Development Officer Helps Donors Secure Gifts that Support Wesleyan’s Endowment

Mark Davis ’96, development officer for Planned Giving, oversees donor accounts that require a degree of financial or legal planning, such as gift annuities, charitable unitrusts, real estate, insurance policies and bequests.
Posted 11/20/07
Q: Mark, when did you graduate from Wesleyan and when did you begin working for University Relations?

A: I graduated in 1996, and returned to Wesleyan in the fall of 2005 – just in time for my 10th reunion!

Q: What did you major in, and what led you towards working in Planned Giving?

A: I was a history major, and went on to spend seven years at an investment management firm in Boston before returning to Wesleyan. My wife is a Middletown native (we met in Boston), so we were both happy to return to the area. I enjoy working in planned giving because the job allows me to work closely with a particularly devoted group of donors, people who have taken the time and effort to include Wesleyan in their financial or estate plans.

Q: What is “Planned Giving” and how does this branch differ from Major Gifts and the Annual Fund?

A: The term “planned giving” encompasses all gifts that require a degree of financial or legal planning, such as gift annuities, charitable unitrusts, real estate, insurance policies, and bequests. It also covers gifts-in-kind, such as artwork, books, athletic or science equipment, and so on. The Director of Planned Giving, Christina Posniak, and I both started at Wesleyan as major gift officers, and we both retain responsibility for a good number of these relationships. In order to best spread awareness of planned opportunities throughout the fundraising staff, the Planned Giving team is fully integrated with our colleagues in the Wesleyan Fund and Major Gifts. A planned gift typically comes as the result of a long period of cultivation by a variety of Wesleyan staff and volunteers – it is invariably a team effort.

Q: The Planned Giving Web site,, says “You can make a gift that costs you nothing during your lifetime.” Can you elaborate on this?

A: It sounds like a great deal, and it is! The most common form of planned gift is a bequest, through which donors leave a portion of their estate to help ensure Wesleyan’s future. Also, with the proliferation of defined contribution retirement plans, it has become increasingly common for donors to designate Wesleyan as the beneficiary of a percentage of their IRA or other qualified retirement accounts. Additionally, Wesleyan offers attractive gift annuity and charitable unitrust options, which allow donors to make a gift to Wesleyan while guaranteeing them a lifetime income stream and an immediate tax benefit. All of these gifts are similar in that they allow people with a wide range of financial resources to have a meaningful role in sustaining Wesleyan and its ability to welcome deserving students regardless of their ability to pay for tuition.

Q: Do you have an annual fund-raising goal in Planned Giving? And once money is raised, how is it applied to the university?

A: Planned Giving operates within Wesleyan’s broader annual fundraising goals: in a typical meeting with a donor, it is not uncommon for us to discuss three forms of support: annual fund, endowment and planned gifts. By its nature planned giving has an especially important role in securing gifts that support the growth of Wesleyan’s endowment. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the job is working with donors to determine how Wesleyan will put their gifts to work. The process of finding where Wesleyan’s most pressing needs intersect with our donors’ areas of interest is educational for all concerned – we learn more about the donors, and the donors learn more about Wesleyan and about what their own priorities are.

Q: Who are the members of the Planned Giving team at Wesleyan?

A: Our Planned Giving team is led by Christina Posniak, who has been at Wesleyan for almost 10 years. Christina and I are delighted that Camille Dolansky will be joining us as Planned Giving Coordinator, bringing seven years of experience from Parent Programs.

Q: What are the Olin Associates and how does this society relate to Planned Giving?

A: Membership in the Olin Associates recognizes donors who have made provisions for Wesleyan in their estate or financial plans. The society takes its name from former Trustee Stephen Olin and his wife Emeline, who established one of Wesleyan’s first major planned gifts, an annuity, which provided the funding for Olin Library. Olin Associates are awarded a pin featuring Wesleyan’s scallop shell insignia, which was on the coat of arms of John Wesley. This symbol has been used in heraldry to signify journeys to distant countries, and is thus a link to Wesleyan’s tradition of social service and global engagement.

Q: What do you like best about working at your alma mater?

A: I enjoy having the opportunity to work with a dynamic group of colleagues and donors, all of whom share a bond with Wesleyan and the progressive ideals it stands for. I appreciated my experience as an undergraduate, but only by working here as a staff member have I gained a full understanding of the hard work and generosity that goes into making a Wesleyan education possible. I benefited from financial aid, but what few people realize is that even students who pay the full price of tuition receive a substantial subsidy from Wesleyan’s endowment. That is why giving back to Wesleyan is so important.

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: For someone like me, who is still a history major at heart, it’s great to live in a place like Middletown, which dates back to 1650. Megan and I love exploring this area, and I typically carry a camera around with me. Also, one of the benefits of escaping Boston is that I am able to root more openly for my New York Yankees, although it does seem that in the University Relations Office, citizens of Red Sox Nation have the upper hand. And sadly, they have bragging rights again this year.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your role in the Office of Planned Giving?

A: Yes, I’d like to say that we are a particularly friendly group, so anyone interested in learning more about Planned Giving at Wesleyan should not hesitate to give us a call!

By Olivia Drake, The Wesleyan Connection editor