Archive for May, 2013

May 31, 2013

15 Common Planned Giving Myths Debunked (Part 1)

Sadly, many myths about planned giving continue to exist. Some of these keep nonprofit organizations from engaging in gift planning. Others lead development professionals to make terrible, costly mistakes.

All planned giving myths are dangerous.

Goddess Athena by Great Beyond via Flickr

Statue of Athena, Greek Goddess of Wisdom.

That’s why I believe that debunking common planned giving myths is important. In fact, I feel it’s so important that I addressed five of them in the very first chapter of my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing. I’ll summarize them next week in Part 2 along with some other myths.

For now, I’m going to share eight myths identified by the members of the Smart Planned Giving Marketers Group on LinkedIn. The remaining seven will be featured next week.

Greg Warner, President of MarketSmart, started the Group which now numbers 577. If you have any interest in planned giving, you should join.

Recently, Greg started a terrific discussion to identify and debunk common planned giving myths. So far, the Smart Planned Giving Marketers Group has identified and debunked 15 planned giving myths. While I have numbered the myths, strictly for reference purposes, I am presenting them here in alphabetical order by contributor:

Ronald Blaum, Director of Gift Planning, Church World Service:

MYTH 1 — The Estate Tax is a mandatory tax.

To stimulate conversation in a group setting, I’ll often ask this question: ‘Paying estate taxes are voluntary, right?’ And, of course, people say, ‘No, they are not.’ Then, I proceed to show how the use of charitable gifting strategies and other techniques can make most, if not all, estates tax-free. With the higher estate exemption, the far greater concern for most people should be minimizing the negative impact of Income Tax on qualified plans, not estate tax. Think about what assets to use for gifting, not just the dollar amount or percentage of an estate.”

Reeve Chudd, Partner, Ervin, Cohen & Jessup:

MYTH 2 — My kids will resent me doing it.

I’ve been handling estates with charitable bequests for 34 years, and not once have I heard the heirs doing anything but enjoying the recognition their parents receive posthumously from charitable recipients. Further, when a name appears on a building or a program as a permanent memorial of a deceased donor, I see their children relishing their name connection to such philanthropy.”

Greg Lassonde, CFRE, Legacy Giving Specialist:

MYTH 3 — Age is an important factor in list segmentation.

The reality is that sometimes age is an important secondary factor in list segmentation. One example of this is Charitable Gift Annuities. If your organization’s minimum age for issuing a CGA contract is 70, you might want to mail only to those older than 55 (going that low for deferred CGAs).”

As Greg notes, while age can be an important secondary factor, the reality is that planned gift opportunities exist at every age level. For example, while it’s best to make a CGA appeal to older prospects, Bequests should be marketed to a broader age band, particularly those in their 40s and 50s. The points here are that while age is certainly of some importance, it is more important to recognize that the quality of the relationships is what is critically important, and that virtually everyone is a prospect for some type of planned gift.

Hazel Lloyst, CFRE, Capital Campaign Manager at Loyalist College:

MYTH 4 — [You can] judge a donor by their outward appearance.

From experience, I have found that many of my most frugal donors turned out to be the most generous, altruistic donors upon their passing. It was a pleasure to work with them over the years and hear their stories. It was always with tremendous gratitude that I was able to ensure their wishes were followed upon their passing while helping to ensure the timely transfer of their estate.”

Phil Melberge:

MYTH 5 — It costs too much.”

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May 24, 2013

When is an Investment NOT an Investment?

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a duck. But, not always.

If it looks like an investment, involves tax consequences like an investment, and produces a return like an investment, then it is probably an investment. But, not always.

So, when is an investment not an investment?

When it’s a Charitable Gift Annuity.

“A CGA is a contract (not a ‘trust’), under which a charity, in return for a transfer of cash, marketable securities or other assets, agrees to pay a fixed amount of money to one or two individuals, for their lifetime,” according to the American Council on Gift Annuities. 

Rubber Ducks by Felix63 via FlickrI’ll admit that CGAs do look a great deal like an investment vehicle. A CGA involves a proposal that contains an illustration of how the gift will work; it involves tax benefits; and, it involves a rate of return. It’s easy to see why donors and even many development professionals think of CGAs as an investment opportunity.

The ACGA Board of Directors voted recently to make no changes to the suggested maximum CGA return rates that originally became effective January 1, 2012. The current rate schedule will remain in effect until further notice. This news prompted a planned giving professional to post the following message on a listserv: 

We usually do a promotion to current annuitants and recent inquiries, when the new CGA rates get announced. Whether they go up or down, it’s a message I can easily work with (either promoting the new increased rates, or ‘act now before rates go down in July,’ etc.).

