Looking Ahead

Looking Ahead

with Patience Boudreaux and Michele Bignardi

To kick-off 2021, LACGP president and president-elect, Patience Boudreaux and Michele Bignardi, sat down for a zoom conversation to reflect on the year that was 2020 and focus on the positives they’re carrying forward into 2021.

Patience: Michele, you’re one of my favorite people and have been ever since we co-chaired the Western Regional Planned Giving Conference together. That experience is one where you must adapt rapidly to challenges… some fairly good training for what we all faced in 2020, right? What’s your overarching reflection on last year?

Michele: As 2020 wore on, I tried to keep positive thoughts. I have long admired, and tried to adhere to, the sentiment of the Brian Tracy quote:

“You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude toward what happens to you, and in that, you will be mastering change rather than allowing it to master you.”

P: Whoa – that’s deep. You just leveled up on me…

M: This quote has helped me focus on “the positives” we received from the Great Pandemic of 2020. In these early days of 2021, many of us are mapping our new year’s strategy. For example, many of my clients reported stronger giving in 2020. What opportunities do you see ahead?

P: You’ve pinpointed something important there – by looking for positives, we are more likely to develop plans for 2021 which will allow us to capitalize on these positive since this year, so far, looks a lot like 2020 2.0. For myself, while I didn’t see an increase in documented bequest intentions, I have seen an increase in stock and DAF giving. My strategy for 2021 is to shift more of my focus towards encouraging and assisting donors to make gifts of appreciated assets because real estate and stocks are at highs right now and our institutional needs for current funds are heightened. We’ll still invest effort in having conversations about bequests, but much more of our energy will be on outright gifts of complex assets.

M: I think that is an excellent approach. I am always amazed that even the most successful people need reminders that they can make gifts in a more tax efficient manor – particularly with appreciated assets. What work strategies are you going to build on in 2021 regardless of how or when then physical distancing orders remain in effect?

P: I’m not wasting my time making any plans for in-person interactions until July at the earliest. In some ways, this has freed me up to consider how else I might spend my travel budget and time. I’m hoping to double-down on stewardship touches that help donors deeply understand their faith in us is meaningful: coordinating highly-custom impact reports which I haven’t had the time coordinate in the past, legacy society virtual events that connect distant donors to executive leadership, and finding special ways to show we care about them as people. Aaron Levinson shared that he sent his donors freshly baked cookies early in the pandemic and he received some of the warmest response he’s ever heard from… I’ve been percolating on how to replicate this ever since.

I’m interested in your thoughts on a different topic – what workplace practice or expectation do you hope is gone forever?

M: That is a great question. I read that if we just go back to old practices, we will have missed the benefits 2020 provided us. For example – how important is that in-office meeting? Is there a better use of time? Can we accomplish the same goals and make it more time efficient? I think we should develop some checklist before we say “Mandatory In-Person Attendance.”

P: All good points. Thinking about LACGP in 2021, I’m putting deep thought into our strong record of providing networking and support at our General Membership meetings. I feel like we’ve done a good job incorporating networking into our virtual meetings. I also think virtual meetings make attendance more approachable for many because of the reduced expense and you don’t have to factor in a drive when you consider attending… since I commute in from the Inland Empire, this has been a significant benefit to me and others. While I’m eager for the day we can meet in person again, I suspect we will retain an element of virtual programming.

M: I agree. LACGP is focused on professional development – what are the most significant career development opportunities the 2020 pandemic gave us?

P: I have been excited about opportunities we have to bring in speakers from across the nation. Normally, this is something that’s only possible for WRPGC, but we’ve been able to do this for general meetings and stand-alone webinars in the pandemic. In December, we welcomed the board chair of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, Kent Weimer, for an interactive webinar on tackling problematic gifts. He’s from Dallas and in the past our speaker budget wouldn’t have allowed us to bring him in for a group of less than 100 people. We’ll feature Avery Tucker Fontaine of BNY Mellon at our January general meeting and in March we’ll have Bill Stanczykiewicz of Indian University’s Lilly School of Philanthropy in conversation with Katrina Pipasts of Northern Trust. These speakers bring a national perspective that pairs well with the profile of our gift planning community and I’m glad we’re able to bring them to our membership at a time when so many of us are seeking insight at a 30,000-foot level.

M: We’ve been so positive and I’m proud of us for that!

P: Given your background as a consultant for a variety of types of nonprofits, I’m interested in what you think the biggest lessons of the 2020 pandemic are for the nonprofit world in general and gift planning in particular?

M: One of the most interesting “meetings” I had was with a potential donor and her three children – two of whom were in New York. Five separate Zoom windows. That meeting would have never happened pre-pandemic. Over the course of the last 10+ months, I have seen of my clients’ donors and leaders become much more comfortable with new technology. If grandma wants to see the grandkids – she better accept Zoom, right? And I will admit, I am closer to that demographic myself. The length of this “safe in place” phase gave people time to get comfortable and even master new technology. We now have an opportunity to touch more of our planned giving prospects, so let’s build this into our cultivation and stewardship strategies.

P: Totally agree! I love this opportunity to focus on the positives, but I do wonder what your biggest losses from your pre-pandemic work routine are and how are you doing to address this in 2021?

M: Listening to podcasts while sitting in traffic, particularly on the 405. I think our haste to schedule all our available time to Zoom and other virtual meetings did not allow us to incorporate the mandated down-time provided by our daily commutes. In 2021, I am going to more purposely schedule “thinking time.” This would have been the time I thought of as wasted in traffic but now I know I was using it quite effectively to plan my next meeting or next workday.

What do you hope stays in place post-pandemic?

P: More flexible work options is the answer I’ll commit to, but the more relaxed dress code that’s come with work-from-home is the answer I suspect I’ll be thinking about once we enter our new normal.

M: To-go drinks for me!


Posted with the permission of the Los Angeles Council of Charitable Gift Planners

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