Posts tagged ‘Elaine Jay’

April 10, 2020

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Over the past couple of weeks, social media, the blogosphere, and countless webinars have pondered the question: Is this the best or worst of times for legacy fundraising? Unfortunately, despite the high volume of opinions circulating, a view grounded in science has yet to emerge. So, philanthropy researcher Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and I teamed up to prepare a special white paper for you that analyzes the current legacy-giving environment and reveals to you a path forward that we base on fact rather than emotional whim.

This blog post provides you with the full paper, nearly 5,000 words, with all of its insights and tips. In addition, you can download the PDF version for FREE. You may want to share the white paper PDF with your CEO, CFO, and board leadership.

Because of the unusual length of this post, I won’t offer any additional introductory comments other than to say that Russell and I are available for speaking engagements, training sessions, consultation, and interviews to address this and other relevant subjects. For more information, please contact me.

Now, here is the complete white paper:

 

Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times?

Russell N. James III, JD, PhD, CFP® and Michael J. Rosen

The death media currently inundate us with panic-inducing news. Ubiquitous reports about the spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Daily death tolls. Images of people in masks or complete hazmat suits. Talk of overwhelmed hospitals. News of quarantined regions and nations.

What should a legacy fundraiser do in the midst of a societal crisis? Stop communicating altogether? Make a last-minute push to get into a donor’s Will before it’s too late? Something in between? All of the above?

To get some guidance, it helps to start with a bit of social-science theory, a look at recent financial history, and early empirical data.

Social-Science Theory

We start with social-science theory because it’s actually quite useful to first understand what we know about how people react to reminders of death.

An entire field of experimental psychology focuses on this very topic. Scientists call it Terror Management Theory. This field has produced many hundreds of experimental results. Therefore, we know quite a lot about what happens when you remind people that they are going to die.

There are many technical books and papers on the subject. Google Scholar lists 12,500 of them. Here’s a quick summary. Death is a problem. People use two solutions:  1) ignore the problem, or 2) live on after death. Allow us to explain.

The Two Defenses to Death Reminders

People respond to death reminders with two stages of defense. The first stage (proximal) defense is avoidance. Avoidance comes from a desire to suppress the reminder. This suppression can be expressed in many ways. For example, it might involve physically moving away from the reminder (e.g., avoiding strolling past a hospital or cemetery when taking a walk). It might involve denigrating a mortality reminder’s validity or personal applicability (e.g., it can’t happen to me). It might be dismissing the subject with humor (e.g., the film Death at a Funeral).

The second stage (distal) defense is pursuit of symbolic immortality or lasting social impact. When avoidance doesn’t work, then we must somehow deal with our own earthly impermanence. We deal with this by latching on to those things that will remain after we are gone. In other words, I may disappear, but some part of my identity – my family, my values, my in-group, my people, my story, my causes – will remain.

People don’t treat personal death reminders in the same way they treat other pieces of objective information. In legacy fundraising, it has always been important to understand this. These two underlying defensive responses help to explain how people will respond.

Death Just Got Way More Offensive

In experiments, personal death reminders ramp up avoidance responses. The more death reminders, the more avoidance people will exhibit. Right now, COVID-19 news engulfs our audiences in personal death reminders. For many people, this will make any death-related communications aversive.

(Interestingly, people will gladly read the latest news headlines as a means of pursuing avoidance. People hunger for details on how to avoid the death risk. They will support strong action that promises the same. Others may even pursue avoidance by putting unwarranted faith in untested treatments or unproven protocols.)

In addition to people living in an environment that stimulates greater levels of death avoidance, current conditions cause individuals to feel less of an emotional sense of wellbeing.

Dr. Jen Shang, a philanthropic psychologist and co-founder of the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, among other social scientists, believes that wellbeing involves three essential characteristics:

  • autonomy – a sense of control
  • connectedness – the quantity and quality of relationships
  • competence – effectiveness

The more autonomous, connected, and competent people feel, the greater sense of personal wellbeing they will feel. Conversely, when people feel those qualities eroding, they will feel a decline in wellbeing.

In addition to the physical health risks associated with the novel coronavirus pandemic, people are experiencing psychological stress. Many individuals feel that current events are overwhelming them, knocking them out of their routines, and causing them to lose control of their professional and personal lives. With the uncertainty of the near-term, it’s not surprising that people would feel they have lost a great deal of control over their lives.

As the pandemic leads government officials to suggest or order people to stay at home, practice social distancing, and limit even essential activities such as grocery shopping, people are losing their sense of connection to other people including neighbors, extended family members, friends, colleagues, and more.

During the coronavirus pandemic, people are grappling with their feeling of competency when facing new conditions. Many have set-up a home workspace for the first time. Others are learning new technologies to communicate more effectively with others.

