About Lynn Malzone Ierardi, JD. Lynn has been in the estate and gift planning field for more than 30 years. She is a leader in the charitable planning community and recently completed a term as 2019 Board Chair of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners (CGP). She’s also served as a leader for the local CGP councils in New Jersey and Greater Philadelphia for more than two decades.
Lynn’s recently published book, Storytelling: The Secret Sauce of Fundraising Success, was recently named to Book Authority’s 100 Best Fundraising Book of All Time. As a dynamic and highly rated speaker, Lynn has presented at conferences, meetings, and webinars throughout the country on a variety of charitable planning topics – including storytelling. She is passionate about helping nonprofit organizations to secure significant gifts using the right assets, and the right structures.
She has served as Director of Gift Planning for the University of Pennsylvania since 2005 and as an independent gift planning consultant (Gift Planning Advisor) since 2002. Her experience includes gift planning positions in health and higher education, as Vice President with the Merrill Lynch Center for Philanthropy, and the practice of estate planning and real estate law. Lynn is a graduate of Lycoming College and Fordham University School of Law, and a two-time Proud Penn Parent.
Conversation with Lynn Ierardi
Eddie Thompson: Thank you for joining us today for another edition of our podcast series, Conversations with Industry Icons. Today, we have a special guest. Lynn Ierardi is with us. She has been in gift planning for 30 years – but that’s hard to believe she’s been doing this 30 years! She serves as Director of Gift Planning for University of Pennsylvania and is also an independent consultant with Gift Planning Advisors. In 2019, she was the Chair of the National Association of Gift Planners. She is a great speaker. She is a great trainer for organizations. Lynn, we’re thrilled to have you with us today – thanks for joining us!
Lynn Ierardi: Thanks, Eddie, a pleasure to be with you.
Eddie: Lynn, when you look over your career, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned?
Lynn: The most important lessons I’ve learned, especially for gift planners, is patience.
The work that we do doesn’t happen overnight. But, patience is probably the number one thing I’ve learned. I’m not always patient with everything, I like to see results quickly. So, that’s probably the number one thing, but the other thing is to be open-minded. You never know where things are going to come from. I say “things” broadly, whether that’s gifts or valuable lessons or wisdom, or camaraderie. There are so many things in this field that you just can’t anticipate. So, the other thing other than patience, I think I’ve learned just to be open-minded.
Eddie: Good point! Now, I introduced you saying that you spent more than 30 years in this industry. First of all, is that true?
Lynn: It is true! I started my career in 1989 as an estate planning attorney. So, yeah, it’s been more than 30 years.
Eddie: Oh my! Hard to believe. Time moves on. What do you think are the biggest changes in our industry in the last 30 years?
Lynn: Well, obviously, the technology has changed in the last 30 years, and even more rapidly in the last six months. That’s one of the big changes. When I started my first position in fundraising after I left the practice of law, it was with the American Heart Association in 1994. I went in and asked questions like, “give me a list of donors who’ve given three times over the last five years,” or “give me a list of donors who’ve been giving for 10 years, or 20 years.” We didn’t really have a lot of capability to do that in those early years. I remember having a box of index cards on my desk with donor names and donor information. The world has changed significantly since those years and we have so much technology used in donor prospecting and donor management and relationships. We’re using it in the last six months for cultivation, solicitation and stewardship.
Eddie: Boy, that is so true. I want to propose something, I’d like to get your reaction or response to it. I believe donors, by and large, especially donors who give major gift assets, I think they tend to be optimistic people. During this time where we’ve experienced COVID, and 2020 has been such an unusual year, what do you think about the average donor out there? Would you say they’re optimistic, pessimistic, puzzled, confused? How would you describe them?
Lynn: Well, I think there’s a little bit of all of that depending on who you’re talking to. But, I agree with you that generally speaking if we’re painting with a broad brush, I think major gift donors and major donors do tend to be optimistic. I think, for the most part, people who are generous, who are philanthropic, tend to live a life of abundance instead of terror.
Lynn: And, that’s an attitude!
