March 21, 2018

15 Things You Might Not Know about Planned Giving

There’s a lot about planned giving that’s worth knowing and that can help you raise more money. Fortunately, it’s not necessarily all complicated.

Yes, vast differences exist from one planned giving program to the next. Some nonprofit organizations invest heavily in planned giving with dedicated staff and marketing. Other charities invest little and have development generalists talk with donors about gift planning from time-to-time. Despite the differences from one organization to another, there are a large number of points in common.

To help you be a more successful fundraising professional, I want to share 15 insights about planned giving:

1.  Almost everyone has the ability to make a planned gift. A common myth about planned giving is that it is just for rich people. However, that’s not the case. For example, anyone who owns a retirement account, a life insurance policy, appreciated stock, or a home can be a planned gift donor. As H. Gerry Lenfest, the mega-philanthropist, wrote in the Foreword to Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing,  “Planned gifts are the major gifts of the middle class.”

2.  The average age of someone who makes their first charitable bequest commitment is 40-50. Another misconception about planned giving is that it is something that old people engage in. While that’s true for certain planned gifts (e.g., gifts from an IRA, or gifts to set up a non-deferred Charitable Gift Annuity), donors of any age can create a charitable provision in their Will or set-up a Beneficiary Designation.

3.  High-income women are more likely than men to use complex gift planning tools. High-income women (those with an annual household income of $150,000 or more) are more likely than high-income men to seek expert financial advice. They are also more likely to establish Donor-Advised Funds or Charitable Remainder Trusts. So, do not ignore female prospects. Instead, be prepared to talk with high-income women about sophisticated giving options.

4.  Using a challenge grant for a planned gift appeal can create urgency leading to action. Research shows that people tend to avoid conversations or decisions involving their own demise. One way to shift the focus of the planned giving conversation from death is to use a challenge grant to encourage prospects to think about making a planned gift commitment so that the organization receives an extra benefit. A challenge grant also creates a sense of urgency that gives donors a reason to act now rather than further delay making a planned gift decision. Continue reading

March 14, 2018

Is Online #Fundraising Really Worth Your Time?

For years, nonprofit organizations have invested significant amounts of time and money to build online fundraising efforts that have steadily evolved to embrace more and more sophisticated technologies and methods. But, are those efforts really worthwhile?

The Blackbaud Institute’s recently released Charitable Giving Report: How Fundraising Performed in 2017 can help us answer that question.

The news about overall philanthropy in 2017 is good. Blackbaud reports:

A convergence of economic, political, technological, and philanthropic trends helped boost giving in 2017. The 4.1% increase in giving during 2017 was a substantial jump compared to relatively flat growth in 2016. A strong stock market, spikes in giving in response to political issues or disasters, and the continued shift to digital giving all influenced giving in 2017. This growth was also fueled by a 5.1% increase in giving during the final three months of 2017. The potential implications of new U.S. tax laws may have contributed to this late surge in charitable giving.”

The news about online giving is also good. Blackbaud has found:

  • 7.6% of overall fundraising revenue, excluding grants, was raised online representing a new record high.
  • Online giving grew 12.1% in 2017 compared to 2016.
  • 21% of online transactions were made using a mobile device in 2017.
  • The average online donation is $132.
  • 20.1% of online giving happened in December.

Online is an important source of donations for nonprofit organizations of every size as the following chart illustrates: Continue reading

March 8, 2018

Update: Is the Nonprofit Sector Ignoring the #TimesUp Movement?

I’m surprised. You might be, too.

At the end of last month, I published the post “#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune.” The post is one of my least read articles so far this year. By comparison, several old posts that I have not promoted for a long time have attracted far more readers during the past week. Given the seriousness of workplace sexual harassment and assault, I am disappointed that my post on the subject has not received more attention.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not whining. I’m simply concerned that an important, timely issue facing the nonprofit sector is apparently of little interest to fundraising professionals and nonprofit managers.

Why do you think my previous #TimesUp post has attracted so few readers?

