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Featured Non-Profit Interview: Ron Brown

Interview, by George Williams, Communications Specialist - Planned Legacy Inc.

Director of Planned Giving, Princeton University
Chair, LEAVE A LEGACY™ New Jersey

Ron Brown, Director of Planned Giving, Princeton UniversityAbout Ron Brown: Ron Brown is the Director of Planned Giving at Princeton University and a certified financial planner (CFP). He has held similar positions at United Way of America and the National Wildlife Federation, and he served on the NCPG board from 1989-91. He is Vice Chair of the board of the Gift Planning Council of New Jersey and is founding Chair of LEAVE A LEGACY™ New Jersey. Princeton University has one of the largest endowment funds in the world among educational institutions, with a value of over $8.3 billion.

Learn more about Princeton University...


Planned Legacy: Can you tell us about your background and what led you to pursue a career in development and planned giving? How long have you been the Director of Planned Giving at Princeton University?

Ron Brown: My stepfather was a longtime United Way professional, so I was involved with organized philanthropy from the time I was about seven years old. Like many kids, I took swimming lessons at the YMCA and through the Red Cross, participated in Scouting and other such programs.

I started out to be an English teacher, decided that wasn’t for me, and found an
entry-level job with the United Way in Rockford, Illinois. That was in 1979. I’ve been a fundraiser ever since. My first exposure to gift planning was through a pooled income fund run by the United Way in Binghamton, New York where I was Associate Director from 1981-84. I served as Director of Planned Giving at United Way of America from 1987-92, consulting with United Ways in communities throughout the country. I became Director of Planned Giving at Princeton, my alma mater, in 1996.

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Planned Legacy: Can you tell us about your work as the volunteer chair for LEAVE A LEGACY™ New Jersey, concerning new awareness programs and initiatives?

Ron Brown: We started this awareness campaign two years ago, with the objective of encouraging people in New Jersey to include a gift to their favorite charities in their will or other estate plans. We’ve begun a media campaign, held seminars, launched a Speakers Bureau and a Web site, and signed on more than 190 participating charities. It has brought greater visibility for our major sponsor, the Gift Planning Council of New Jersey, and I hope this has caused some people to make charitable bequests.

Planned Legacy: What are the major reasons for the success of the Princeton planned giving programs and the Princeton giving programs in general?

Ron Brown: The Princeton undergraduate experience is uniquely excellent, and has been for many years. Alumni love this place, and they stay in close touch with happenings on campus as well as with one another. We have the highest percentage of alumni giving in the country, so the planned gifts we receive are just one element in a very successful development program.

Planned Legacy: What does Princeton do to create and maintain donor relationships? Are there any specific techniques that have worked especially well for you?

Ron Brown: Our stewardship for student financial aid funds sets a high standard for other donor relationships at Princeton: we encourage all students to write personal notes to their scholarship donors each year; we provide regular financial reports; we feature scholarship students in a well-produced newsletter. Many donors feel their gifts are a way of “giving back” to a place that has meant something important to them.

Planned Legacy: What role does donor recognition play in the Princeton planned giving program and the Princeton giving programs in general? What does Princeton do to recognize its donors?

Ron Brown: In 1995 we began a recognition program known as “The 1746 Society” commemorating the year Princeton was founded. People who disclose a bequest intention, and anyone who makes a planned gift, is a member. We now have about 1,500 members. The names of new members are listed annually in our alumni magazine, and all members except those who prefer to be anonymous are listed on their class stationery in a special mailing each fall. We also provide members with an orange-and-black pin that is popular.

Planned Legacy: What would you consider the prime target market to be for the Princeton planned giving program? Do you do anything specific to reach out to that target market?

Ron Brown: Traditionally we have used direct mail to communicate with alumni age 55 and older. We produce an in-house newsletter with donor testimonials and gift descriptions, which we mail twice each year. We have planned giving ads in 13 issues of our alumni magazine. Most importantly, each class after the 35th Reunion has a volunteer planned giving chair, who writes to each of his classmates on class stationery encouraging them to consider gift planning. 

We work closely with our colleagues in other areas of the development operation to encourage referrals, and we make presentations to alumni groups from time to time.

Lately a higher percentage of our donors have been younger, including a $25 million CRT from a woman in her 25th Reunion year.

Planned Legacy: In your experience, what have been your most successful programs and techniques for obtaining planned gifts?

