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“Developing” a bigger picture

Fundamental to photography is the art of composition, the way individual objects within a defined space combine to form a portrait. The more elements one is expected to work with, the more complex the task.

And what if the number of elements in the figurative viewfinder suddenly doubles, creating a virtual collage of colors, textures and patterns? Successfully merging the various fragments into one cohesive image is precisely the task at hand for Living Branches, a system of retirement living communities in southeastern Pennsylvania.

In June 2008, when Souderton Mennonite Homes (Souderton), Dock Woods Community (Lansdale) and Dock Meadows (Hatfield) officially became Living Branches, CEO Edward Brubaker had plenty of operational wrinkles to iron out, including approaches to fundraising. While the intent was always to merge the development functions of the three campuses, Brubaker took comfort in that fact that each department was, for the time being, working well on its own.

Nearly three years later, development discussions are picking up steam. The landscape looks different now: one development officer has retired, a second has moved into marketing, and the first-ever Director of Fund Development for the new entity has recently been hired.

Some details to be worked out are small. For example, this summer administrative staff will align software packages and merge donor databases. Decisions regarding special fundraising events also need to be made. Which should remain as they are? Which does it make sense to combine? Which could be eliminated?

Then there is another level of challenge: crafting an overall development philosophy that accommodates the emotional connections donors may have to one campus or another while, at the same time, encouraging people to see what Brubaker calls the “bigger picture” of Living Branches.

One doesn’t need to visit with the CEO long to detect a genuine caring and sensitivity for constituents that goes beyond far beyond business savvy.

“We recognize that donors have an emotional connection to the organizations they support. In bringing these organizations together, we don’t want to minimize the importance of those connections for the sake of easier administration,” Brubaker explains. “At the same time, Living Branches wants to invite our friends to connect to the entire organization.”

One development priority for Living Branches is charitable giving for benevolent care, funds through which the retirement community supports current residents who have exhausted their financial resources.

Prior to the merger, each organization had a fund dedicated to this purpose—the Agape Fund at Souderton and the Sharing Fund at Dock Woods/Meadows. Brubaker recognizes that, at least for the foreseeable future, some people will have a strong affinity to a particular campus. Living Branches plans to maintain each fund as a way to honor those sentiments.

Similarly, each year Living Branches receives memorial gifts that families want to designate to either Souderton or Dock Woods. “We want to show appreciation for the gifts we receive by allowing donors to connect with us in ways that are meaningful to them,” says Brubaker, “but we don’t want [giving to individual campuses] to be our main focus in the future.”

For this reason, a development task force is proposing creation of a third benevolent care fund to be used across the broader organization—the Living Branches Fund. “Many donors don’t care where their money goes as long as it is for benevolent care,” says Brubaker. “Building the Living Branches Fund, and thereby letting the organization designate how the money is used, is one way to help people see a bigger picture.”

Living Branches operates as a charitable 501(c)3 organization; that is one indicator of its commitment to those residents who, through no fault of their own, have outlived their resources. “If we didn’t offer benevolent care, we wouldn’t have a reason to do fundraising,” states Brubaker. “We would be just like any other business.”

And speaking of business, another intriguing question for the Living Branches development team is how to communicate a new identity to vendors and local businesses who until now have been asked for donations by both the Dock and Souderton communities. Because of the close proximity of the three campuses, there is considerable overlap among corporate donor constituents.

When asked how Living Branches might engage the business community going forward, Brubaker offers this scenario: “Businesses might receive a one-time ask through a personal visit or letter. As opposed to being invited multiple times for multiple events, vendors might be asked to partner with us, for example in our benevolent care ministry, through selected fundraising activities throughout the year.”

Brubaker is adamant about not expecting charitable gifts to help fix a deficit or subsidize those residents who are able to pay the full cost of care on their own, neither of which he considers legitimate objects of charity. “Donors want to give to specific needs rather than see their gifts just going toward operational expenditures.”

