Are You Smarter than a Fourth Grader?

A few weeks ago, I got to spend time with my niece Nicole and nephew Evan who were visiting Philadelphia before the start of the new school year in Florida. They’re wonderful kids, and it was great seeing them.

Evan by Michael Rosen

My nephew, Evan.

One evening when 9-year-old Evan and I were hanging out, I decided to ask him an odd question to see where it might go:

If you wanted someone to give you money, what would you do?”

Evan, who just entered the fourth grade and has no fundraising experience, replied:

I’d ask them.”

Bingo! Evan instinctively knows one of the fundamental rules of fundraising: If you want donations, you have to ask for them.

So, are you smarter than a fourth grader?

Since you’re reading this post, I’m going to assume you know the general importance of the ask in the fundraising process. However, knowing and doing are two different things. So, let me ask you a few more questions:

Do you ask for planned gifts?

While 88.7 percent of people surveyed say that it’s appropriate for a nonprofit organization to ask for a legacy gift, researchers found that only 22 percent of those over the age of 30 have been asked. In other words, there are a huge number of people who are willing to be asked for a planned gift but who are not.

Even among those charities that do ask people to make a planned gift, the ask is reserved for a very narrow group of prospects that might include major donors, board members, and people who have requested planned giving information. Those asks are most often made during face-to-face visits.

On the other hand, wise organizations also use direct mail and the telephone to reach out to a broad number of prospects to ask them to make a planned gift commitment.

One smart nonprofit organization that has successfully used direct mail to ask for legacy gifts is the Natural Resources Defense Council. They did two mailings involving a total of 50,000 pieces that generated $8.5 million in bequest commitments. You can see a sample of the mailing by clicking here.

A university in Texas targeted 7,000 alumni with a mail promotion for Charitable Gift Annuities, following up direct-mail-generated leads with phone calls that resulted in $730,000.

An orchestra in the Pacific Northwest implemented a coordinated mail/phone campaign involving 2,200 prospects in an effort that produced an estimated $2 million in bequest expectancies.

If your organization wants more planned gifts, you need to ask more people to give. While face-to-face asks will always be important, you can ask far more people by using direct mail and the phone as well, just like your organization does for the annual fund.

You can find more details about the examples I’ve cited, additional examples, and helpful tips in my award-winning book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Do you ask supporters to enroll in a monthly-giving program?

In 1989, I predicted that virtually every charity would have a monthly-giving program within five years. Sadly, I could not have been more wrong. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. Now, more than a quarter-century later, shockingly few charities ask supporters to give monthly.

A great way to enhance your organization’s donor-retention rate while upgrading the amount of support from donors is to ask donors to give monthly.

Some of my friends and I believe so strongly in the power of monthly giving that we participated in this short, light-hearted video on the subject:

If you’re not asking your supporters to give monthly, you’re organization is missing a great opportunity. For powerful advice on how to run a monthly-giving program, checkout Harvey McKinnon’s book Hidden Gold, and Erica Waasdorp’s book Monthly Giving: The Sleeping Giant.

Do you ask donors to upgrade their support?

Most nonprofit organizations will ask donors to renew their support. Many will ask donors to make additional gifts during the course of the year. Some will even meekly ask donors to upgrade their support without using a sound strategy.

If you want donors to give more, you need to ask for larger gifts and more gifts. However, you need to do it in the right way.

Here’s one very simple way to get more donors to upgrade their support: When writing a direct mail appeal, include language like this:

“Thank you for your last gift of $50. In light of the extra services we are hoping to provide this year, can we count on you to renew your support with a gift of $75 or $100 this year?”

While the exact language and the numbers will vary from organization to organization and donor to donor, this simple, fundamental approach will definitely get you more upgrades.

Another simple way to encourage folks to upgrade their support is to thank them for their previous gift, let them know how that gift was used, tell them how their next gift will be used, and then ask for more.

There are many other ways for getting supporters to upgrade their donations. The common key is that you actually have to ask for the upgrade in a smart way.

To generate more support for your organization, you have to ask for that support. So, I hope you’re already asking for planned gifts, monthly donations. and upgraded contributions. If you’re not, map out a plan to do so immediately.

So, are you smarter than a fourth grader?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

4 Comments to “Are You Smarter than a Fourth Grader?”

  1. Dear Michael:

    As always, this was a great article. In the video, it was mentioned that monthly donors are 7 times more likely to leave a planned gift. Do you know where this statistic is from? I’d like to use it in my training with churches.

    Thanks for all you do.

    • Nancy, thank you for your comment and question. In a guest post, Erica Waasdorp wrote:

      Sadly, there’s not yet a lot of targeted research available about wills coming from monthly donors, other than what I’ve seen in the UK where every will is read by Smee and Ford and where organizations can get information about the donors making a will, so they’re prepared. Smee and Ford has lots of great research available for those organizations subscribing to their service. Watch future posts for more information about the relationship between monthly donors and wills.

      Meantime, based on an unscientific examination of donor records in the UK, it appears that monthly donors are seven times more likely to leave a legacy gift than other donor segments, according to Richard Radcliffe, legacy specialist and former Executive Chairman at Smee and Ford.”

      You can read Erica’s full post here: “Is There a Relationship Between Monthly Giving and Bequests?”

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