that day into a huge success.

And that’s how we got back to Lewis Carroll.


Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than four decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]

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