People want to have a sense of wellbeing. The more autonomy, connectedness, and competency they feel, the better they will feel. Generally, people will seek to engage in behaviors that enhance their sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, they will appreciate individuals and organizations that help them obtain greater wellbeing.

So, what does all of this mean for legacy fundraising (i.e., a key type of planned giving)? To begin, it means the following:

  1. Legacy fundraising communications that “lead with death” need to be shelved.

Many fundraising professionals are accustomed to being direct. Being blunt. Making the ask. Making it early and often. That may be fine for some types of fundraising. While this type of approach was often less than ideal for legacy fundraising prior to the pandemic, this is even more true right now. This is not the time to lead with death. In normal times, this will create some pushback. In these times, expect it to create massive pushback.

Yes, you should absolutely communicate with your organization’s supporters. Moreover, those communications should be about delivering value to the donor. Through your outreach, you should strive to enhance each individual donor’s sense of wellbeing.

  1. Now is the time to be “top of mind.”

Most people tend to put off estate planning in normal times. For example, in the U.S., most adults over 50 have no Will or Trust documents. From what we know about avoidance, such delay is no surprise. But, from a massive longitudinal study in the U.S., we also know when those plans are made and changed. The typical triggers for planning fall into one of two camps, family structure changes or “death becomes real.” Family structure changes include marriage, divorce, birth of first child, birth of a first grandchild, and widowhood. “Death becomes real” includes diagnosis of cancer, heart disease, stroke, moving to a nursing home, or actually approaching death (measured retrospectively).

Right now, many people are living the “death becomes real” experience. Consequently, there is a major upsurge in Will document completions – particularly online. Some sites are reporting greater than 100 percent week-over-week increases in completed documents.1 The Remember a Charity website, which promotes legacy giving for the U.K. charity sector, has experienced twice as many people visiting its “Making A Will” page as would do so normally.2

As “death becomes real,” people are also increasingly expressing interest in life insurance.3 One online life insurance agency saw the most ever monthly applications and sales in March 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic gained traction. Another online life insurance agency saw an increase in applications of more than 50 percent since February.

We know from experimental research that the charitable component of an estate plan is, for many people, highly fluid. In one experiment with British solicitors (lawyers), simply asking the question, “Would you like to leave any money to charity?” more than doubled the share of people including charitable gifts in their Will documents. Even small alterations in the wording used to describe such gifts results in dramatic changes in both charitable intentions and actual document contents.

For a charity, being “top of mind” at the moment in which people are actually planning is absolutely critical. More people are planning right now than in any normal time. Clearly, this is the ideal time for your charity to be communicating about gifts in Wills and even beneficiary designations. However, the language of how you communicate is most critical.

When viewed through the social scientist’s lens of individual wellbeing, the enhanced interest in estate planning is not surprising. Drafting a Will or purchasing a life insurance policy is a way for someone to feel a sense of autonomy or control over the current situation. Through these actions, they can enhance the feeling of attachment from relationships with those they love as they make plans to take care of these people. When successfully achieving their estate planning objectives, including supporting values and causes that have been important in their lives, individuals will feel an elevated sense of competency. In other words, a major reason we now see a spike in interest in Wills and life insurance is that it gives people an enhanced sense of wellbeing.

If communications from charities also enhance a donor’s sense of wellbeing, organizations may find that their donors will have greater interest in supporting them with a commitment in a Will or through a life insurance beneficiary designation. In other words, helping a donor feel better may ultimately benefit the charity.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Is this the best time or the worst time to be communicating about legacy gifts? Actually, it is both.

People are planning like never before because they seek to take care of their families, usually the first priority of those doing estate planning even in the best of times. The challenge for charities is that we need to be at the top of their minds when people are ready to make their plans. It’s definitely the best time for legacy fundraising. Furthermore, by engaging people, fundraisers have an opportunity, like never before, to perform a real service by helping donors enhance their feeling of wellbeing.

On the other hand, talking about legacy planning can be offensive like never before. People are emotionally-poised to lash out strongly against such death reminders. Take one step in that direction and the risk-averse herd animal known as your executive director will be ready to end your career. It can very-well seem like the worst time for legacy fundraising, particularly when done the wrong way.

We’re not talking about opposing camps. Instead, individual donors are experiencing both of these paradoxical orientations to one degree or another.

The Direct Route is Closed. Now What?

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April 9, 2018

8 Simple Tips to Boost Planned Giving Results

Planned Giving is a vital source of contributions for the nonprofit sector. Organizations that do not have a gift-planning program envy those that do. Those that do have a planned-giving program want even better results.

It’s no wonder.

Bequest giving amounted to eight percent of all charitable donations in 2016 (Giving USA). That’s just counting people who included a charity in their Will. It does not include people who gave through Beneficiary Designation, Charitable Gift Annuity, Stock, Appreciated Personal Property, or other planned-giving vehicles.

