Community foundation focuses on donor service

By Todd Cohen

[Note: This was written for Blackbaud.]

While the financial markets gradually have recovered since they crashed in 2008, a focus on providing good customer service to donors has helped generate annual giving of roughly $300 million a year over the past 5 years to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

“The market plays a huge role, probably the biggest role,” said Brenda Chumley, senior vice president of foundation relations and operations at the Foundation. But the biggest factors driving annual giving, which grew to $393 million in 2014, are “the services you offer and the flexibility of your foundation,” she said.

Investment options

A flexible service that donors value is the Foundation’s practice, which it adopted roughly 10 years ago, that gives donors the option of using their own investment managers to manage the investment of the charitable funds they create at the Foundation.

Outside managers now manage roughly 70 percent of the $2.5 billion in assets at the Foundation, which was founded in 1978. Investment returns on funds managed by outside managers are generally comparable to those of the Foundation’s pooled funds that are managed by our own investment managers, Chumley said.

Donor relations

Unlike many community foundations with separate departments for developing new donors and for providing services to existing donors, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation operates with a single donor relations department that works with prospective and existing donors. So the donor relations officer who works with a donor to make a first gift continues to work with that same donor.

Key to the work of the donor relations staff members is developing one-on-one relationships with donors, Chumley said.

Each donor has a personal contact at the Foundation, and each donor relations officer meets at least once a year with each donor about his or her portfolio unless a donor prefers to have no contact. Whether the meetings are in person, over the phone, or not at all, the goal is to “being respectful of the donor’s needs and making sure we’re fulfilling them,” Chumley said.

The Foundation offers a graduated fee schedule based on assets in the fund. “We treat every donor equally from a service perspective,” Chumley said. “It’s one donor at a time, and whatever their needs are, it is those we will service.”

Staffing and technology

To best serve donors, the Foundation has made significant investment in technology and, over the past five years, has slowly increased the size of its donor relations staff to seven from five.

Donors can use an online donor portal to review their charitable funds, make grants, look at their investment earnings, or print out a fund statement. And for the past 10 years, the Foundation has used separate software to help it manage data from outside investment managers selected by donors who opt to use them.

Staff expertise

The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation does not operate with a separate staff for gift planning. Each donor relations officer is responsible for working with donors on a broad range of gifts. And the Foundation’s corporate counsel, who handles planned gifts and serves on the donor relations staff, supports other donor relations officers in

working with donors on more complex gifts.

Types of gifts

Cash and stock are the most popular types of gifts to the Foundation, and donor advised funds are the most popular type of fund, Chumley said. The Foundation is also seeing a lot of gifts of real estate and closely-held business entities.

“People are looking at their entire portfolio and deciding what makes the most sense for them to give,” she said. “Sometimes it’s an illiquid asset they can turn into a liquid asset.”

The Foundation has a lot of experience in accepting complicated gifts, particularly as a result of the gift of the Kansas City Royals baseball team that it received in 1994 and sold in 2000.

Donor education

As part of the services it offers to donors, the Foundation hosts three to four education sessions a year. Typically held at lunch and attracting 25 to 30 donors, the sessions focus on topics such as preserving donor intent or working with successive generations.

And the Foundation tries to keep the sessions informal and fun, Chumley said.

For several years in a row, for example, the Foundation delivered cupcakes to all its donors with a note thanking them for having a fund with the Foundation and offering them “a treat on us.”

“We work really hard to make giving easy and fun,” Chumley said.

Professional advisers

The Foundation works strategically with lawyers, accountants, financial planners, and other professional advisers, meeting with them one-on-one, hosting education events, providing printed and online information, and materials they can use in working with their clients, and serving as a resource whenever needed.

“We’ve made it easy to quickly set up a donor-advised fund or other fund at year-end,” Chumley said.

The Foundation also hosts two lunches a year that feature advisers who talk about their work with the Foundation, as well as its own staff.

Communications

Operating with a communications staff of two people, the Foundation targets selective communications about philanthropy and about its work and impact.

When the Kansas City Royals played in the World Series last year, for example, the Foundation’s president and CEO, Debbie Wilkerson, wrote an opinion column for the local newspaper about the gift of the team to the Foundation, and the impact of the gift on the community.

The Foundation places some advertising on its local National Public Radio station, which also occasionally interviews members of the Foundation’s staff for its programs.

“When appropriate, we do outreach in that area,” Chumley said. “But we don’t just constantly try to get stories in the paper.”

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