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Fundraising Colleagues Collaborate to Win 2013 AFP/Skystone Partners Research Prize on Philanthropic Planning

February 26, 2013

Long-time friends and colleagues Robert E. Wahlers, MS, CFRE, and Brian Sagrestano, CFRE, have co-penned this year’s AFP/Skystone Partners Research Prize honoree, The Philanthropic Planning Companion—a volume the prize committee called “outstanding” and “commendable”.

Twenty years ago Wahlers was a financial planner and volunteering with the Boy Scouts. Sagrestano was a lawyer tying in charity work for some of his clients. Fast forward a couple of years and the two were rubbing elbows through the Gift Planning Council of New Jersey and building a friendship over their passion for philanthropic planning. After a fellow AFP volunteer put a bug in Wahlers’ ear about the need for a planned giving book, he followed-up with Sagrestano about the possibility of co-penmanship.

“I always admired his work and thought it would be neat to involve him,” says Wahlers of Sagrestano. Between Wahlers’ background in working with advisors and Sagrestano’s background with lawyers and policies, they felt the combination made a good contribution to the idea of a book on planned giving.

Aside from co-penning the book together, Wahlers and Sagrestano also co-present live educational sessions on several occasions, including at the upcoming AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Diego!

A Culmination of Forty Years

As Wahlers and Sagrestano discussed the concept of writing a philanthropic planning guide, they wanted to make sure it was readable and understandable without getting caught up in the overly technical aspects of trusts, wills and legal documents. With the recognition of the 2013 AFP/Skystone Partners Research Prize, it’s safe to say they succeeded.

The Research Prize Judging Committee lauded their book, saying it presents a wide range of tactical suggestions for fundraisers, but does so within an integrated framework that provides theoretical depth. “The authors incorporate findings from academic research into their approaches and suggestions in a commendable manner,” adds the committee. “The use of academic research is done in such a way as to enhance the worthwhile practical suggestions that will be of most interest to fundraisers. Although the book’s contents are extensive, the organization makes its resources immediately accessible for the busy fundraising professional.”

“It’s a wonderful recognition of hard work,” says Wahlers of winning the research prize. “To be selected out of all of the books is humbling for both of us—a tremendous honor,” adds Sagrestano.

Though the building of the book was a two-and-a-half-year venture, Sagrestano says in some ways it was a culmination of their entire careers leading up to that point. Sagrestano and Wahlers pulled best practices from what they learned along the way, finding that when you combine roughly 40 years of experience between the two of them, you come out with a outstanding collaboration such as The Philanthropic Planning Companion.

Let the Companion Lead You to a Donor-Centered World

Wahlers and Sagrestano hope that those who adapt this book as their planned giving companion adapt to a donor-centered way of living, with the donor, their family and advisors, and their giving plan all rolled into a tidy package. “There’s a bigger picture than going and asking the donor for a gift,” says Sagrestano. “There’s more that goes into it than that.”

The co-author duo describes the guide as anecdotal evidence of what works for fundraisers and advisors—as well as what doesn’t work. They were able to analyze studies over the last five years involving donors and philanthropic planning, setting the stage for their new theories around planned giving.

“The book applies to everyone—from the highest networked donor to the most basic introductory contributor—because we didn’t get technical and complicated,” says Sagrestano. “Even though this is a new way of philanthropic planning, it needed to remain simple and accessible.”

The world of fundraising has fundamentally shifted for fundraisers and advisors, and the two authors walk readers through why it has changed and how fundraisers can adapt to the group of new philanthropists who are emerging. “Fundraisers and financial advisors, there’s not one without the other,” says Wahlers.

It’s time to change the behavior and methodology from the last 40 years to appeal to the new generation, say the authors, and the book speaks to the demographic and generational cohorts of today, including officers, leadership, executive directors and others.

Going Beyond the Book in San Diego

If you’ve read the companion and are itching to get more insight from the authors, you can join them at the 2013 AFP International Conference on Fundraising in San Diego for Transformational Gifts: Using Philanthropic Planning to Partner with Prospects and Advisors. And if you haven’t had a chance to thumb through the companion just yet, you certainly won’t be lost during this session on Tuesday, April 9 from 8:00 – 9:15 a.m., as Wahlers and Sagrestano will conduct a hands-on session, tailoring the direction for the individual audience members.

The two authors will walk through the concept of the seven touches – how to interact with donors seven times throughout the year and what that means for providing stewardship and enhancing relationships. You’ll get the opportunity to hear case studies, ask specific questions about your own shop and figure out how to work some of the aspects of the companion into your permanent practice. Get a direct application to your circumstance, whether it pertains to healthcare, religion, arts, etc., and not just a general fundraising overview.

It’s obvious that Wahlers and Sagrestano’s contributions to the sector and specifically philanthropic planning are well received and appreciated, and the feeling is mutual. “We see AFP as a critical player in advancing the fundraising profession and we hope to continue to be involved in that, as we too turn to AFP as a leader in the profession,” says Sagrestano. Wahlers adds, “We are always willing to help the profession and AFP in any way we can.”

Congratulations to Wahlers and Sagrestano on receiving the 2013 AFP/Skystone Partners Research Prize, and thank you for your contributions to AFP and the profession as a whole! 



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