Planned Giving Marketing

Planned giving marketing is our most popular topic! Why? Because unless you can make the phone ring, it doesn’t matter how well you know the tax law! Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about marketing your legacy giving program.

“I want to do something new and fresh. I am tired of sending out the same type of mailers.”

Something new and fresh for whom? Do not change your outreach because you are tired of it — change it only if it’s not effective. If your ROI is dropping, or your phone isn’t ringing with donor prospects, then it’s worth considering a change.

But if performance isn’t an issue, then stick with the tried and true, the proven and tested. Stick to what you can mail out most often, rather than what’s attractive. Your audience needs familiarity, and what’s “old” to you is likely not old to them.

And the more touches the better — send it out as often as you can.

“How often should we mail?”

Marketing 101: Mail as often as you can. If your budget is tight, shoot for at least 6 direct mail pieces a year.

“What months are the best months to mail?”

Here are the best times to reach more prospects, and the worst times, when they won’t be listening:

Best Months: February to May; September.

Okay Months: January, August, October.

Worst months: June, July.

At all times, strategize your mailings to coordinate with the most beneficial times for donors to give certain types of gifts. It is most effective, for instance, to send “donate stock” promotions as part of your year-end-giving campaign starting in September (don’t procrastinate until December!). We also recommend a “general introduction to planned giving” letter two to three times each year.

Want to know what to mail and when to get your legacy giving program in high gear? The Planned Giving Marketing Calendar covers the entire year.

Or learn more about Planned Giving in a Box.

“I need some facts and figures to convince my boss that planned giving is important. Please give me a quick resource like a Power Point presentation.”

Convincing higher ups can sometimes be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Check out “Getting Your Board on Board” on the Planned Giving Wiki for pointers.

“Who are my best planned giving prospects?”

Your most loyal givers. Some nonprofits target seniors … some target the wealthy … and some target high-income earners. Well, 35% of CRTs are created by donors 55 years old or younger; 15% of all planned gifts are made by donors 45 and younger; and a typical planned giving prospect is one who has earned between $50,000 and $150,000 per year his or her entire life (adjusted for inflation).

The fact is, when data-mining for your best prospects, focus on institutional loyalty, demonstrated by consistent annual giving. Here is a FREE tip: Go to your annual giving database and carefully select donors who have given consecutively for 10 years or more. Since there are many other permutations to consider, you won’t match our results (91% accuracy), but you will at least get a list to start working from.

“Won’t I annoy donors and prospects if I mail them too often?”

We hear it all too frequently: “I don’t want to mail my prospects too often because I may annoy them.” If you are that sensitive, perhaps you should not ask them for donations at all. Take a fundraising powerhouse like St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital: Do you think they worry about how often they mail? And, like other successful charities, they do mail often.

In addition, in any direct mail campaign, someone, sometime and somewhere is annoyed. If you have a 0% “annoyance rate” that means you’re not being heard. In short, you’re vanilla.

Here is an amusing story:

“I sometimes eat breakfast at a little neighborhood mom-and-pop coffee shop near my home.  There on the counter next to the cash register sit three different receptacles for charitable donations of coins — one for Kiwanis, one for some organization for the blind, one for disabled veterans.  One morning, as I dropped my change into one of the receptacles, it registered with me that I always plunked my change into the same one.  Why?  I stood there for a few minutes pondering my own behavior.

Then it hit me.  The reason I always put my change into the disabled veterans jar was

  • NOT because I had preference for that charity over the others
  • NOT because of any reasoned decision to support it instead of the others
  • NOT because of the graphic design or appearance of the containers
  • NOT because of any sales copy on the containers
  • NOT because of their arrangement on the counter
  • NOT for any logical or admirable reason

The reason, and only reason, I put all my change into only one of these charity jars, each and every time, is because the hole in the top of my favored jar is bigger than the holes in the lids on the other two jars.”

Lesson learned?  Ask steadily, ask obviously, and ask for more.

“First class mail or pre-sorted bulk?”

In this discussion we assume that the mailing is not going out late and does not have a deadline for response. In those cases, use First Class or do not mail at all.

Most times, “Third Class Mail” (the US Postal service often changes the name of this service; but it’s generally recognized as “bulk mail” or “standard mail”) works just as well as first class mail, and using the nonprofit, pre-canceled postage results in substantial cost savings.