Not sure what to do since they are staying the same – they’re not so great that staying the same is anything to brag about. Just curious what others are doing, or if laying low on this and focusing promotions in other areas.”

That posting demonstrates that some development professionals tend to think of CGAs as investment vehicles rather than philanthropic instruments. There are a number of reasons why this is problematic:

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May 17, 2013

A Donor Offers You $5,000. Now What?

Congratulations! You’ve done everything right, so far. As a result, a prospect has offered to write a $5,000 check to your nonprofit organization. She only has one question: “Who should I make the check out to?”

So, what should you do next?:

A. Let loose with an enthusiastic, sincere, “Whoohoo!”

B. Thank the donor and tell her the proper name of the organization for the check.

C. Tell the donor the information is on your organization’s website.

D. Thank the donor, tell her the proper name of the organization for the check, and then say, “And, let me just ask, if I may, do you have any appreciated stock?”

Check SigningIf you’re like most development professionals, you probably answered “B.”

While that’s not exactly a wrong answer, there is a better one that will be more helpful for the donor and for your charity: “D.”

Sadly, many development professionals wrongfully assume that all donors of means know, at least, the basics of financial planning and tax avoidance. However, that’s simply not the case.

Sometime ago, I served on the board of a nonprofit organization. At one of the charity’s events that I attended, a modest donor came over to me and expressed an interest in donating $5,000. She simply needed to know the organization’s official name so she could put it on the check.

As in the above scenario, after thanking her and providing the information, I asked if she had any appreciated stock.

Puzzled by my question, she replied, “Yes, I do. Why do you ask?”

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May 15, 2013

Special Report: IRS Scandal Shakes Washington

This week, the US Internal Revenue Service acknowledged and apologized for behavior that had long been rumored. The IRS improperly targeted for extra scrutiny conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

IRS logoThe IRS did not ultimately deny tax-exempt status to a single group receiving extra scrutiny. Some say this proves that the actions of the IRS were baseless.

The scandal has now shaken the nation’s capital:

President Barack Obama directed Jack Lew, Secretary of the Treasury, to request the resignation of Steven Miller, Acting IRS Commissioner.

Miller resigned and Lew accepted the resignation.

The Justice Department has initiated a criminal investigation.

Exercising its oversight responsibility, Congress has begun its own probe of the IRS scandal.

Obama addressed the nation on television saying, “It’s inexcusable and Americans are right to be angry about it and I am angry about it. I will not tolerate this kind of behavior in any agency, but particularly the IRS given the power that it has and the reach that it has in all of our lives.” He promised reforms.

When wrongdoing by the government is uncovered, it is rightfully news. But, this latest government scandal cuts deeper.

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May 10, 2013

Why “Ask”?

At Michael Rosen Says…, I listen to my readers. And, I even sometimes take requests.

Recently, I received an email from Anton Wishik, a professional editor who recently transitioned to the development world. I thank him for the message. He wanted to know why I insist on using the word “ask” as a noun.

The inquiry caught my attention for a number reasons:

1. As a former newspaper editor, the proper use of language continues to matter to me.

2. According to the good folks at Merriam-Webster, the word “ask” is indeed a verb, not a noun. So, Mr. Wishik has a valid point.

3. Mr. Wishik’s inquiry gives me the chance to write about one of my favorite topics: The “ask.” (Ooops, there I go again.)

With his permission, here is the email I received from Mr. Wishik:

As a longtime editor who just recently started working in the planned giving industry, I cringe at the use of the word ‘ask’ as a noun, which I had never seen/heard before. So do many other writing professionals; here’s one comment made at Merriam-Webster’s site: Marianna Zhabokritsky · Court Reporter at Ministry of the Attorney General (Ontario), ‘So ‘ask’ is now being used as a noun? ….  Please tell me that it is still considered to be an improper use of the English language! Highly irritating!’

I’m not a stuffy editor and I realize fully that the language is constantly evolving, with new words joining the lexicon almost daily. I’m not even saying that ‘ask’ shouldn’t officially join the language as a noun, much like ‘tell’ has come into wide usage as a noun from poker. Maybe the words ‘request,’ ‘query,’ or ‘solicitation’ don’t quite describe the action taken by a [Planned Giving Officer].