Eddie: Yes! It’s been interesting. Right now, with all that’s been going on, I am as busy as I’ve ever been with donors and planning. I have not seen a lowering of expectations of what people plan to do for charity and their estate plan. What changes or have you seen any changes with donors?
Lynn: I haven’t seen significant changes. In some ways, although this pandemic is unprecedented and that’s the word we hear often these days, I’ve been through challenging times before. That comes with that experience of doing this for a long time. I’ve reflected often in the last six months to the recession and the great downturn. In fact, I shared this story recently, that University of Pennsylvania was in a significant campaign that we kicked off in 2007 that was scheduled to run 2007 to 2012, when in the midst of that campaign, the recession hit.
Lynn: What we did was we persevered. That was the advice that came down from the top – keep getting out there, keep talking to people, and most importantly keep listening. And we were wildly successful in that campaign. We exceeded the goal despite the recession. I’ve reflected on that during this pandemic because the advice really is the same. If you keep getting out there, even if it’s virtually, listen to people, persevere, donors will still give, don’t assume that they won’t. It was good advice during the recession, it’s good advice now.
Now, I shared this story recently and somebody said, “So, when we want to know when the next big hit or downturn is going to come, we just need to turn and look when Penn kicks off a campaign. Because we’re in the midst of a campaign now! Every time we kick off a campaign, it seems a few years later, there’s a major hurdle.
Eddie: It’s always interesting to me when you look historically anytime there’s been an economic downturn, gift planning really pops up on the radar as an important ingredient to future success.
Lynn: Oh, it’s so true. That was one of the lessons learned, absolutely. Early in 2006, 7, 8, major gift fundraisers would say, “That’s OK, gift planning folks, we don’t need you. We don’t need your help. We can do this on our own.” Then when the recession hit, many of those very same fundraisers were coming back and saying, “What was it you said about how we can structure this or how we can use assets instead of income?” So, yes, it becomes more important when there’s something like this where there’s any kind of hurdle.
Eddie: I’m keeping you a little bit longer than I promised, but let me ask you one more question. What has been the biggest mistake you’ve learned in your career and what lessons did you learn from it?
Lynn: There have been so many mistakes and so many lessons if you do this long enough! You make mistakes along the way. Hopefully you learn from them. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is to be prepared, to be flexible and resilient.
One of the funniest examples I can share with you is a story earlier in my career. Now I’ve done presentations since the days of an overhead projector with transparencies. I’m not going back quite that far, but early in my career, I remember traveling down to Washington, DC to speak to their local planned giving council. I don’t remember what club it was, it was one of the fancy Washington DC clubs. I went with my laptop with my presentation on my laptop ready to go. When they tried to connect the laptop to the projector, the slides weren’t working. I was sweating, literally sweating. Out from the kitchen came the chef in his chef regalia – the white hat, the white jacket, the houndstooth pants – and he’s struggling with the technology to try to get it to work. Eventually, he did. But, I had to start the presentation without the benefit of my slides. What I learned from that was always be extra prepared. Now I email my presentation to myself, so that I can access it that way. I put it on a jump drive AND I have it on my laptop. Time and time again, that lesson from that experience has come in handy. I did a presentation a couple months ago for Pentera and at the last minute, the microphone wasn’t working properly. I immediately switched to my phone and said, “No problem! We’ll use the sound through my phone.” You have to be ready for things to go wrong and be resilient, and that happens with donors as well. That’s a lesson I learned early on – to be ready to roll with the punches and don’t sweat it.
Eddie: Lynn, you’re the best! You’re a great professional. Another secret about Lynn is she is an amazing chef. She’s got many talents, has raised two really special daughters. Lynn, we appreciate you taking time today. Appreciate your insights. You are a special professional that we all look up to – you are truly an icon in our industry. We appreciate you.
Lynn: Thanks, Eddie.
Eddie: Thank you again for joining us on our podcast, Conversations with Industry Icons. We look forward to our next presentation. Again, we thank Lynn for this great presentation today. We’ll talk to you again in the future.