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Meet Viken Mikaelian

Interviewed by Patrick O’Donnell, Assistant Editor, Giving Tomorrow Magazine and Major Gifts Today.

What’s your life philosophy?

To improve myself every day so I can help improve others.

What was your first job?

When I was 8, I bought a lawn mower. You can guess the rest.

How about your first business?

I was a childhood candy prodigy. During Halloween I circled the neighborhood five times with 5 different masks which I bought with the proceeds from cutting lawns … and sold my excess inventory to my 3rd grade classmates over the next 6 months..

What remains on your bucket list?

Visit every state in the USA and every major National Park, help more nonprofits, and possibly buying or adopting my second Yorkie.

Who is your favorite author?

Too many to list. I read a book a week and there is something to be learned from every book you read.

How about your favorite movie?

Too many to list, but “Being There” with Peter Sellers is up there.

Do you have a favorite comedian?

Ah! Of course. Bob Hope, Fluffy, Peter Sellers, George Carlin, Monty Python. Quite a few more as I love to laugh. In fact, I listen to comedy on my iPad every night before I sleep – that way I wake up laughing to start a wonderful new day.

Did you have challenges when you started this business?

Big time. It was not an easy task, because the industry was not ready to get planned giving online. In those first few years, I recall earning less than $7,000 annually. My wife Olga’s income from her job enabled us to pay the bills.

What made it even tougher was an industry without a vision proclaiming, across the nation, “You can’t get your vision, your mission, and your planned giving message across on a website.”

Did you have other sources of income?

No. From the beginning it was a “pure play” firm.

Pure play?

A “pure play” is a company that focuses solely on one type of product or service. Other vendors, for example, began as print shops seeking new avenues to keep their presses running to churn out newsletters. Others began as planned giving software companies (calculators) and added planned giving content for added revenue.

How do you measure success?

Through feedback I receive from clients and friends who tell me I have made them more successful.

Would you consider yourself very productive?

I would like to think so. I wrote a book on time management, and I try to follow it. It is not easy.

What comes first in your business?

My employees. Treat them right, and they will treat clients right.

Dogs or cats?

Dogs. My Chief Barketing and Communications officer is my pup, Chloe.

What’s a major challenge for nonprofits when it comes to planned giving?

Most fundraisers want to hit the jackpot with a large donation, and therefore procrastinate when it comes to planned gifts.

What about the most common mistakes fundraisers make?

They focus on the technical aspects of planned gifts and not the people or relationship side. I think planned giving is 95% a people business and 5% a legal business. You can always outsource the legal stuff.

Where should a good fundraiser dedicate their time?

Calling, writing thank-you letters, and getting out the door meeting with donors. You can’t close a huge gift on Zoom.

Should there always be an “ask?”

In every marketing piece you put out, there should always be a direct or indirect ask. Over 56% of fundraisers in a recent survey preferred not to make such an ask. Big mistake.

You lead a successful planned giving marketing firm. Why is marketing so important?

Marketing is used to successfully educate your donors. You can’t make the ask unless you have educated them first.

What’s the future of planned giving?

The future is exciting: Because of tremendous demographic shifts in society, you have to watch our webinar on the Great Wealth Transfer. That’s going to make a huge impact on philanthropy.

In a nutshell, why is planned giving important?

Watch this video below. We give permission for nonprofits to use it.

Viken Mikaelian

Viken Mikaelian

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