I see that you use ‘ask’ as a noun, and I’m sure you have an opinion on the subject — and thought you might want to blog about it!”

Well, as I’ve said, I’m happy to take requests from time to time.

To help me explore the issue of “ask” as a noun, I’ve enlisted my good friend Laura Fredricks, author of the best-selling book The Ask and the new e-book Winning Words for Raising Money. Here is what Laura had to say:

It is so common that when anyone wants anything in life…they ‘ask.’ We have grown up to ask, politely, for what we want. We don’t ‘request’ we ‘ask.’

Taking this to our professional fundraising level, we have taken the ‘ASK’ to a sophisticated level. Asking for money takes organization, structure, focus and follow up. Comparing our ‘ask’ to a ‘request,’ ‘ask’ wins hands down because it has more impact and meaning. A ‘request’ is fleeting but an ‘ask’ has presence and attention. The person being asked knows that an important decision is about to be made.”

Click here to see The Ask at The Nonprofit BookstoreI agree with Laura. When a development or sales professional puts forth an “ask,” he or she has already done a great deal of work. The prospect has been identified, educated and cultivated. The professional has evaluated the prospect’s situation and has determined the most appropriate thing to ask for.

For their part, prospects usually understand that the “ask” will likely lead to some type of negotiation rather than a simple yes/no conclusion.

The noun “ask” implies more than just the sentence making the “ask.” It refers to the sentence and everything that has led up to it.

In development, we ask for donations. So, it seems silly to me to use a word that is different from the verb when we need a noun. When we talk about the act of asking for a donation, we are talking about the “ask” not the “request” or the “query.”

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May 3, 2013

5 Tips for Giving Donors What They Really Want

Do you know what your donors want?

Do they want a clever t-shirt? A fancy certificate? A lovely lapel pin? A practical coffee mug? A recognition lunch?

Maybe. However, while some donors will appreciate receiving trinkets or invitations to recognition events, others really don’t care and still others will view such items as a waste of money.

So, what do your donors really want?

Virtually all donors want to know that their donations will have a positive impact. In other words, donors of all sizes want to know that their contributions make a difference. The younger the donor, the more true this is. In addition, they want to feel like they are partners with the organizations they support.

Renata J. Rafferty, in her book Don’t Just Give It Away, advises philanthropists, “You truly want the charity to view you as a partner in its work, and partnerships are successful only when all parties can be candid with one another.”

The way to partner with donors and let them know they are having the desired impact is through solid stewardship. You need to be transparent. You need to candidly give them the information they want.

Stewardship is defined by the AFP Fundraising Dictionary as:

a process whereby an organization seeks to be worthy of continued philanthropic support, including the acknowledgment of gifts, donor recognition, the honoring of donor intent, prudent investment of gifts, and the effective and efficient use of funds to further the mission of the organization.”

As I mention in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

Stewardship will help the donor feel good about her commitment. It will ensure that revocable gifts (i.e., bequests) remain in force and, perhaps, increase in value over time. Good stewardship can also lead to another planned gift from the donor. For example, a donor who makes a bequest commitment may be impressed by the organization and a sufficient level of trust might have been developed through the process to allow the donor to feel comfortable making a donation to establish a charitable gift annuity (CGA). A donor who establishes a CGA may feel so comfortable having done so, he may decide to establish a second. Or, a CGA donor may make a bequest commitment.”

CIR Page One - JFGP-1Great stewardship can help strengthen your organization’s relationships with donors. The additional benefit is that solid stewardship of existing donors can also build relationships with prospective donors as well.

Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has figured this out.

Rather than generating a bland, corporate annual report that examines the fiscal condition of the organization, Federation has produced a Community Impact Report that looks at the difference the organization is having on people’s lives.

There are a number of things worth noting about the Community Impact Report:

1. It exists. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the report is simply that it exists. Most nonprofit organizations thank donors for their support. However, far fewer charities report on how gifts are put to use.

Federation prepares a Community Impact Report each year. Actually, it usually prepares two reports, mid-year and end-of-year documents. Now on its fifth report, Federation uses the information to keep the community updated about its work toward mission fulfillment.

2. It focuses on outcomes. Unlike a typical annual report, the Community Impact Report is not a state-of-the-organization analysis. Instead, the report examines the impact the organization is having on its service area. It’s a report about mission fulfillment.

“Our donors really appreciate seeing the level of accountability we have achieved,” says Alex Stroker, Federation’s Chief Operating Officer. “They also like to know that we are focused on program outcomes.”

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