But nonprofits that try to gauge mail arrival so it can be read by a certain day of the week are kidding themselves. Not only does it depend on the different post offices your mailing is routed through, but many people don’t read mail daily because they are either not at home or have other priorities. With proper planning, however, you can control the arrival of Third Class Mail within 10 days in the U.S. (except during the Christmas season).

One of the reasons nonprofits new to direct marketing shy away from Third Class is that they feel their mailers will be perceived as junk mail. This is a misconception, because junk mail is only “junk” if it has no appeal to the reader (like most of the spam out there). A well-written and well-produced mailing that tells your organization’s story will appeal to many of your prospects.

If you are sending out a personalized letter, we generally recommend first-class mail (with a real stamp, and preferably a handwritten or typed address. You may also want to consider writing “first class mail” on the envelope. Of course, the size of the mailing and your budget may impose limitations, but many of your planned giving mailings will be going to a small, targeted group.

“If I want a unique URL for my planned giving website, how do I register a domain?”

Domain registration services are a commodity. Just Google the terms “domain registration” and you will have plenty of choices. Popular ones are GoDaddy.Com, NetworkSolutions.Com, and 1and1.Com, among many others.

We often register domains on our clients’ behalf. Unless it is a “premium name” it usually costs less than $12 a year to maintain one. Premium names are ones that are easily recognized in a particular industry such as, etc.

“I need a quick reference guide on the details and funding options for planned gifts. Help!”

You’ve come to the right place. Purchase The Ultimate Quick Reference Planned Giving Pocket Guide that also comes with a fold-out “cheat sheet” titled When, How and Why to Plan a Gift. It is a good start. For more in-depth information, purchase a subscription to The Planned Giving Wiki.

“How should my planned giving website be linked from my institution’s home page?”

Prompts from an organization’s overall website should be one of the best sources of visitors to the planned giving pages, but it’s the weakest link (excuse the pun) at many nonprofits. Prospects already thinking about the organization have a hard time finding out how they can support it.

The solution?

  • Develop a custom, human-friendly URL and promote it yourself.
  • Work closely with your colleagues in IT to create logical links from the main site to planned giving.

Regarding #1 above, most people will not click on, for example:

give > advancement > planned giving

(In fact, most people do not even know what “advancement” stands for — it’s like saying “foundation” — we’re all using words that only we understand!).

You have an easily remembered URL, and you’re promoting it? Good. Now, ask for/insist on/bribe your webmaster for a link on your organization’s home page, plus any pages that tell visitors about the good work that your organization is doing, that says something like “Creative Ways to Support Us” and leads to your gift pages. Throughout your institution’s website, find interesting stories about new projects or memorable events. Work on embedding a line or two within those stories that hyperlink to planned giving. For example, “You can help support this new research endowment with a gift that costs nothing during your lifetime.” (The link leads to a description of giving through a will). If you need some planned giving “one-liners” you can get them here for free.

“What should I do if my website is getting old and boring?”

To whom? According to marketing guru Dan Kennedy, “A funny thing usually happens in the advertising business: a client will cancel or change an ad campaign that’s working perfectly well just because they got bored with it and assumed everybody else was, too. That’s a bad assumption. There are ad campaigns that sustain success for five, even ten years. These campaigns are old hat to their owners but are new to new customers who are paying attention to them for the first time. If it’s unknown to someone, it’s a secret — regardless of how routine it may be to you.”

This especially applies to planned giving, since your prospects will visit your website over a period of a few days before contacting you — and not month after month. Remember, the site will always look fresh because it is a one-time visit.

“Planned Giving takes too long. We need cash now.”

The average time from inception to maturity for a planned gift is 7-10 years – only a few years longer than most campaign pledge periods.  And remember, the typical planned giving target is 200 times a donor’s largest annual fund gift.

Do the math yourself:

The typical capital gift target is 20 times a donor’s largest annual fund gift.  The typical completed planned gift is 200 times a donor’s largest annual fund gift. Your planned giving pool may be as much as 5 times larger than your capital pool.

(Read these planned giving myths that we uncover.)

“We’re not ready for planned giving yet. When is a good time to start?”

If you’re a nonprofit, you already are in the planned giving “business.” The question is whether you are actively prospecting for gifts, or just passively counting the occasional, unexpected bequest that comes your way. Saying “we’re not ready for planned giving” often covers up the reactive mode of a nonprofit satisfied with raising cash gifts for immediate needs, rather than taking a proactive stance — and raising more and larger funds for future endowment.

We hear, “I’ll get around to it next spring.” Next spring comes and goes… Potential donors die, move away, or make commitments to other nonprofits. Opportunities for planned gifts critical to building the organization’s future strength are lost.

