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Jack Owen’s Tax-Exempt Alert–June 2017

June 2017 (Original article from October 2004)


I was at a Southwestern Leadership Foundation meeting back in 2004 where the program involved teaching on how to be an “aggressive responder.” From my recollection, this involves first being a good learner and active listener, and only then responding to the situation, each with our own unique talents and particular skill-sets. We discussed this approach at the Planned Giving 101 program sponsored by the Southwestern Planned Giving Council on June 13, 2017.

In talking with a nonprofit executive back in 2004, it dawned on me that this should be a part of our planned giving services. While maybe this is not unique to those living and breathing planned giving day-in and day-out, I think it might be helpful in thinking about how to start a planned giving program.

A few observations: from my experience, too many nonprofits never really “get off the dime” in starting a planned giving program. They are afraid of the subject, particularly thinking that they don’t understand all the technical tax rules. They think they must be tax lawyers or CPAs! This is a mistake, which in my view is very costly and short-sighted. They also complain that they have no time or money to start a planned giving program.

I agree that development professionals need some familiarity with the tax rules to do planned giving, but they don’t need to be technical geniuses with all the answers on the tips of their tongues. They also don’t need tons of money for fancy brochures, seminars and the like. Time is a good thing to find, and that is understandably in short supply at times. But, being an aggressive responder is likely to be a better approach than nothing at all. For example, it has been my contention for a number of years that development professionals only need to know their donors better to solicit planned gifts. After numerous late afternoon “teas” learning all that they can about a donor’s family, career, retirement, vacation homes, dogs, cats, etc., only then can the development professional aggressively respond to the donor when the inevitable subject of life, death and taxes comes up. This is when to bring up the subject of “planned giving.” Potential tools like “CRT” (Charitable Remainder Trust), “CRAT” (Charitable Remainder Annuity Trust), “CRUT” (Charitable Remainder Unitrust) and the like can then start coming up at that time. Also, experts like tax lawyers can be brought to bear on the necessary structure, advice and documentation.

I am sure that many on this e-mail list can think of successful planned giving stories, but let me try one on you. Basically, this client was involved in a large capital campaign, an approximate $25,000,000 campaign. The client had never done anything before with planned giving and had absolutely no knowledge of the subject. But, someone knew enough to put a brief tag line on the pledge card to “check this box if you want information on how to make a gift through your Will or in trust for XYZ charity.” After two members of the board of directors checked the box, two multi-million dollar charitable remainder trusts resulted. This was an aggressive response by the charity, well worth the minimal upfront time and expense involved. As in all planned gifts of this size, please note that much time and effort then went into closing these gifts.

As a law firm with technical tax expertise, we are prepared to assist charities in being aggressive responders to potential planned gift donors. Call us for information on how we can help, and then we will aggressively respond! We would also highly encourage you to at least become somewhat conversant in planned giving ideas and terminology, although being a tax wizard is not required. To that end, joining your local Planned Giving Council is a great idea. The next meeting of the Southwestern Planned Giving Council is on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., Rivers Club. The program on July 11 is the Neighborhood Block Party: A Roundtable Discussion on Planned Giving Best Practices. For more information, go to, or contact Chapter Administrator Sarah Poweska at [email protected].

Jack Owen, Esq.

Owen & Conley, LLC

310 Grant Street, Suite 1005

Southwestern,PA 15219

Telephone: 412.765-1020

E-MAIL: [email protected]


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Note: This provides general information regarding matters of interest to tax-exempt organizations. Such information is neither legal advice nor legal opinion concerning particular situations. If legal advice or opinion is required, legal counsel should be consulted.

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