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History

Viken Mikaelian, Founder PlannedGiving.com

Viken Mikaelian
CEO

I planned giving.

Yes, I am a nerd. And I just can’t imagine being in any other field that is as rewarding.

Welcome to our world.

I love to help fundraisers like you. Not just your organization, but your career too. Not only do fundraisers who promote planned gifts close significantly larger gifts – even if they just dabble in it – but they also strengthen their careers significantly more than those who don’t.

I personally do not take myself seriously. But I do take my business seriously, especially my clients. You will sense this in my publications and our blog. I also love to be irreverent and tell it like it is – if you can’t take it, you should not partner with us. There are just way too many vanilla people in this industry and I have decided not to be one of them. Some are so boring that they can put a cat on speed to sleep. Attend one of our webinars and see how exciting we are. Or, invite me as a keynote speaker for your next event.

Our unique team

We’re also a great team that includes a very unusual combination of people – a first in the planned giving industry. And it’s not just that we’re well educated and experienced. We’re also street smart, with real-world know-how. That’s not something you pick up in the classroom.

Our team brings a balanced approach to solving your problems. We’ve got the legal expertise, e-marketing expertise, print-marketing expertise, strategy expertise, copy-writing expertise, technology and IT expertise, social media and search engine optimization expertise. Plus we understand you, and we understand your prospect.

When you do business with us, you will sense the level of professionalism at which we operate. So doing business with us is a pleasure. Not a hassle.

Why?

Early on I learned that you build a better company with better people. At PlannedGiving.Com we are all young at heart, yet with lots of experience… people experience. Even our sales team are not “sales people.” They are people-people providing solutions. 

I also learned that another way of building a better company is to place our pride in our back pocket and be happy to learn from clients who are smarter than we are.

A little history

I first entered this business in 1998 developing planned giving websites. At that time it was not easy because the industry was not yet ready for it. In those first few years, I recall earning less than $7000 annually. My wife Olga’s income from her job enabled us to pay the bills.

What made it even tougher was some dingbats with very little vision proclaiming across the nation “You can’t get your vision, your mission, and your planned giving message across on a website.”

We have come a long way since then

Our goal was constant innovation – to lead and not to follow. What we did was always a “first”: better website navigation, donor-centric copy, interactive tools and more.

We were not content to be a “newsletter company” that simply recycles the same old content online. We developed our copy specifically to communicate compellingly over the Internet, and we still do so.

Our clients began asking us for more

In those early days, while we focused only on planned giving websites, our clients began asking us for more products and services such as planned giving newsletters to market estate gifts, outright gifts, trusts and life-income gifts such as Charitable Gift Annuities, Unitrusts, etc.

Having designed planned giving newsletters since 1986 in a former business, I had always questioned their effectiveness. In fact, I found them boring.

So in 2000, we were the first to develop “the planned giving postcard.” Another first… a card that described a planned giving message in 200 words or less. Many criticized us, especially competitors, claiming that a prospect can’t “get” or understand planned giving with such brief copy... still proclaiming that they needed "the newsletter".

Bingo. Our comeback was: think marketing. Planned giving newsletters are going right into the trash; a postcard has a 100% glance rate; and a punchy headline can deliver its message even as the card is being thrown away.”

Today, planned giving postcards are pretty much industry standard best practice, and, as Tom Ahern mentions, the newsletter is widely recognized as a “death brochure” with one foot in the grave. Studies show this is true.

And besides, you can send out twice as many postcards on the same budget as one newsletter. Marketing 101: the more "touches" the better.

I had no clue how much fun planned giving would be

It has had some of its challenging moments of trials and errors with innovations, but nevertheless, it is an extremely rewarding business. And I know why… it’s a proactive field focusing on the future. And the benefits are huge. I have seen 6 months of planning generate millions of dollars in revenue within a few years for my clients.

In my former business my focus was mostly annual gifts where I saw fundraisers chase $100 and $1000 gifts month after month, experiencing the same unrewarding routine year after year. Although annual gifts are important because they cultivate planned giving prospects, it is still a very reactive field, based on the “I want it now” philosophy. Every young fundraiser needs to experience annual giving but there is a time you have to move on. You can do both, but you should place you main focus on planned giving.

I decided to be among the 5% that graduates to planned giving from annual giving. And will never look back.

Our smartest company business decision ever

In addition to developing superior planned giving marketing and lead generation tools, the most strategic business decision we made a few years ago was to acquire the domain PlannedGiving.Com, the website you are currently on. The second and third smartest were to purchase PlannedGiving.Net and PlannedGiving.Org, which we use to maximize search engine optimization for our clients.

All of these three are golden domains and that is why we consistently rank No. 1 on Google searches.

These domains did not come cheap and required skilful negotiating, something our competition – who has been in business far longer than we have – was not smart enough to do. I also hear that our coup in acquiring these top-level domains infuriated some vendors. Even more... very recently we purchased GiftPlanning.Net and GiftPlanning.Org!

When we purchased PlannedGiving.Com our "competitors" started advising their clients to change from using the term “planned giving” to “gift planning” – supposedly because it’s a more logical way to go. I wonder what they will advise now since we purchased "gift planning"? For us, we still prefer "planned giving" or more friendly terms with donors such as "a gift that costs you nothing during your lifetime."

My “favorite” slogan

“Success the easy way. In 5 minutes or less. Guaranteed. Or double your money back.”

For obvious reasons, we do not use this. But this pretty much sums up what many organizations and individuals are looking for – whether in the non-profit or the for-profit world. However there are more and better strategies to help you reach success than you probably thought possible.

Success is a mindset. Winning does not come just with work. You also need the mindset. And some strategy.

That’s what we provide when you work with us – whether you are partnering with us to develop your planned giving website or a postcard marketing campaign, analyzing your donor list, designing your planned giving collateral, or purchasing Planned Giving in a Box.

Just remember what Thomas Edison said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

I love planned giving.