During the recent Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference, a great event, I was approached by someone serving on an AFP Foundation committee. This person raised a very interesting question that I thought I’d share with you. The question deals with a fairly common planned-giving recognition issue frequently debated by nonprofit boards: Should a legacy society be inclusive or exclusive?
Since 1990, the AFP Foundation has recognized planned gift donors/pledgers as members of its Omega Circle. To become an Omega Circle member, one simply has to make a planned gift or planned-gift commitment of at least $5,000. Now, an AFP Foundation committee is reviewing the minimum threshold, which has not been increased in over two decades. Because I’m the author of Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I was approached by a member of the committee and asked how I felt about the idea of increasing the minimum threshold from the current $5,000 to $10,000.
I responded to the inquiry by pointing out that legacy recognition societies should be inclusive rather than exclusive. So, I think raising the threshold is a bad idea. Furthermore, I said that I think the committee is asking the wrong question. Instead of asking whether the Omega Circle minimum gift level should be raised, the committee should consider whether or not there should even be a minimum. I do not think there should be one. Again, legacy societies should be inclusive, not exclusive.
When I spoke with Curtis C. Deane, CFRE, CAE, President of the AFP Foundation, he defended the minimum threshold. He pointed out that there are hard stewardship costs in the Foundation’s gift planning program. One of the challenges in running a planned giving program for a professional association is that donors tend to be fairly young and active. This means that the Foundation will be waiting a long time for a gift to be actually realized. To underscore the point, Deane said that stewardship costs have exceeded realized planned-gift income over the six years he has been at the helm of the Foundation. By maintaining a minimum gift threshold, the Foundation hopes to ensure that a gift will retain some meaningful value when finally realized and that the costs associated with long-term stewardship will be more than offset.
While I understand Deane’s position, his arguments have not moved me. While eliminating the minimum gift requirement may result in some very small gifts, I doubt that it will result in a burdensome number of small gifts. Besides, with proper stewardship, some of those small donors will increase the value of their commitments over time.
There are a number of reasons why I continue to favor no minimums for legacy societies:
- Many donors will feel uncomfortable disclosing the amount of their planned-gift commitment. For some, this will be an obstacle to making the gift commitment at all. As development professionals, we should be in the business of removing, not imposing, obstacles to giving.
- Many donors simply do not know what the value of their planned gift will be. For example, a 45 year old donor who puts a charity in her will for five percent of her estate, will not have any accurate idea of what the value of that gift will be in another 40 years or so.
- For some donors, a set minimum becomes a maximum. By setting a minimum at $5,000, an organization will likely find many donors committing to that minimum rather than pledging to do more. That may be one reason the AFP Foundation is considering raising the minimum threshold.
By not setting a minimum in order for a donor be recognized, an organization removes an obstacle to giving. Donors who do not know the future value of their gift or who simply do not wish to disclose the value can make the deferred commitment with great comfort. By not setting a minimum gift level, an organization keeps the focus of the conversation on the donor and his philanthropic aspirations and needs; talking about a minimum gift requirement puts the spotlight back on the organization where it simply does not belong as a part of a donor-centered program. By not having a minimum gift level, more people will be more likely to make a deferred gift commitment. This in turn will inspire greater numbers of other people to follow suit. Simply put, removing a minimum gift requirement is the more welcoming way to go.
I’m reminded of a story I was told by the chief development officer from a rural hospital. She told me that an elderly couple had agreed to put the hospital in their will. They did not specify the amount. Nevertheless, the hospital recognized the couple as planned-gift donors and invited them to a stewardship event that included a tour of the hospital followed by lunch. After the tour, which included the children’s pavilion, the couple attended a simple luncheon with other donors. During the lunch, the gentleman stood up to make an announcement. He told the group that he and his wife had previously decided to include the hospital in their will. Yet, they weren’t sure how much to give and were thinking of something modest. However, when they visited the children’s pavilion, they realized that, having no children of their own, the community’s children are their children. So, the gentleman told the group that he and his wife had now decided to leave their entire estate, including their large farm, to the hospital.
The gift from the elderly farm couple would likely have never happened if the hospital had required a minimum gift commitment. Without having to make a minimum commitment, the couple felt comfortable pledging even though they did not know exactly what they would do. This allowed the hospital to steward them. As the hospital recognized the couple for their support, continued to cultivate the couple, and provided the couple with more information, the comfort level of the donors increased and so did their gift size, dramatically. If a minimum requirement had been in place, the couple would likely either not have made the commitment or would have locked into a more modest gift at the minimum level.
The AFP Foundation should set an example for the entire development profession and eliminate the minimum gift requirement for inclusion in the Omega Circle. Getting rid of the minimum will encourage more people to give which, in turn, will inspire even more people to give. Adopting a donor-centered posture is the right thing to do, and this is the example the AFP Foundation should set.
That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say? Does your organization have a minimum threshold for membership in its legacy society? What should the AFP Foundation do?