Responding to need motivates donors

Carolyn Phanstiel doesn’t consider herself a philanthropist; instead, she describes her desire to help others as being like a child’s pinwheel with three spokes – a whoops-moments spoke, spreading-the-love spoke and a when-enough-is-enough spoke.

Mariette Broduer, principal consultant for MTB Consulting, asked Phanstiel to share her thoughts about philanthropic giving, along with John Zell’s description of a donor with whom he is working in his role as vice president of development for The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, with members and guests of the Planned Giving Council of Northeast Florida during its virtual April meeting.

Three “whoops moments” in particular have inspired Phanstiel to make annual gifts to organizations, as well to create a family legacy of giving that she hopes her children and grandchildren will continue. While in Taiwan as a teacher, she recalled seeing street signs in Chinese and wondering why they weren’t in English.

“That’s when I realized that not everything is about me,” she said.

While she was in the American Samoa, she observed her children experiencing a culture that was focused on caring and sharing. “No one goes hungry there,” she said. “The schoolchildren all share money at lunchtime to make sure everyone eats.”

Phanstiel’s third “whoops” happens once a year when she volunteers to help with the homeless count in Nassau County.

“I remember driving in certain areas and seeing one 20-year-old girl living in a tent behind Walmart and another couple living under a bridge.”

Her faith compels her to “spread the love,” the second spoke on her pinwheel of giving.

“One day I was in a church and as I exited after the service I noticed a sign over the portal that said ‘Now the service begins.’ That really hit me.”

Another time her son and grandchildren were on the beach in Fernandina hunting for sharks’ teeth.

“My grandson came running back to the house to tell her that his father gave their best sharks’ teeth to a woman and her son they met on the beach who had been having trouble finding sharks’ teeth on their own,” Phanstiel said.

She has been reflecting on the third spoke on her pinwheel, “when enough is enough,” since her retirement.

“I’m thinking about when I have enough stuff and enough money to be satisfied and when it is time to give money away,” she said.

Zell shared that his donor is motivated by “removing the thorn in his shoe” by donating to fix things that he believes he can improve. This particular donor is an only child who grew up poor. He views his work as a public school teacher and church organist/choir director as part of his way of giving back.

“His church musician work has always been his passion, even though it is a side job,” said Zell. “He wanted to fix things to make the church better, like poor air conditioning where the choir and organist sat and equipment to make the organ play lower notes and louder, so his wife and he gave the money needed for both of those projects.”

Both donors express the amount of difference they are able to make versus the quantities of people they are able to help as the way they measure impact.

“I tend to give where I volunteer,” Phanstiel said. “I like seeing the faces of clients and hearing their stories. Also, I check Charity Navigator because I want to make sure the organization is a good steward in making sure that my dollars count.”

In terms of estate planning, Phanstiel has picked four organizations and her estate gifts to them will be done through The Community Foundation as a family advised fund.

“My family decided one Christmas that instead of buying gifts for each other we would put the amount of money we would have spent in a family advised fund and then hold a family council to decide which charity would receive the funds that year, which has become a family legacy that I hope will continue,” she said.

Zell’s donor is focusing on distribution of Apple stock that he bought for $15 a share when Apple first started putting computers in schools, which improved his experience as a teacher. Annual contributions from these stocks as they have appreciated have enabled him to avoid capital gains tax and make meaningful gifts beyond what he would be able to do from his personal checkbook.

The donor is working on a charitable reminder trust that will mostly benefit the church that he has attended since his retirement. He wants to fund an annual organ recital with a nationally recognized organist that will raise fund to bolster the church’s operating budget.

The meeting produced three takeaways for attendees. Phanstiel shared that she thinks organizations should focus on their volunteers who are already invested in their organization. “That seems to be low-hanging fruit,” she said.

Zell notes that primary prospects are those who give every year and volunteer. “There is an exponential increase that they will want to give an estate gift.” The importance of listening to the donor is the third takeaway.

“I’d probably be turned off if a fundraiser or professional advisor approached me about giving,” Phanstiel said. “Strong values and a realization of what is needed has to be in place already.”

“It has to be their idea, not your direct ask,” Zell said. “My job is to help them build out their goals so that they feel joy about what is going to be accomplished.”

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