3 Elements of a Successful Planned Gift Marketing Effort

Not long ago, I was asked to cite my three “best” tips for any planned giving program. It wasn’t easy for me to limit myself to just three. But, I had to be brief. I was being interviewed by Jan Uekermann, a fundraising professional from Germany, during the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in March.

Jan Uekermann

Uekermann was putting together a Fundraising Podcast series from the Conference which he has now posted on YouTube.

Regardless of what country you are in or the level of sophistication of your planned giving efforts, these are the three universal elements that I believe are essential to any successful planned gift marketing effort:

1.  Be Donor-Centered

Donors are not dependent on us. We are dependent on our donors. If a donor is unhappy with us, she can seek out another organization to fulfill her philanthropic aspirations. If we want a prospective donor to give his money to our organization, we better make certain to focus on his needs and wants. Our job as development professionals is to build relationships so we can appropriately match a prospective donor’s philanthropic interests with an organizational need.

Let me share with you a story which I included in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, that illustrates how things can go horribly wrong if you’re not deeply committed to being donor-centered:

“An elderly woman in Philadelphia contributed a $25,000 charitable gift annuity to a well-known hospital in New York City. In addition to sending an acknowledgment letter, the development officer contacted the donor by telephone to thank her for her generous gift and to arrange a meeting when he was due to be in Philadelphia. So far in this story, the development officer has behaved in a donor-centered way. He has personally thanked the donor, learned a bit about why she made the gift, and has arranged to meet with the donor to learn more about her and her philanthropic interests. To recognize her generous support, the development officer invited the donor to lunch which she accepted. When they got together, the development officer picked up the donor at her home and drove her to the Four Seasons Hotel for lunch in the very lavish Fountain Room. The donor was appalled. She refused to be seated and told the development officer that lunch in the more casual, and less expensive, Swan Lounge would be more appropriate.

“When relating the story to a friend, the donor expressed her outrage that the hospital would waste her money by taking her out to such a fancy restaurant. She even thought the more informal Swan Lounge was too much. When asked if she would be making another gift to the hospital, she said, ‘Absolutely not! They waste too much money.’

“While lunch at an exclusive restaurant might be something that donors in New York might appreciate, this frugal Philadelphian most certainly did not. Unfortunately, the development officer, while trying to do the right thing, made a simple mistake. He assumed something about the donor that he did not know. A more donor-centered approach would have been for the development officer to simply have asked the following in the initial telephone contact, ‘I’ll be in Philadelphia next Wednesday and would love to talk with you more over lunch. Would you be available? … Great! Where would you like to go?’ With that one simple question, the development officer would have remained donor centered, would have enhanced the relationship, and would likely have secured another gift. Sometimes donor-centered marketing really is that easy.”

2.  Recognize that Everyone is a Planned Gift Prospect

Virtually everyone has the capacity to make a planned gift should they choose to do so. Consider these facts:

  • 69% of Americans expect to leave an inheritance. (The Stelter Company)
  • People over 50 control 70% of all privately held financial assets in the U.S. (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • Of those 65+, 81% owned their own home in 2005. (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • A 2005 study found that 50.3 percent of U.S. households owned equities in some form with 34.7 percent owning equities outside of employer sponsored retirement plans. (Investment Company Institute and Securities Industry Association)

Research shows that wealth is not a particularly good indicator of whether someone will or will not make a planned gift. While a wealthy individual may have the capacity to make a larger planned gift than a middle-class donor, they will not be more likely to make the gift simply by virtue of their financial status. Loyalty is really the key factor. So, if you can engender a sense of loyalty among all of your donors, then all of your donors will be planned giving prospects. While you may prioritize some prospects over others, you will want to ensure that some of your planned gift marketing is ubiquitous.

3.  Ask

One of my favorite planned giving quotes comes from Phil Murphy at Zimmerman Lehman, “Get wild with planned giving: Think of it as fundraising.” Murphy was encouraging development professionals to not rely solely on passive marketing to generate gifts. He recognized that all other areas of fundraising (i.e.: annual giving, major gift efforts, capital campaigns, special events, etc.) are based on the axiom: You won’t get it unless you ask. Unfortunately, while the nonprofit sector is very good at asking for other forms of support, it has been terrible about asking for planned gifts. Only 22 percent of Americans over the age of 30 (Stelter Company) report that they have been asked for a planned gift. By contrast, we know that 88.7 percent of people think it is appropriate for a nonprofit to ask for a legacy gift (Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay). It’s simple, really. If you want more planned gifts, you have to actually ask more people, in the right way, at the right time.

In addition to talking about my three best tips for successful planned giving, I shared with Uekermann my thoughts about the fundraising landscape over the coming decade as well as my thoughts about the impact of the Internet on development efforts. You can watch Uekermann’s full six minute interview of me, and access all of Uekermann’s Fundraising Podcasts by clicking here.

That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say? What do you think are the most important tips for any planned giving program? What do you think the future holds for development professionals?

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2 Comments to “3 Elements of a Successful Planned Gift Marketing Effort”

  1. HI Michael,
    As most often happens, I agree wholeheartedly with your posts. However, while I agree you have to “ask” the big difference I find in planned gift fundraising from other forms is that you don’t always find out if you’re successful. I’ve heard only about 1/3 of these donors self-indentify in advance. Other forms of fundraising allow you to “feel successful” but it seems that with about 2/3 of planned giving asks, you may not know for a very long time. It’s not a feeling of rejection…just frustration.

    • Lorri, thank you for the additional insight. Planned giving is definitely not about immediate gratification. Sadly, I love immediate gratification. Needless to say, I’ve had to make some emotional adjustments over the years! One reason there are so many planned gift donors who do not self-identify is that many have given without really being asked. If we ask a prospect to make a gift, I believe we up the odds that she will actually tell us if she has or has not made the commitment. I also think that recognition is important to the process. If we hold-out membership in our special legacy recognition society, donors will be more willing to let us know of their commitments. Of course, you will always have some donors that won’t tell you about their planned gift. I confess that there are a couple of charities in my own will that do not know I’ve included them; then again, I made the commitments without being asked. But, there are things that organizations can do to reduce the number of “hidden” planned gift donors. Then, once identified, those donors can be properly stewarded.

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