Unfortunately, many fundraisers don’t realize that the average time from inception to maturity for a planned gift is just 7-10 years — only a few years longer than most campaign pledge periods.

“Is there an industry standard regarding handing off a loyal direct mail donor to the Planned Giving Department?”

We received this question from a client:

Is there any benchmark, or industry standard regarding the mechanics of handing off a loyal direct mail donor to the Planned Giving Department? Without airing too much dirty laundry, our in-house Direct Marketing Department refuses to permit the Planned Giving Department access to the donor database out of fear that Planned Giving marketing activities with loyal donors will depress their annual giving income from their best donors. So Planned Giving must go through a convoluted process to identify and secure the names of loyal donors that only results in donors who have not been suppressed by the Direct Marketing Department. How does that process normally work in other organizations

Many organizations have subscribed to the false notion that there is a limited pie of donations, and that if you allow annual fund donors to be solicited for planned gifts, it will decrease the amount of pie, or dollars, for the annual fund. In fact, just the opposite is true. The 2007 study, Bequest Donors: Demographics and Motivations of Potential and Actual Donors conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (CPIU), found that when you approach donors loyal to your mission and they commit long-term through a planned gift, they actually increase the size of their annual donation because they have furthered their investment in your mission. The study showed that annual gifts by legacy donors were twice the size of those of non-legacy donors. Thus, by looking out for the donors’ best interest, and what they want to accomplish for your charity, you actually increase the size of the pie and your piece of it.

In this modern age of multi-channel, donor-centered marketing, the model of holding donors is in rapid decline. Check out the book by Robert E. Wahlers, CFRE, and Brian M. Sagrestano called The Philanthropic Planning Companion, which looks at the need to be more donor-centered while allowing donors to restrict gifts, or charities risk losing the next generations of donors. If charities do not start to look at their unrestricted annual donors as people with personal planning and charitable objectives rather than as revenue streams, those charities will see a slow decline in annual giving receipts and donors over time, as the Boomers, Gen X and Millennials will not make unrestricted gifts the way that their parents and grandparents did. They need to see the immediate impact of their gifts as well as the long-term outcomes created by their gifts and want to be much more involved as volunteers. No longer can charities keep doing what they have done and hope to generate the same results, as the donors themselves are changing their behavior.

Your annual fund department may be holding onto their existing donors because they already see this decline starting and are fearful that if they release names, it will accelerate it. Just the opposite is true. The more they hold onto these names, the faster the decline will come. Most charities today are happily sharing names to ensure multiple points of contact with the mission in the hopes of keeping donors engaged and the gifts coming. As we said earlier, your best prospects for a legacy gift are donors who have given consecutively over the last 10 years — in other words, the people who regularly give annual gifts.

“We don’t have wealthy prospects. Does it make sense for us to pursue planned gifts?”

Donors at all financial levels take advantage of planned gifts. Wealth screening and demographic criteria alone are poor predictors of propensity to make a planned gift. The highest predictor is institutional loyalty. Remember: Most legacy donors give small annual gifts year after year rather than larger donations: 69% of planned giving donors give less than $500 per year and are unrated prospects! Planned gifts allow people of any income level to make an impact.

Related article: 9 Planned Giving Myths (and facts).

“What is the No. 1 reason people donate to charity?”

Because they are asked to give. The other four reasons:

  • Compassion for those in need
  • They personally believe in the cause
  • They are affected by the cause
  • To give back to their community.

And here’s a powerful fact: Most donors would give more if they were simply asked.

“Do you have any information on legacy societies? How to create them… effective use… names, etc.?”

Read: Powerful Legacy Society Names: Five Proven Tips by Viken Mikaelian.

This answer is from Scott Janney.

I’ll share a little of my personal experience.

We went through a process of soliciting responses from likely members to name our newly formed legacy society. “The St. Mary Legacy Society” won by a mile. I thought it was a boring name, but I was wrong. Many professionals want a name that will stand out from the other societies at our friends’ charities, but most cute names leave people wondering what you’re talking about.

We went to the board and to the most likely legacy donors to get “charter members” of the legacy society and we had a specific time deadline. This created a capital-campaign-like sense of urgency. We put together a four-member campaign team (patterned after a capital campaign committee) to call and meet with each board member individually. The board chair was on this committee and his goal was 100% participation by the board. Although we didn’t reach that in our short charter time frame, it was an admirable goal and provided a lot of energy.