While planned giving can certainly present challenges, there are many simple things you can do to create or enhance your organization’s gift-planning efforts:

1.  Focus Your Efforts

You likely do not have the time or budget to reach-out personally to every one of your organization’s supporters to seek a planned gift. Instead, you need to focus on the highest priority prospects, those most likely to make a planned gift.

So, who are your best planned-giving prospects?

The answer to that question will depend on what type of planned gift you are seeking. For example, if you want more people to include your charity in their Will, arguably the most common form of planned giving, you’ll want to consider two key factors:

First, people who are childless are far more likely to include a charity in their Will, according to philanthropy researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP®. However, just because someone is more likely to make a Charitable Bequest commitment to a charity does not mean they will be willing to commit to your charity.

Second, loyal supporters of your organization are the people most likely to make a planned gift to your specific organization, according to UK-based philanthropy researcher Claire Routley, PhD. Your loyal supporters are people who donate frequently, regardless of gift amount. Loyal supporters are also people who volunteer. People who donate cash and volunteer are nearly twice as likely to make a gift through their Will compared to individuals who do only one or the other, James’ has discovered.

When seeking other types of planned gifts, you’ll want to take into account other factors. For example, if you want people to contribute from their IRA, you’ll want to appeal to people over the age of 70.5, the age of eligibility for such giving. If you want folks to donate appreciated Stock, you’ll broaden your audience because the majority of Americans own Stock.

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February 20, 2015

Building Donor Loyalty: What’s New?

Among first-time donors to nonprofit organizations, the median rate of attrition is 77 percent! In other words, more than three-quarters of all new donors to a charity walk in the front door and promptly exit out the back door. That’s the appalling finding of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

First Time Donor RetentionOver the past few months, the issue of high nonprofit Donor Attrition rates has received increasing attention. I’ve even put a spotlight on the issue with the following posts:

As I worked on those articles, I couldn’t help but wonder: What’s new and effective that can help us build donor loyalty? Well, we’ll soon find out.

Adrian Sargeant, PhD, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University, will be presenting “Building Donor Loyalty: What’s New?” at the AFP International Fundraising Conference (Baltimore, March 29-31, 2015).

Sargeant has been passionately conducting donor loyalty research for two decades. Sargeant and his colleague Elaine Jay wrote Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value.  Tom Ahern, the internationally recognized communications expert at the helm of Ahern Donor Communications, has described the text as: “Transformational.” I cited this informative book in my post: “Avoid Making Faulty Assumptions about Donor Loyalty.”

In his upcoming session at the AFP International Conference, Sargeant will demonstrate how even small improvements in loyalty, in the here and now, translate to whopping improvements in the lifetime value of a fundraising database.

Cover- Building Donor Loyalty -- click to see book at AmazonFor example, he has found that a 10-percentage point improvement in retention can lead to a 200 percent improvement in the lifetime value of the fundraising database!

Sargeant will also look at what drives loyalty, drawing on lessons from both the commercial and the voluntary sectors, including work on the big three drivers of loyalty: satisfaction, commitment and trust. He will also explore new work on loyalty that looks at the role of donor identity and the extent to which donors identify themselves in part through their support of a nonprofit.

Sargeant will show how the concept of identity interacts with the other three big drivers of loyalty and which of all these factors offers the greatest potential to the sector to bolster giving and grow long-term support.

Sargeant told me recently:

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January 31, 2014

Avoid Making Faulty Assumptions about Donor Loyalty

Loyal supporters are valuable assets for every nonprofit organization.

Unfortunately, there is an alarming lack of understanding about the definition of “loyal supporter.” Before we address that issue, however, let’s look briefly at why loyal donors are so important.

Because it’s more cost-efficient to retain donors than acquire new ones, loyal donors allow charity fundraising programs to operate more efficiently. The lifetime value of such donors is greater. More money, more cost-effectively raised means more funds for mission fulfillment.

Interestingly, loyal donors also exhibit greater engagement tendencies as researchers Adrian Sargeant, PhD and Elaine Jay, PhD observed in their book Building Donor Loyalty:

Donors who remain loyal are also much more likely to engage with the organization in other ways. Long-term donors are significantly more likely than single-gift donors to offer additional gifts in response to emergency appeals, to volunteer, to upgrade their gift levels, to lobby for the organization, to actively seek out other donors on the organization’s behalf, to buy from a gift catalogue, and to promote the organization to friends and acquaintances.”

Sargeant and Jay even quantify the value of this additional activity. In their experience, they have seen that such activities can increase donor lifetime value by 150 to 200 percent.

Increasingly, charities are coming to appreciate the benefits of having loyal donors. For example, progressively more development professionals understand that loyal supporters make the best planned giving prospects.

