Earlier this month, The Stelter Company presented the findings of its latest research project at the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning’s 2012 National Conference on Philanthropic Planning. What Makes Them Give: 2012 Stelter Donor Insight Report is the Company’s third study of planned giving in the United States.
As a nerd and as the winner of the 2011 Association of Fundraising Professionals/Skystone Partners Prize for Research in Fundraising and Philanthropy, I enjoyed reading the report. And, I thank The Stelter Company for adding to the nonprofit sector’s base of knowledge.
While flawed, the report does offer some interesting tidbits. This post will examine some of the useful tidbits and problematic flaws. Some of the insights are new while others will confirm what experienced gift planners have long known or suspected.
Many Planned Givers Are NOT Loyal Donors
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that 21 percent of those who have made a planned gift “never donated to the charity before putting a planned gift in place.” An additional 20 percent did give to the charity prior to making a planned gift, but did so for less than five years.
The conventional wisdom has been that loyal donors make the best planned giving prospects. However, the report shows that 41 percent of planned gift donors are outside of the loyal-donor model. This underscores the importance of making planned gift messaging ubiquitous.
Planned Givers Are NOT Always Large Current Donors
Among those who have made a planned gift and who have also made an annual giving donation to the charity, 40 percent gave less than $500. Only 16 percent have given $5,000 or more. While the old donor pyramid, where small donors become major donors and then become planned gift donors, may be true for many, the vast majority of planned gift donors have not first been major donors.
This means that, when looking for prospective planned gift donors, development professionals must consider the organization’s entire database. This includes large donors, medium donors, small donors, and even non-donors.
Bequest Giving is the Most Popular Planned Gift
The study found that “a bequest is the most popular vehicle for planned giving.” The report confirms what has been a long-held belief among gift planners and a fact that I included in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.
This is good news for all nonprofit organizations. Virtually all nonprofits can easily and inexpensively promote bequest giving. For those organizations with a bit more expertise and resources, a bequest conversation or a bequest commitment may provide a gateway for a conversation with the donor about more complex giving vehicles. If the market finds a bequest to be the most popular form of planned giving, savvy planned gift marketers will take notice and market accordingly. On the other hand, bequest giving may be the most popular vehicle because it is the one that is already most widely promoted by the nonprofit sector; perhaps this should be examined in a future study.
Many Planned Givers Are Reluctant to Tell the Charity
Among those who have made a planned gift, 49 percent say that they have not told the charity. This raises an important question not asked as part of this study: Why haven’t you told the charity?
I suspect that many donors simply consider their estate planning a private matter and, therefore, choose not to disclose a planned gift provision to the charity that will benefit. I also suspect that others do not want recognition from the charity that they suspect will lead to more pressure to give more either to that charity or another nonprofit organization that takes notice. But, the biggest reason for nondisclosure may simply be that donors do not understand the value of disclosure to themselves and to the organization. Development professionals need to do a better job of articulating the benefits of disclosure to encourage more donors to do it.
Planned Givers and Prospects Use Social Media
A majority of planned gift donors and prospects surveyed use at least one of five social media networks tested:
–Facebook, 39 percent
–Google Plus, 19 percent
–LinkedIn, 17 percent
–Twitter, 6 percent
–MyLife, 1 percent
The report found, “Almost one-fourth of major donors, current planned givers and best prospects in their 40s would like to connect with nonprofits on Facebook.” Donors and prospects are using social media. Smart development professionals will meet donors and prospects where they are. This means including social media in the marketing mix.
Few People Are Asked for a Planned Gift
Only 26 percent of planned gift donors and best prospects — “people who say they will definitely or probably make a planned gift in the future” — say they have received a letter or email about planned giving. Only 17 percent say they have been asked directly for a planned gift.
If nonprofit organizations want more planned gifts, they need to ask more people, more often, and in the right way. With so few people receiving direct planned giving communications, there is not a high-degree of competition. On the other hand, this means tremendous potential.
While What Makes Them Give contains some useful and valuable information, I have some issues with other elements of the report:
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