It could be that folks do not believe it’s really a significant issue for the nonprofit sector; after all, we do good so we must be good. Or, it could be that nonprofit professionals don’t believe they have the power to bring change to their organizations, so they don’t bother thinking about it. Or, it could be something else. What do you think?

Interestingly, the percentage of post readers who responded to my one-question anonymous survey was above average. While the broader universe of potential readers might not have been interested in the article, those who did read the piece were highly engaged.

The poll was admittedly unscientific. Nevertheless, I owe it to those who responded to share the results: Continue reading

March 6, 2018

3 Powerful Ways to Get Your Monthly Donors to Give More

A few weeks ago, I published the post “How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year.” Guest blogger Joe Garecht shared some great advice for increasing giving. However, the post did not specifically address the issue of monthly giving. That led to a reader comment.

Larry Little, President of Guardian Angel Basset Rescue, raised some important questions:

Our revenues are in the $300k range but approximately 30% of that comes through our monthly giving program. My question is about asking monthly donors to increase their amounts. How often should that be done? And should you segment your list and ask that segment every 18 months?”

First, I want to congratulate Little for having a robust monthly-giving program. Well done!

Second, I thank Little for inspiring this week’s post. While I could have given him a quick, brief response, I realized the topic deserves more attention and that it would likely be of interest to many of my readers. So, I invited expert Erica Waasdorp, President of A Direct Solution and author of the best-selling book Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant, to share her wisdom to help us better understand how to inspire greater giving from monthly supporters. I thank her for her insights:


It’s wonderful to see how much the focus is shifting to monthly giving, and it’s starting to really pay off for nonprofit organizations. Here are just two recent statistics from the most recent Blackbaud Luminate Online Benchmark Report:

Expanding relationships with existing supporters was the name of the game this year as we saw a 20.4% growth in sustainer revenue.”

Viewing online revenue as one great big pie, we saw a larger slice of the pie—8.4% more—coming from sustainer gifts in 2017.”

Today, I’m not going to write about how to convert your donors to give monthly. Today, I’m going to focus on how to generate more money from your existing monthly donors.

Just because they’re now giving more money than as single-gift givers doesn’t mean it ends there. Oh no! There are three ways you can actually ask your monthly donors to give more money:

1.      Ask for a monthly upgrade.

2.      Ask for an additional gift.

3.      Ask for a legacy gift.

Ask for a monthly upgrade.

People typically ask me two questions: A) How soon after a donor starts giving monthly can I ask for an upgrade? B) How often can I ask for an upgrade?

Before I address the timing questions, let me just point out that donors upgrade because they have been stewarded effectively. Totally true. And this also pertains to monthly donors. That’s why I always “hammer” on the importance of sending a hard-copy thank-you recognition letter even if the monthly donor came in online.

So let’s assume that you’ve done this part right. And let’s assume that your donor gives monthly through his or her credit card. And let’s assume that you send the donor a quarterly newsletter with some great stories and updates on how the donor’s giving makes a difference.

I’ve seen organizations that started to upgrade right away. I’ve seen organizations that started to upgrade three months after a monthly donor joined. Frankly, I think that’s just too soon. Yes, you may get some donors to upgrade when you ask, but I think you’d also come across as much greedier than you may wish to. That could alienate some supporters.

Your donor has just started to get used to giving monthly. They’re just getting acquainted with your stewardship efforts. They have just started to realize the convenience of giving this way.

You pay taxes typically once a year; you update your budget once a year, so I suggest asking for an upgraded amount once a year, ideally between 10 to 12 months after the donor gave monthly for the first time. That’s when you can make a legitimate case for the increase in cost for xyz service, and ask the donor if he can “give just a few dollars more a month” to help the children/client/animals.

And, as Joe Garecht mentioned in his earlier post, the four elements of asking monthly donors to increase their monthly gift are indeed: Continue reading

February 27, 2018

#TimesUp Alert: Nonprofit Organizations are Not Immune

The nonprofit and philanthropic communities are not immune. We must face a sad truth: Sexual harassment and assault do not exist exclusively in Hollywood or even just the broader for-profit sector. The problems also fester in the nonprofit and philanthropic sphere. The issue is so serious for the nonprofit sector that the Association of Fundraising Professionals has recently issued a clear statement and planned steps to address the situation.

