Donors Know Best: 7 Tips to Improve Planned Gift Marketing

If you want to enhance your planned gift marketing efforts, you can discover what your peers are doing that works, test different approaches, or talk with a consultant. However, I think the best place to start is with donors themselves. Finding out what your intended audience wants, and learning what they think is appropriate or inappropriate is essential to creating an effective marketing strategy. Fortunately, researchers Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay have already done much of the work for us. In a series of focus groups, the researchers found out from donors how nonprofit organizations can improve the promotion of legacy giving. Here is some of what the researchers learned from donors:

“Make it clearer that smaller amounts are useful, too.”

The terms “legacy” and “bequest” are often misunderstood. Many prospective donors either do not know what the terms mean or think that a legacy gift is something massive that only rich people or celebrities do. Prospective donors, whether rich or not, want to know that you are looking for gifts of all sizes, not just multi-million dollar donations (assuming that’s true for your organization). So, tell them. And, when doing articles that spotlight planned gift donors, think about diversity. Don’t just tell the stories of the major philanthropists to your organization; share the stories of smaller donors, too.

“Be specific as to the goals of the bequest. What gains are expected? How will the community gain?” “Explain what the organization does with its gifts.”

Donors want to know what impact their gift will have. It’s true with current giving. It’s also true with deferred giving. The more you can help prospective donors understand how their contributions will allow the organization’s values to live on in the future, and how the gifts will impact those served by your organization and the community at-large, the greater your chances of securing planned gifts.

“By publishing actual cases of how they have helped.” “Storytelling—reflecting future work, past work, spiritual legacy of work well done.”

Prospective donors don’t want to hear made-up, composite stories. Fictional stories are hollow. Donors want to know how actual planned gifts have really helped. Prospective donors want to know why others have been inspired to give. So, tell real stories about real donors. Share what moved those donors. Tell how previous planned gifts have helped your organization with mission fulfillment. And, to the best of your ability, relate how future realized planned gifts will allow your organization to continue to do its fine work and maintain its values.

“I think the nonprofit community can together inform people about bequest giving in general—and then solicit commitments from their own donors. I don’t want an attorney or financial adviser suggesting which nonprofit I should bequest to.”

Prospective donors want the nonprofit sector to work collaboratively rather than competitively. They feel that, as a sector, nonprofit organizations can do a better job of informing the public about planned giving. The Leave-a-Legacy campaign is one example of such collaboration. Then, prospective donors expect individual nonprofits to actually ask for a gift. Underscoring this point, Sargeant and Jay found that 88.7 percent of people think it appropriate for a nonprofit to actually ask for a legacy gift. While donors expect their legal and financial advisers to help structure their gifts in the most appropriate way, they do not want their advisers suggesting which organizations to support; instead, they expect nonprofit organizations to step forward themselves, make a case for support, and ask for a contribution.

“It must be continuous—done in all the ways you have listed.”

Donors recognize that they have limited attention spans. They also recognize that what might not interest them today might interest them tomorrow. So, they encourage organizations they care about to communicate with them regularly and through different communication channels. But, donors don’t just want to receive regular solicitations; they want information about how gifts have been and will be used; they also want useful information that will help them take care of themselves and their loved ones.

“When you check that you have already made a bequest—don’t keep sending promotions for it.” “I think about changing my plans whenever I get appeals every month.”

Bequest commitments are revocable. So, the last thing a nonprofit should do is tick-off a donor since he can easily remove the charity from his will. I know of one major philanthropist who told me that he informed a charity that he was including it in his will. The charity acknowledged his commitment. However, the organization kept sending him mailings to encourage him to include the organization in his will. As a result, he was annoyed and considered removing the charity from his will, instead. It is important that donors know you are listening to them and that you respect them and appreciate their support. Make sure your communications send the right message.

“Make a named person available—it is hard to know who you should contact about a bequest.”

Make it easy for people to give their money to your organization. Provide your full contact information on your business card, email signature, website, publications, etc. People want to do business with people, not faceless institutions. So, let them know who you are and how to find you. Donors don’t want to have to hunt to find your name and contact information. If you make contacting you too difficult, the donor will likely take their contribution to a less challenging organization that they also support.

None of the suggestions from donors that I’ve shared here are surprising. The suggestions are really common sense. Unfortunately, they are not common practice. By listening to donors and crafting our marketing efforts to be responsive to them, we will be much better positioned to raise more money for our organizations.

That’s what Michael Rosen Says… More importantly, that’s what donors say. What do you say?


Note: The information in this blog post is derived from: Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay, “Determinants of U.S. Donor Behaviour: The Case of Bequests, Part 2,” Report to the Association of Fundraising Professionals, June 2004 as described in the book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

7 Responses to “Donors Know Best: 7 Tips to Improve Planned Gift Marketing”

  1. Thanks so much for these great suggestions Michael! I will definitely be keeping these in mind as I look to launch some planned giving efforts.



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