By the end of our ten-month charter period, we had enrolled 41 members with $8,000,000 in bequest commitments, including one commitment for $3,000,000. This at a hospital which had received a total of $600,000 from 18 individuals during its first 33 years.

So, my advice is to go for it. But don’t blow the one opportunity to start well by starting slowly. Get input from your best prospects, buy-in from your boards, have realistic goals and challenging deadlines, and put together a working committee to solicit bequest commitments.

“What’s the difference between benefits-based and features-based marketing?”

Focus on features, and you’re selling how planned gifts work.  It’s like detailing how many cylinders a car has instead of how much the client would enjoy driving it (benefits).  We believe in focusing the prospect’s attention on benefits – in selling the sizzle (benefits), not the steak.

And one of our colleagues contends that if you’re selling the features of planned gifts, you’re “promoting death.”  (The primary feature of a planned gift in the prospect’s mind?  “As soon as I die, they get my money!”)

“Are my prospects actually using the Internet?”

Absolutely. U.S. seniors are the fastest growing sector of the PC-purchasing public. They also hold the majority of the wealth in the U.S. and are your main market. As they migrate to the Net, you should be there to meet them there.

“Why do we need a planned giving website?”

The Internet engages visitors to explore, linger and learn in a way that print materials cannot match. When prospects visit your planned giving site, they’ve come to you on their own time, receptive to learning about creative ways to support you. That’s the opposite of the direct-mail experience.

The Web has also become our acknowledged source of information: Tax forms? The hours at the museum? Directions to Peoria? Get it online.

For many baby boomers (the rising generation of planned gift prospects), if the information they seek does not exist online, it does not exist, period. As your prospects become increasingly Web-proficient, you need to take advantage of the medium that will communicate with them best. If they can’t find your nonprofit and details about your planned giving program online, they’ll just move on to another nonprofit that makes the information easy to find.

“Can I count on prospects finding our planned giving website through search engines?”

Search engine registration should be on your to-do list, but it shouldn’t be your top priority. Most people do not know how to search the Internet proficiently, and a general search term such as “planned giving” can easily locate tens of thousands of pages, many of them irrelevant to your prospects. We have consistently found that a well-advertised (and easily remembered) URL is a much better tool to direct visitors to a planned giving page.

You may also wish to consider our consumer-based calculators that help prospects better understand their own personal financial planning — thus making clear how a gift will fit into that planning, as well as encouraging them to revisit your website for their personal use. We feel they are a great value-added item.

“Do I need monthly fresh content on my planned giving website so that visitors will come back month after month?”

It helps, but it’s not a necessity. However, fresh content does help with search engine optimization.

Why isn’t it critical from a donor perspective? Because your planned giving website is not Entertainment Weekly, and your prospects will not re-visit your planned giving pages for the “exciting planned giving news” of the day. The next time you hear that frequently refreshing your content with “exciting” planned giving articles generates repeat traffic, stop for a reality check. To the average citizen, planned giving is boring. There’s nothing exciting about it. “No one Googles ‘unitrusts’ first thing in the morning.”

A prospect will visit your website once, twice, maybe three times over just a few days, not months, and then contact you.

The site will always look fresh because it is a one-time, short-lived visit.

If you really want added benefits, add new and exciting donor stories as often as possible.

“My planned giving website is live. How should I announce it?”

Never simply announce that you have a new planned giving website. No one will care.

Instead, wrap news about your website into a larger fundraising message. There are several sample letters you can download at GiftPlanning.Org for free (there are intention forms there too). It is customary to thank your prospect for past support and encourage them to explore ways to give that benefit their and their family’s welfare while also benefiting your organization. Then, you can direct them to your planned giving website, where they can learn more.

We think you should send such a letter out several times a year. There’s something called the “stickiness factor” in consistent direct mail. Remember that fewer than a third of your letters will be read, and that fewer than 5% of the people who did read the letter will remember what it said 4 months after receiving it. So, send the same letter again — don’t reinvent the wheel (or, even worse, send out one marketing piece and then drop the campaign).

“How many hits should I expect on my planned giving website my first year?”

First, let’s get a technicality out of the way. HITS should never be used to track visitors. In fact, H.I.T.S. = How Idiots Track Success.

Instead, your main gauge should be sessions, page views and unique visitors.

We are often asked, “How will we know how many visits our site gets?” The answer is easy to determine, but the question, by itself, is wrong — similar to asking, “How many times did the phone ring in the Office of Planned Giving last January 7th?”