The victims of Harvey Weinstein made the world aware, in 2017, of the Hollywood movie mogul’s alleged despicable acts of sexual harassment and assault. The revelations led to the #MeToo social media movement that put the spotlight on other alleged perpetrators in the film and other industries.

As the year ended, the #MeToo movement evolved into the #TimesUp initiative. Megan Garber, writing in The Atlantic, described the transition this way:

The simple shift in hashtag, #MeToo to #TimesUp, is telling: While the former has, thus far, largely emphasized the personal and the anecdotal, #TimesUp — objective in subject, inclusive of verb, suggestive of action — embraces the political. It attempts to expand the fight against sexual harassment, and the workplace inequality that has allowed it to flourish for so long, beyond the realm of the individual story, the individual reality.”

The #TimesUp Legal Defense Fund, part of the new movement, set an initial $15 million goal, now $22 million. As of this writing, over $21 million has been raised from nearly 20,000 donors through GoFundMe.

Within the nonprofit sector, it’s easy for us to have a false sense of comfort. Some may believe others are addressing the problem adequately. Others may believe the problem is not that widespread among nonprofits because they are inherently good because they do good.

Unfortunately, there is ample anecdotal and statistical evidence demonstrating that the nonprofit sector faces the same situation as the rest of society when it comes to sexual exploitation, harassment, and assault. Wherever some people hold power over others, the door is open to sexual harassment and assault.

Consider just a few examples:

The Presidents Club. Over the years, this organization has raised over 20 million British pounds for various children’s charities in the UK. The cornerstone fundraising activity of this UK-based charity has been an annual gala for over 300 figures from British business, finance, and politics. On January 18, the group gathered at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London where they were joined by 130 hostesses.

A Financial Times investigative report found:

All of the women were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. At an after-party many hostesses — some of them students earning extra cash — were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned.”

I can’t do this story justice. Please take a few moments to read the full Financial Times article. It’s stunning. Since the report was published, The Presidents Club has ceased operations.

Oxfam. Large international charities are not immune to scandal either. Oxfam officials this month released the findings of an internal investigation that found its country director for Haiti hired “prostitutes” during a relief mission in 2011. Furthermore, in 2016 and 2017, Oxfam dealt with 87 sexual exploitation cases as well as sexual harassment or assault of staff, according to a report in Devex. While the Haiti country director has resigned and Oxfam has taken steps to avoid exploitation and harassment in the future, the negative public relations and philanthropic fallout have been significant.

Humane Society of the United States. Wayne Pacelle, Chief Executive Officer of the Humane Society, resigned following sexual harassment charges filed against him, according to The New York Times. While Pacelle maintains his innocence, he also faced allegations of sexual relationships with subordinates, donors, and volunteers going back years.

While the anecdotes are alarming, they don’t really help us understand how vast the problem is. So, let’s look at the numbers. In the USA, nearly 1200 sexual-harassment claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against nonprofit organizations between 1995 and 2016, according to a report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy. While a significant number, it likely only reflects a modest percentage of actual cases, most of which go unreported or are only reported internally. Continue reading

February 22, 2018

What do Abraham Lincoln and Jennifer Lawrence have in Common?

President Abraham Lincoln and actress Jennifer Lawrence each learned something that can help your fundraising efforts. Before I tell you what that is, let me share a bit of history with you.

Earlier this week, the USA celebrated Presidents Day. Congress originally established the Federal holiday to commemorate the birth of George Washington, the nation’s first President, born on Feb. 22, 1732. At some point, the holiday also began to include Lincoln, born on Feb. 12, 1809. Then, all of the US Presidents were lumped into the holiday. Well, sort of. Despite its commonly excepted name — Presidents Day — it remains officially Washington’s Birthday.

