In 2000, after 15 years in the managed health care field, I joined my prep school alma mater, The Hotchkiss School, as a major gifts officer. A year later I was planning my first trip to St. Louis.
Hotchkiss’s legendary Rusty Chandler—recently retired but serving as a consultant to our development office—encouraged me to call on Bill and Ann McGuinn, whom he described as “wonderful people who love Hotchkiss and have the school in their estate plans.”
What could be an easier introduction to St. Louis?
Dutifully, I called Mr. McGuinn, who politely unloaded on me. He explained how much their son, Paul, who had been tragically murdered in 1989, had loved Hotchkiss. He was a star hockey player, and Mr. McGuinn could still name his linemates and most of the team. However, the McGuinns had grown increasingly bitter over the fact that Paul was dismissed from the school during his senior year for violating a major school rule, and they placed the blame squarely on the headmaster for failing to recognize that their son was an innocent bystander. The pain had become too much for them, and Mr. McGuinn told me they had consequently removed Hotchkiss from their estate plans. Nearly speechless, I could only express my sadness.
What could I do to help them? An important fact was that Paul was dismissed the day before spring break; in other words, the hockey season had been completed. Our athletics director agreed that a varsity letter had been earned and could be issued posthumously. I circulated the certificate that accompanies our sweater letter to the retired athletics director, retired head hockey coach, and captain from Paul’s senior year for their respective signatures, and I then sent the two items to the McGuinns with a cover letter from our head of school. This was done entirely from the heart, with no consideration whatsoever to being a cultivation move.
A few weeks later an emotional Mr. McGuinn called me. Deeply moved by the gesture, he and Mrs. McGuinn decided to reinstate their generous bequest for Hotchkiss. Fast forward a couple more years, and they decided to make their gift early—and in doing so, endowed a memorial scholarship that bears their son’s name.
Their only request? For it to be used for other parents’ sons.
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John S. Reed Jr. is Senior Advisor, Principal Gifts, at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT. John’s story of a bequest that almost wasn’t demonstrates the importance of regular check-ins with those supporters who have pledged a planned gift to your nonprofit. It’s also a wonderful example of how going the extra mile—even when you expect nothing in return—can win back hearts and minds.