Archive for April 1st, 2011

April 1, 2011

Should Your Legacy Society be Inclusive or Exclusive?

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.

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