Posts tagged ‘H. F. (Gerry) Lenfest’

August 7, 2018

Mega-Philanthropist with Profound Legacy:H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest (1930 -2018)

H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, cable-television pioneer, mega-philanthropist, and civic leader, has died at the age of 88. His extraordinary generosity and wisdom will have a lasting impact.

I had the privilege of knowing Gerry. I was especially honored that he provided the Foreword to my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. I want to share some of his astute words with you. However, I first want to tell you a bit about this great man and his exceptional life.

Gerry Lenfest (left) with Michael Rosen.

Gerry was not born into great wealth. He was born in Jacksonville, FL, and raised in Scarsdale, NY and later on the family farm in Hunterdon County, NJ. After his mother died when he was 13-years-old, his father sent him to the George School, a private boarding academy. A troubled student, he was invited not to return after just one year.

At his new school, young Gerry continued to be something of a juvenile delinquent, his own description. Finally, his father enrolled him at Mercersburg Academy where teenage Gerry began to excel.

Following high school, Gerry was directionless. He worked as a roughneck in North Dakota, a farm hand, and as a crew member on an oil tanker. Eventually, he attended Washington and Lee University where he received an undergraduate economics degree. He served in the U.S. Navy, rising to the rank of captain. In 1955, he married Marguerite Brooks, an elementary school teacher. Gerry went on to receive his law degree from Columbia University and, then, served with a prestigious New York law firm.

Walter Annenberg hired Gerry in 1965 to work at Triangle Publications, Inc., owner of Seventeen and TV Guide magazines, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News newspapers, television and radio stations, and several cable television properties. With the help of loans and two investors, he bought two tiny cable systems from Annenberg in 1974 to start Lenfest Communications. In 2000, Gerry’s company had grown from 7,600 subscribers to over 1 million to become the 11th largest cable company in the nation. That same year, he sold the company to Comcast, netting $1.2 billion in the deal.

Gerry always attributed his great success to the skill and dedication of his various teams and good fortune, whether in business or with the nonprofit organizations he worked with. Knowing he owed much of his success in life to others motivated him, in turn, to help others.

The Lenfests signed on to The Giving Pledge, a movement of wealthy individuals who commit to donating the majority of their fortunes. Over more than two decades, the Lenfests have donated more than $1.3 billion to over 1,200 nonprofit organizations. The top 10 recipients of support from the Lenfests are (source: Philly.com):

ORGANIZATION DOLLARS IN MILLIONS
Columbia University 155.0
Lenfest Institute for Journalism 129.5
Mercersburg Academy 109.0
Philadelphia Museum of Art 107.3
Washington and Lee University  81.0
Museum of the American Revolution  63.0
Curtis Institute of Music  60.0
Lenfest (Pew) Ocean Program  53.3
Wilson College  40.0
Lenfest Scholars Program  32.0

In addition to his enormous philanthropy, Gerry served on a number of nonprofit boards including Columbia University, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of the American Revolution, which he helped create. In 2005, Gerry and Marguerite were awarded the Association of Fundraising Professionals Award for Outstanding Philanthropists.

You can read more about Gerry Lenfest’s extraordinary story by clicking here.

While I could say much, much more about Gerry and his tremendous, positive impact, I’d rather share some of Gerry’s own words with you. Gerry provides some sage advice for fundraising professionals about what they must do to secure significant contributions:

Knowing your prospects and understanding what motivates them are two critical steps in the [philanthropic] process. Quite simply, you cannot skip cultivation and relationship building and expect a successful outcome.”

Lenfest was also keenly aware that the fundraising process should not end when an organization receives a donation. He advises:

Do not make the mistake of forgetting about us once you receive our gift commitment. We may truly appreciate how efficiently and effectively you handle contributed funds so much that we entrust you with another [donation]. We are also in a position to influence others to do the same.”

As a strong advocate for planned giving, Gerry observes:

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June 26, 2015

Are You Wasting Time by Hunting Unicorns?

Go to any fundraising conference, and you’ll find unicorn hunters. You might even be one. You can see the unicorn hunters in seminar sessions about Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts (CRATs), Charitable Lead Trusts (CLTs), and Charitable Remainder Uni-Trusts (CRUTs).

Unicorn hunters believe that Trusts are the cornerstone to a healthy planned giving program. Unicorn hunters scour the wealthiest portion of their donor files to find Trust prospects and then focus an enormous amount of time and energy trying to close big Trust gifts.

Unicorn by Rob Boudon via FlickrSome would-be unicorn hunters are overwhelmed by the hunt. They fear they have no prospects and/or they fear they have insufficient knowledge to pursue such gifts. So, they don’t implement any kind of planned giving effort.

Well, here’s your reality check, courtesy of Giving USA 2015: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2014.

As the chart below reveals, the number of Trusts is tiny compared to the number of Public Charities which stood at 963,234 in 2012 (not including religious congregations and organizations with less than $5,000 in revenue), according to the Urban Institute’s The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2014.

Even if every single charity that received a Trust gift only received one, that would mean that less than 12 percent of charities would have received a Trust gift in 2012. In other words, the likelihood that a fundraiser will close a Trust gift is very small in any given year. Moreover, the odds have been getting smaller as the number of charities has grown while the number of Trusts has declined.

Of course, that’s not quite how it works in the real world. In the real world, large organizations with large donor files containing plenty of wealthy supporters are far more likely to close Trust gifts than smaller organizations with smaller donor lists. If you don’t work at a large, established organization, the chances that you’ll close a Trust gift this year are miniscule.

 Trust Chart - 2015

While the dollars associated with Trust gifts are certainly significant, the actual number of such gifts is small. By contrast, far more people name a charity in their will, make beneficiary designations, give appreciated securities or personal property, or donate from their IRAs.

Keeping your eyes open for Trust-gift opportunities can be beneficial. However, you’re much more likely to close other types of planned gifts. This means:

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