Ron Brown: Nothing is more effective than a personal testimonial from someone you know and trust. Of course, we work hard to be sure our planned giving donors have a positive experience: understanding their objectives, being sensitive to their family situation, providing accurate and relevant information, and investing their assets effectively.

Planned Legacy: Have you seen any emerging trends regarding preferences for different types of planned gifts? If so, what can organizations do to take advantage of these trends?

Ron Brown: Charitable remainder trusts are the “workhorse” for most gift planning programs because of their flexibility, particularly now that “flip” trusts are available.

Gift annuities continue to be the gift of choice for older donors, while lead trusts are hot right now because of the historically low interest rates. Pooled income funds are virtually dead, but they may come back.

If I had to choose one gift arrangement for a charity to focus on, I would encourage the charity to become really expert in remainder trusts, and especially trusts funded with real estate, since property values remain very strong in most parts of the country. 

Planned Legacy: What factors are crucial in the development of a successful planned giving program? What specific action steps can an organization take to stimulate their planned giving program?

Ron Brown: You must start with building trust in your staff and in building your overall expertise. Life income gifts put you in a long-term fiduciary relationship with donors. Can they depend on you to give them accurate, timely, and complete information? Can you assure donors your investment strategies are sound? Donors need to have confidence in you and your ideas. So you first need to earn that level of trust, then communicate with prospective donors in ways that build trust: testimonials, factual evidence about your gift plans, information about your expertise, and so forth.

Planned Legacy: What role do you see new technologies such as the Internet, Web sites, e-mail, electronic newsletters and Web-based kiosks playing in the future of planned giving and giving in general?

Ron Brown: Clearly the gift planning world is moving towards electronic communication and away from so much dependence on regular mail. I am not enough of a guru to predict where this will take us. It is not unusual now for me to receive an e-mail from a young Princeton graduate I have never met or spoken with, who has not been on our mailing list, but who has looked at our Web site, found we encouraged a certain kind of gift, and asked me for a very specific gift illustration. I send her an e-mail attachment, and she instructs her broker to make an electronic stock transfer.

The pace of fund raising has ratcheted up considerably. People want information right now, and they ask for a level of detail that requires some technical dexterity. Still, what drives their interest is the same as in past decades: an emotional connection with our mission, and strong trust in our management of the relationship.


About Princeton University 

Chartered in 1746 as the College of New Jersey -- the name by which it was known for 150 years -- Princeton University was British North America's fourth college. Located in Elizabeth for one year and then in Newark for nine, the College of New Jersey moved to Princeton in 1756. It was housed in Nassau Hall, which was newly built on land donated by Nathaniel FitzRandolph.

Nassau Hall contained the entire College for nearly half a century. In 1896 when expanded program offerings brought the College university status, the College of New Jersey was officially renamed Princeton University in honor of its host community of Princeton. Four years later in 1900 the Graduate School was established.

Fully co-educational since 1969, Princeton during the 2000-01 academic year enrolled 6,438 students -- 4,554 undergraduates (634 of whom are New Jersey residents, representing every county in the state) and 1,853 graduate students. The ratio of full-time students to faculty members (in full-time equivalents) is 5.6 to 1.

Living up to its motto "In the Nation's Service and in the Service of All Nations," Princeton University has educated thousands of individuals who have dedicated their lives to public service, including two U. S. presidents (Woodrow Wilson and James Madison); hundreds of U. S. and state legislators (the House of Representatives, for example, has housed a Princeton alumnus every year since it first met in 1789); and 44 governors, including 11 New Jersey governors. 

Each year, more than 2,500 members of the student body, faculty, and staff volunteer in community service projects throughout the region. Reflecting this public service spirit, the University as an institution supports many service initiatives.

Today Princeton's main campus in Princeton Borough and Princeton Township consists of more than 6 million square feet of space in 160 buildings on 500 acres. The University, with 11,754 employees (permanent and casual), is Mercer County's largest private employer and one of the largest in the region. It plays a major role in the educational, cultural, and economic life in the area by bringing an estimated 500,000 visitors and $1.5 billion in economic activity to the region.

For more information please contact:

Ronald A. Brown 
Director of Planned Giving 
Princeton University 
330 Alexander Road
PO Box 39
Princeton, NJ 08544-0039 
Phone: 609/258-3009 
Fax: 609/258-2529 (fax) 
E-mail: rbrown@princeton.edu
Web: http://www.princeton.edu/giving/plangiv/


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