To honor a President this week, I thought I’d share some wisdom from one of them. Then, as I was preparing to write this piece, I stumbled upon an article about Lawrence, and realized she has learned the same lesson as Lincoln.

Paraphrasing 15th century poet John Lydgate, Lincoln is believed to have stated:

You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

Lawrence, definitely in a different league than Lincoln, has nevertheless learned the same lesson. While she likely had this insight well before this year’s British Academy of Film and Television Awards, she had a reminder of it resulting from an interview hosted by Joanna Lumley.

Lumley introduced Lawrence by saying, “And we start with the award for Outstanding British Film and who better to kick the whole evening off than the hottest actress on the planet? Soon to be seen in ‘Red Sparrow,’ it’s the ravishing Jennifer Lawrence.” The American actress then came out and modestly said, “Hi. That was a bit much, but thank you, Joanna.”

Following the exchange, the social media battle began. Some people thought that Lawrence was being “discourteous,” “a spoiled brat,” “rude,” and more. On the other side, there were plenty of people who sided with the actress with one even questioning, “How is that rude?”

Lincoln Memorial

Yes, you can never please all of the people all of the time.

That’s an important lesson for all of us.

Your fundraising plan will not make everyone happy. Your direct mail copy will not make everyone happy. The graphic design for your annual report will not make everyone happy.

At some point in your career, likely far more than once, you’ll hear, “We can’t do that here. We’ve never done it that way.” You might even have someone in upper management comment negatively on your direct-mail appeal because it’s not how she would write a letter to a friend — “Do you really need to use bullets and boldface?”

You get the idea.

You just need to understand that you will never make everyone happy all of the time. When confronted by senseless criticism based on emotion rather than knowledge, keep these five points in mind: Continue reading

February 14, 2018

How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year

Showing donor love and asking for more money should not be mutually exclusive activities. Inspiring upgraded support requires both to work hand-in-hand.

Unfortunately, for many nonprofit organizations, stewardship is the poor stepchild of the fundraising process. It is often ignored or poorly implemented. It is usually an underfunded activity. As a result, donor-retention rates for the nonprofit sector are pathetic.

Development professionals who think about stewardship usually believe that it is something sandwiched between when a gift is received and the next appeal. In other words, stewardship and fundraising are separate functions. However, Joe Garecht, President of Garecht Fundraising Associates and Editor of The Nonprofit Fundraising Digest, believes that the next appeal is actually an integral part of a robust stewardship process. An upgrade appeal will not achieve maximum success without sound stewardship. Done well, an ask is an extension of the stewardship process.

Joe’s thinking makes sense. If we love our donors, why would we want to deny them the satisfaction of continuing to support a cause they care about? Why would we want to deny them the opportunity to make a larger commitment? Helping donors to continue feeling good about continuing to do good is part of good stewardship.

We want our donors to feel important, feel needed. One way to do that, is to ask and to ask for more than they gave last year. However, we shouldn’t make an upgrade appeal in a vacuum.

It’s not just about asking. As Joe explains in his guest post below, it’s about incorporating the ask into a sound stewardship system so that the upgrade appeal is a natural evolution of our relationship with the donor. Stewardship and asking are not separate activities; they part of a cohesive system.

I thank Joe for sharing his stewardship insights and his four-step strategy for asking for donation upgrades:


One of the most important fundraising systems you can build at your nonprofit is an effective donor stewardship strategy. Donor stewardship starts with thanking your donors for their gifts… but is much more than that.

There are three main goals for your donor stewardship system:

  1. Donor Retention: You want to make sure that your donors keep giving year after year.
  2. Referrals: You want your donors to introduce you to their friends and colleagues who also might want to get involved with your organization.
  3. Donor Upgrades: You want your donors to give more this year than last year, and to move to major gifts and planned giving, if they have the capacity to do so.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at that third goal. We’re going to answer the question, “How can you get your current donors to give more this year than they did last year?” To understand how to best upgrade your donors, we’re going to first explore why donors make the decision to upgrade, and then review a simple, four-step strategy for getting your donors to upgrade this year.