Personnel; software; special events; major donors and other friends; businesses and vendors. Exactly how the recently-merged organization pulls together the various compositional elements remains to be seen, and Living Branches has engaged AAI to assist the effort. What is certain is that the resulting image, as in photography, will be brought into focus through careful “development.” In the case of Living Branches, the term is literal, and Brubaker hopes it reveals not just a picture, but rather the bigger picture.

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Growing benevolent funds becomes primary concern for CCRCs

The Samaritan Fund. The Sharing Fund. The Promise Partners Fund. The Future Care Fund. The Golden Cross Fund. The Home Endowment Fund. The Care Assurance Fund.

These are some of the names continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) are using to describe their benevolent care funds. Whatever the name, finding a way to enlarge these funds has become high priority for virtually every retirement organization.

Through their benevolent care programs, retirement communities support residents who have exhausted their financial resources and, through no fault of their own, are unable to pay the full cost of required services. Doing everything possible to provide for such residents directly reflects the missions of many CCRCs, particularly those that are faith-based.

A number of CCRCs established benevolent funds a number of years ago, often with large unsolicited and unanticipated charitable gifts. However, rapidly growing needs of residents have exhausted available resources in many instances. Multiple factors have created this difficult circumstance, including increased life expectancy, fixed or limited incomes, increasing healthcare costs, and inadequate Medicaid funding.

Although one can never precisely predict with certainty, it’s clear that CCRC leaders assume even more need for benevolent care resources in the near future. For example, a recent survey of CCRC financial officers produced these startling facts:

• Eighty-four percent of the retirement communities that participated in a survey had already created a benevolent fund.

• Eighty-seven percent indicated that growing their benevolent funds was a priority.

• Most significantly, 42 percent of the financial officers noted that their benevolent funds must at least double from current values in order to meet financial needs of residents in the anticipated future.

Source: Ziegler financial services, May 2009

CCRCs often establish endowments to provide benevolent care resources for qualified residents. In such arrangements, only the annual interest earned from invested principal is used for recipients of benevolent care monies, thereby preserving the fund for the future. Other types of special funds designated for benevolent care permit use of both principal and interest. This approach offers more flexibility in meeting current needs, but without careful management may soon be depleted.

A variety of income sources underwrite benevolent funds. If available, operational revenue is often tapped. A portion of residents’ entrance fee refunds may be designated. Life insurance benefits of residents qualifying for assistance are sometimes assigned to the benevolent fund. The bulk of the necessary money, however, must come from charitable gifts.

A quick on-line review suggests how CCRCs solicit charitable support for their benevolent funds. One approach is special fundraising events, such as golf outings and benefit dinners. Memorial gifts are often designated. Churches affiliated with nearby retirement communities may collect an annual offering. One CCRC places ornaments on a special, visible Christmas tree to symbolize benevolent fund gifts received during the holiday season.

Eclipsing all of these fundraising activities are gifts from individuals who understand the importance of benevolent care funds and are moved to support them with substantial contributions. For many CCRCs, successfully soliciting more such gifts is the key to building benevolent fund programs for the anticipated future. Advancement Associates, Inc. has helped continuing care retirement communities address this priority and shares these beginning ideas for success.

1. Review previous large gifts made for your benevolent fund. What were the circumstances of such gifts? What motivated donors to support the fund? What do these stories suggest for fundraising strategies?

2. Make a list of the key stakeholder groups most likely to be interested in your benevolent care fund. Among those that come to mind are current residents, families of current and former residents, board and staff members, and members of supporting churches. How are you informing these groups of your benevolent fund and future needs?

3. Create a “case for support” for your benevolent fund. Such a statement presents the purpose for the fund; notes how it reflects the organization’s mission and values; and suggests three or four reasons why constituents should offer their support. These reasons should be repeated in all fundraising activities for the fund.

4. Along with other types of contributions, invite planned gifts and estate gifts for your benevolent fund. Because they reflect financial resources produced over a lifetime, such gifts are particularly appropriate for supporting an endowment. Create criteria for identifying prospects for planned gifts; cultivate positive relationships with them; and invite their support at the right time with personal, individual approaches.