This raises the question: Who is a “loyal supporter?”

In the context of planned gift marketing, one development professional recently defined loyalty as a combination of giving frequency, giving recency, and cumulative giving amount. I agree, but only to a point.

Cover- Building Donor Loyalty -- click to see book at AmazonFirst, as Sargeant and Jay describe in their book, loyalty can be either passive or active. Passively loyal donors might give because their friends give, because they want to do something while they continue to search for the charity that is just right, or even because of inertia. By contrast, actively loyal donors care passionately about the organization and its mission. They identify with the values of the organization and regard donations to it as an essential, rather than discretionary, part of their personal budgets.

When it comes to fundraising, actively loyal donors are the only truly loyal donors. In other words, not all regular donors rise to the level of being loyal supporters.

Second, people can be loyal supporters without being donors. They even can be so intensely loyal that they make a generous legacy commitment.

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November 1, 2013

6 Ways to Raise More Money without New Donors!

If you achieve your fundraising goal this year, your reward will likely be an increased goal next year. At most nonprofit organizations, the struggle to raise ever-increasing amounts of money never ends. This drives many nonprofits into a continuous donor-acquisition mode.

However, you don’t need a single new donor to raise more money.

Given that the cost to acquire a new donor is often $1, or more, for every $1 raised, finding a new donor does not even help most organizations with short-term mission fulfillment.

So, how can you raise significantly more money for mission fulfillment without acquiring new donors? Here are just six ideas:

1. Ask for More. I still receive direct mail appeals that say, “Whatever you can give will be appreciated.” Ugh! That’s not an ask. If you want people to give, and give more, you need to state your case for support. Then, you need to ask for that support in the correct way.

Many charities simply seek renewal gifts. If I gave $50, the charity will simply ask me to renew my $50 support. Sometimes, a charity will randomly ask me for an amount series (i.e.: $100, $250, or more) that has nothing to do with my previous level of support.

However, there is a better way. Try saying this:

I thank you for your gift of $50 last year that helped us achieve __________. This year, as we strive to __________, may I count on you to increase your support to $75 or $100?”

Thank the donor. Mention how the organization used her previous gift. Establish the current case for support. Ask for a modest increase linked to the amount of the previous gift. A hospital in New York state tested this approach against its traditional approach and saw a 68% increase in giving.

2. Second Gift Appeal. Just because someone has given your organization money does not mean you have to wait a year to ask for more. If you first properly thank the donor and report on how his gift has been put to use, you can then approach him for a second gift. However, you need to have a good case for going back to the well.

Growing Money by Images_of_Money via FlickrMost grassroots donors don’t think, “What’s my annual philanthropic sense of responsibility to this charity? Fine. That’s how much I’ll give.” Instead, most grassroots donors look at the charity they wish to support and then consider how much money they have left over after they pay the monthly bills. Then, they give from that reservoir of disposable income. Guess what? Next month, and every month thereafter, that reservoir usually gets replenished. So, going back to the donor for an additional gift can work, again, if you have a strong case for support. By the way, the replenishing disposable income reservoir is one reason why monthly donor programs can be effective (see below).

3. Recruit Monthly Donors. Way back in 1989, I wrote an article for Donor Developer in which I predicted that every nonprofit in America would have a monthly donor program within five years. Sadly, I was very mistaken. Even in 2013, too few charities host a monthly donor program.

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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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March 29, 2013

What Can Your Nonprofit Learn from a Fortune Cookie?

Have you ever had a Thai fortune cookie?

Until recently, I never even knew they existed. Over the years, I’ve eaten more than my share of Chinese fortune cookies. However, I had never experienced the Thai variety.

Thai Fortune CookieBefore anyone comments below, let me just say that I’m completely aware that Chinese fortune cookies are not really Chinese. They’re Chinese-American with possible Japanese roots. As for Thai fortune cookies, I have no idea where they were invented. But, they’re certainly tasty. They’re crunchy, flaky, light as air, toasted coconut goodness in the form of a little tube wrapped around a parchment-like fortune.

Anyway, my wife brought some Thai fortune cookies home one evening. While I was enjoying one of the cookies, I read the fortune it had contained:

Feeling gratitude without expressing it, is like wrapping a gift without giving it.” 

I immediately recognized that my cookie contained a valuable lesson for all nonprofit organizations. If we want to build strong relationships and secure passionate philanthropic support for our  organizations, we must thank our supporters and show gratitude.

I know you’re grateful when someone gives your organization money. But, beyond a simple thank you letter, do you do anything to show your gratitude?

Henri Frederic Amiel, a 19th century philosopher and poet, commented on the difference between thankfulness and gratitude:

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.”

Some nonprofit organizations do a better job than others when it comes to expressing gratitude. Unfortunately, as a sector, we have a long way to go. We can and should be doing much more.

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