Understanding Why Donors Upgrade

If you want to successfully solicit your donors to give more this year than they have in the past, it is important to understand why donors decide to upgrade their gifts:

Donors upgrade because they have been stewarded effectively.

The most important reason why donors upgrade is because they have been properly stewarded. This means that your nonprofit has appropriately thanked and recognized them for their past gifts, and has continued to build a relationship with them. Your donors want to feel like they are an integral part of your team. They want to feel appreciated, valued, and heard.

If you are treating your donors well, keeping them updated on your work, seeking their advice and input, and reporting on outcomes in between asks, your donors will be far more likely to upgrade their gifts. If your donors are investing their emotional energy, knowledge, and time in your work, then upgrading their financial investment will be the next logical step.

Donors upgrade because you are casting a big vision.

One of my favorite maxims in fundraising is this: Donors don’t make big gifts to small visions. Your donors want to change the world. They want to make a difference. If you are not casting a big enough vision, your donors will make their big gifts elsewhere, investing in organizations and companies that are.

Every nonprofit can cast a big vision…even small, local organizations working in one small corner of the world. Start by asking yourself, “How are we changing the world? How are we changing lives? How are we saving lives?” Your answers to these questions will help you think through the real impact of your work. If you want your donors to give more this year than they ever have before, you need to cast a bigger vision this year than you ever have before.

Donors upgrade because they are asked to upgrade.

Donors only upgrade when you ask them to do so. Very few donors will upgrade their gifts without being asked.  Thus, if you want your donors to give more this year than they did last year, you need to go out and ask them to do so. While the majority of your stewardship system should be focused on cultivation, asking for donations from current donors (including renewals and upgrades) is an essential part of the fundraising cycle.

In order to be successful, the upgrade process should be systematic. This means that you shouldn’t ask for upgrades here and there, whenever the whim strikes you. Instead, you should have a defined plan in place to review your donors’ capacity and ask them for upgrades as often as appropriate.

How to Ask Your Donors to Upgrade Continue reading

February 6, 2018

We All We Got. We All We Need.

How would you like to be a champion fundraising professional?

It’s simple. Not easy, but simple.

The Super Bowl LII Champion Philadelphia Eagles provide us with a great example of what it takes to be the best in any profession. While Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins — he’s also an entrepreneur and philanthropist — didn’t originate the sentiment, he articulated a statement that became a team slogan and nicely sums up the champion creed:

We all we got. We all we need.”

Let me explain.

To succeed, we need to recognize that all we truly can depend on is our team and ourselves. Furthermore, that’s often enough. More specifically, in the fundraising world, here’s what it means:

Build a strong team. Hire, or encourage your organization to hire, talented staff who believe passionately in the organization’s mission. Such people will almost always enjoy greater fundraising success than a hired mercenary who only wants a job and a paycheck. Remember, not only does your organization rely on the people it hires, so do you.

James Sinegal, Co-Founder of Costco says:

If you hire good people, give them good jobs, and pay them good wages, generally something good is going to happen.”

Enhance the team’s skills. Even talented, experienced people can enhance their skills. As professionals, we must never stop learning. We must always strive for improvement. This will make us more effective, and heighten our self-esteem. It will also keep us from getting bored.

Will Smith, an accomplished television and movie actor, continues to hone his craft and refuses to simply walk through his roles. As he says:

I’ve always considered myself to be just average talent, [but] what I have is a ridiculous insane obsessiveness for practice and preparation.”

Recognize you can only control what you can control. As an example, you could have angst about whether the new tax code will have a negative impact on philanthropy. Or, you could examine the new code to see how you can leverage it for greater fundraising success. In other words, you can choose to worry about something over which you have no control, or you can decide to take steps to adapt to the new fundraising environment.

Self-help author Brian Tracy puts it this way: Continue reading

January 30, 2018

Russell James: Three for the Price of FREE!

