America is a Given Place

Where do charitable gift planners, fund raisers, trust officers, attorneys and financial advisors turn for knowledge of events that shape their work today?

In an entertaining presentation entitled America is a Given Place you will learn the original foundations of gift planning in the U.S. from the Pilgrims to today’s gifts.

Knowledge of history is the soundest foundation for planning for the future. Now you can see how gift planning through charitable bequests, trusts, annuities, and gifts of complex assets began with America’s first colonists, flourished in the newborn United States, and took shape through important Supreme Court decisions, federal legislation, and the founding of the American Council on Gift Annuities and the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners.

The live presentation is based on my 40 years as a charitable gift planner, including 15 years as director of gift planning at Princeton University, my alma mater. I was trained as a professional historian 30 years ago and have devoted thousands of hours to scholarly research and writing. I published some of the results in A History of Charitable Gift Planning (Amazon 2017) and add content from time to time at

America is a Given Place includes more than 50 colorful slides with a lively and well-documented narrative. Participants receive a valuable outline and bibliography (free!).  If you want to do so, your organization may record the session and post it on your website for future reference.

There is no charge for gift planning council meetings and conferences except for nominal travel expenses. There is a fee of $250 for other nonprofit organizations and $500 for for-profit firms plus travel expenses.

To schedule America is a Given Place please call Ronald Brown at 646-581-4867 or write to

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Practical Benefits from America is a Given Place

What benefits can you expect from investing an hour of your time in watching America is a Given Place?

Knowing the history of charitable gift planning is quite useful, even indispensable, for people who encourage or advise donors. Here is a sampler of benefits:

  • You will understand the principles behind laws, regulations and practices, so you can explain why things work the way they do
  • History informs your marketing. Stories of realized bequests and trusts are historical narratives!
  • Good stories provide you with insights into how donors, planners, & policymakers saw themselves and their mission, and inspire you to connect more deeply 
  • Historical trends in mortality and investment returns play a fundamental role in your gift design and tax calculations
  • History enables you to know yourself and your important role in America’s highly evolved system of philanthropy

You have much to gain from seeing how our practices today are shaped by lived experiences, major debates, and legislative reforms.

For example, the Philanthropy Protection Act of 1995 exempts gift planners from registering as securities salesmen and prohibits nonprofits from paying commissions based on the number or value of life-income gifts. Understanding the legal crisis that caused Congress and the Supreme Court to respond more than 25 years ago will make you more effective as a planner, more useful to your organization, and better-informed when discussing public policies.  

If you can mine the archives for good stories you have a powerful advantage. You can point to people helped today by the generosity of donors who never saw the fruits of their gifts, because their bequests and trusts matured after their death. You can feature highly regarded staff and faculty whose positions were funded years ago by bequests.

You will see that American history is full of donor stories with emotional impact:

  • Trustees of America’s first college were so overjoyed by a bequest that nearly 400 years later, we remember the name of John Harvard. 
  • Benjamin Franklin’s charitable trusts supported many generations of young tradesmen in Boston and Philadelphia
  • George Washington never attended college, but in his will he gave bequests to several colleges and trade schools
  • An Englishman named James Smithson left a bequest to a country he never visited that founded the world’s largest museum complex

There is a world of fascinating and effective stories that an awareness of history will unlock for you and make you a more resourceful communicator.

Once you understand the value of historical archives for marketing and organizational planning, you can make sure that documents, photos, and other materials are preserved for use by gift planners in future years.        

Historical data plays a fundamental role in gift planning. How can you and your organizational leaders make good decisions on budget and staffing without evaluating historical data on realized bequests and other planned gifts? How can you develop effective marketing strategies today without knowing the characteristics of people who have responded to past promotions?

The bottom line is: you will be a better informed, more productive gift planner after seeing America is a Given Place.


More about America is a Given Place:

Brief preview clip:

Praise for the webinar:

Support by the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners:

Ron Brown’s speaker bio and promotional piece for your website:

Summary outline of webinar topics:

Selected sources:

“Donation Mania” in 1786!

Dr. Benjamin Rush was a pioneer in the care of mentally ill patients. He wrote a satire in 1786 entitled “On the Different Species of Manias” in the brand-new United States of America, including “Donation Mania,” which afflicted those who “impoverished their families, by extravagant contributions to public undertakings, or who neglect their relations at their death, by bequeathing their estates to hospitals, colleges, and churches.”

You can learn a lot from reading satire! Rush wrote this with tongue in cheek, but his readers must have known people in 18th century America who seemed to have “donation mania.”

God bless them!