The Parachute Club…The Evolution of Planned Giving Committees?

As part of a workshop I taught a couple of years ago, I shared the story of the Parachute Club.  Afterwards, Lee-Anne Camlin, Planned Giving Officer at Lakehead University said she was interested in setting this up and asked if I would send her additional information.  Well I didn’t really have anything written, so I crafted the following overview.  I met her recently at a conference and she told me it’s working very well.  So, I thought I’d share with others – who knows it might also work for you.  By the way, Lee-Anne said it would be okay if anyone wanted to contact her to see how it’s going. 

In the world of fundraising, we know the value of being ‘donor-centred’, but perhaps we should pay more attention to this concept when asking professional advisors to get involved in our planned giving programs.  I think this approach reflects what Dale Carnegie was talking about when he said:

“You’ll have more fun and success when you stop trying to get what you want and start helping other people get what they want.”                             Dale Carnegie

The Story of the Parachute Club (tagline: a mutually-beneficial relationship).

Once upon a time…I started working at a university on the Prairies, looking after their planned giving program which had been set up by a wonderful and wise person (Leslie Weir). Unfortunately, she had left the year before I arrived and no-one had managed the program in her absence.  As part of my initial search of the files, I discovered her Planned Giving Committee folder.  Leslie had set up the committee to help develop PG-related policies, procedures and marketing materials.  They had accomplished a great deal in strengthening the program, but hadn’t met since Leslie left.

I decided to visit each committee member to thank them for their contributions and determine their interest in staying involved.  When I phoned, I explained the intention of my visit and out of the six original members; only three were interested in further involvement – the other three said that while they had enjoyed being involved –they declined the invitation.

When I met the three who were interested they were very complimentary about their initial period of involvement, when the program was just getting off the ground, but all said they really weren’t interested in staying on.  The reasons given were: too many meetings, the trip to/from the university took too much time and they questioned the real benefit to the university now the initial work had been completed.   However, they all expressed a desire to support the university (they were all alumni).

I’d heard similar responses, in my past work when members stepped down from PG committees, and that was why I’d developed the Parachute Club concept – but this was going to be my chance to ‘jump right in’.  And so I delivered the pitch.

And to my delight, all three said yes.  I was particularly happy because this ‘small but mighty’ group represented the exact mix of professional advisors I had wanted:  an estate lawyer (who had lots of experience with CRA and charitable bequests), an independent insurance agent and a tax accountant (again, very familiar with CRA).

Download the following PDF to discover the guidelines for Parachute Club Membership and the process I followed in recruiting members. The Nuts & Bolts of The Parachute Club

The Outcome

It was a very successful alternative to the traditional PG or Advisory Committee structure.  I developed a wonderful working relationship with all members and learned so much from them and the university was all the richer for their shared wisdom.

As it turned out, all the meetings were held in the downtown area, and members took turns hosting these…usually at 7 or 7:30 am.  I would always arrive with a collection of fresh-baked goodies from some of the amazing bakeries in Winnipeg and the members would provide the coffee and tea.

For me, the meetings were a delightful and stimulating opportunity to learn so much from such wise and experienced professionals.  Just listening to them discussing the complex cases I would ask them to ‘drop in on’ was fascinating as collectively they brought such a depth and breadth of skills, knowledge and experience to each PG ‘case’.

Over the two years that I worked at that university, I only had to ask for a formal position papers twice (which, by agreement were paid for).  Both involved very complex gift planning structures – well beyond my expertise.  One was a million dollar ‘triple-backed, insured annuity’ involving ten donors with one as the ‘insured life’ and the other was something that many in the planned giving world in the early 2000’s were introduced to…the Banyan Tree ‘opportunity’.

What was the ROI for the Parachute Club Members? They told me that liked the idea of not having to attend ‘regular’ committee meetings, and found the case discussions a wonderful opportunity to dive into interesting, often challenging and professionally-engaging discussions.  They loved being able to give something back to their university and learn something at the same time.

We only met as a full group about 3 or 4 times a year – the rest of the Parachute Club business was conducted by email and, sometimes, by phone.   And I kept my supervisor apprised of the help I received.

And since they were donating their time and expertise, I treated them to the same level of stewardship as my planned giving donors.   And, they were invited to PG stewardship events/activities and other university activities as key volunteers.

That’s about it – I always talk about this in my fundraising workshops as I do believe it’s a much more beneficial way to involve and build relationships with professional advisors.

Long-term benefits

Over time, the members did refer clients who were interested in making a ‘PG’ gift to the university to me.

I always included them on my list of professional advisors when donor asked for referrals.  And a few of donors told me they had chosen them as their professional advisors.

They told others in their professional practices about their ‘club’ membership– which helped bolster the university’s reputation within their professional circles.

And, they ended up referring more clients and company work to one another.

So, why not take the leap…don’t worry your parachute is sure to open.


About Norma Cameron, CFRE

Norma Cameron is owner and principal of The Narrative Company, formed in 2006 to help people and organizations understand and apply the “power of story”. Prior to this, Norma had over 20 years’ experience in communications, fundraising, organizational development, performance storytelling, public speaking and training. As an engaging keynote speaker and seminar leader, she works with public, private and non-profit sector clients. As a seasoned storyteller, she has performed at conferences, concerts and festivals across Canada and the UK.
This entry was posted in Fundraising, Gift Planning in Canada, Legacy Story, Narrative Philanthropy, Norma Cameron, Planned Giving, The Narrative Company. Bookmark the permalink.

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