One of the nation’s leading philanthropy researchers provides us with helpful insights about the new tax code and its impact on charitable giving. He also offers valuable information about planned giving.

Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP® articles, books, and videos will benefit any fundraising professional. Here are just three that will be a big benefit to you:

1. A Donor’s Guide to the 2018 Tax Law (video)

In just nine-and-a-half minutes, James explains how key provisions of the new tax code can benefit donors. With his insights, you’ll be in a better position to inspire more donations and larger gifts to your nonprofit organization. Simple illustrations and great examples will help you easily grasp the concepts.

Do you know?: Just one of the things you’ll learn from the video is that donors can contribute appreciated stock to avoid capital gains tax. Even non-itemizers can benefit from this. While this provision of the tax code remains unaltered, what has changed is that the new code makes this provision even more valuable for donors. James explains how in the free video:

2.Visual Planned Giving: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning (e-book, updated January 2018)

I’m honored that James has allowed me to offer you a free copy of his 433-page e-book Visual Planned Giving: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning. James designed the newly updated book for fundraisers and financial advisors seeking to expand their knowledge about charitable gift planning. This introductory book addresses all of the major topics in planned giving law and taxation in an accessible way.

Do you know?: Wealth is not held in cash. It’s held in assets. James has found that only one percent of financial assets are held in cash! So, if you want larger donations, you need to talk with supporters about making a planned gift from non-cash assets (e.g., stocks, personal property, real estate, retirement accounts, life insurance, etc.).

If you want to learn more about planned giving or help a colleague gain a fundamental understanding, you can download your free copy of Visual Planned Giving by clicking here. Continue reading

January 26, 2018

Are You Making the Same Mistake as Whole Foods Market?

Whole Foods, a supermarket-industry leader recently acquired by on-line retailer Amazon, has received some bad publicity this month. Consider the following headline appearing in The Boston Globe:

Empty Shelves at Whole Foods Have Customers Going Elsewhere”

The Globe reports that many customers are beginning to shop elsewhere because of empty shelves and declining quality:

Whole Foods customers in Bellingham have been struggling to find English cucumbers and sweet onions. In Newton, shoppers have been disgusted to realize that the organic celery they purchased was mostly rotten. Shoppers in Hingham have complained about half-rotten bags of clementines, while those in Newtonville say they were unable to purchase tofu all last week.”

My wife and I shop at a Whole Foods Market just a few blocks from our home in Philadelphia. We’ve experienced similar problems with out-of-stock or poor quality items. Now, we shop far less often at Whole Foods, despite its convenient location. Instead, we increasingly shop elsewhere. For example, MOM’s Organic always has a great selection of high-quality items. In addition, we’ve found that our local Acme Market, a traditional supermarket, has a better selection of high-quality organic items than our Whole Foods.

Whole Foods is making a number of serious mistakes:

  1. assuming it can rely on brand loyalty and its now outdated reputation.
  2. being unresponsive to customer needs.
  3. ignoring the fact that customers have options of where to shop.

Sadly, those are three mistakes that many nonprofit organizations also make. As a result, donor-retention rates are pathetically low. The average overall donor retention rate is approximately 45 percent, according to the 2017 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project is a partnership between the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Urban Institute. The FEP website provides a variety of reports and helpful tools for enhancing donor retention.

Many charities think they can rely on their reputations to achieve strong donor retention rates. Unfortunately, while that might have been the case with brand-loyal Baby Boomers, it’s no longer the norm. Donors want to know that their gifts are making a difference. Moreover, they’re not willing to assume you’re using their money wisely. They want evidence of your effectiveness.

Nonprofit organizations need to be responsive to donor needs. Every member of your organization’s staff, not just fundraising professionals, should be trained to meet the needs of donors. You can read more about this in my post: “The Most Important Part of Any Grateful Whatever Campaign is…

If you don’t provide a meaningful experience for donors by providing them the information they demand and by meeting their varied needs, they will stop giving to your organization. However, that does not mean they will stop giving. They will simply give elsewhere. Continue reading

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