Ask instead, “How has the Internet been an integral part of our overall marketing strategy?” Think about the unprecedented ways your site can expand your marketing reach and put your message in front of your best prospects when they are in their most receptive moods.

Tracking your overall website sessions is the best and most accurate way to determine your site’s performance. A session is a unique visit by a single individual. One session is recorded for each unique site visit whether the visitor looks at one page or every page on the site. Look for trends in visits, pageviews, and length of stay: did you have a quick surge in visits after a mailing? (Remember, U.S. Mail is still the format prospects prefer for your messages — not email blasts.) Activity on your planned giving website can be used to measure how your overall marketing is doing.

So, rather than worrying about how many sessions your site receives on a daily basis, it’s better to understand how your site adjustments and marketing efforts affect your site’s overall traffic patterns. Tracking session data from month to month and watching for jumps in the charts after a marketing piece has gone out are the most useful ways to analyze your website traffic reports. If your marketing is done properly, you will see growth in your session traffic over time.

“Regarding my website stats, please help me understand the terms, Hits, Unique Visitor, Visits, Sessions, and the definition of a Page.”

Hits: Any files requested from the server (including files that are graphics and scripts). The word “hits” actually refers to the total number of files that are requested from the server. Therefore, the number of hits to a site is always going to be significantly higher than the actual number of visits to the site. This is because a typical visit to a website will include “hits” on a number of pages. Not only is each page counted as a hit, but all the graphics and scripts on every page requested are also counted. Given the number of graphics on a typical webpage, the difference between hits and visits is substantial. It would not be uncommon for a traffic report to show ten or even twenty times as many hits as actual visits.

Pages: Also known as a web page, a page is defined as a single file on a web server. For example, a page could be an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) document, an image, a java applet, a CGI script, etc. Any file that is neither a gif nor a jpeg is considered a page.

Unique Visitor: A unique visitor is an IP address that has made at least 1 hit on 1 page of your website during the current period shown by the report. If this host makes several visits during this period, it is still counted only once.

Visits: Number of visits made by all visitors. Think “Sessions” here — say a unique IP address accesses a page, and then requests three others with less than an hour between any of the requests, then all of the “pages” are included in one “visit.” You should expect multiple pages per visit and multiple visits per unique visitor (assuming that some of the unique IPs are logged with more than an hour between requests).

“I have been getting tons of visitors on my planned giving website over the last two years, but few people are requesting information from me.”

Usually the more activity you have, the more people will contact you. If this is not the case, it could be that the high number of visits to your planned giving website is resulting from you or your staff members visiting your pages. Ask your webmaster (or planned giving website vendor) to make sure your visits do not count — they can change a setting.

“How many times should I mail per year?”

The answer depends on many factors, not to mention that this is the wrong question to ask. In general, you should reach out and touch your prospects at least 10-20 times per year. This does not mean 10-20 mailings. A “touch” could be:

  • calling a prospect (or even leaving a voicemail)
  • the prospect calling you
  • the prospect visiting your website
  • mailing a postcard (or newsletter)
  • mailing a thank you note or a greeting card
  • mailing a personalized letter (get a sample here — some are even free)
  • the prospect seeing your display ad in a publication (these can have great impact)
  • a radio advertisement on annuities, etc.

Your postcard or newsletter mailing should be just one part of an overall successful marketing campaign. In general, and on average we recommend 6 postcards per year to a highly select planned giving prospect group, in addition to other marketing techniques such as those suggested above.

“I heard a marketing vendor state that a topic as detailed as planned giving can’t be communicated solely through postcards.”

Correct and that is our point.

You should never focus on the details or features of planned gifts in any marketing medium! Sell the sizzle (a gift’s benefits), not the steak.

The vendor’s reasoning goes back to the 60’s — the Old Days of planned giving.

“Are postcards a good alternative to planned giving newsletters?”

Postcards have over a 95% readership rate. This does not mean that all those prospects will pore over your card. In fact, many of them will trash it. But, if your message is clever and you are mailing the cards frequently (frequency is a must), the gist of your message will likely be retained even if the prospect just handles the card between the mailbox and the wastebasket. (Remember, there’s no envelope – no barrier between the prospect and your message.)  And one day, the right card will arrive at the right time with the right message when the prospect is in the right mood to comply.

A postcard does not have to be opened  it makes an impression at a glance.

“Why are my planned giving newsletters getting less response?”

Because fewer and fewer are even getting read. 

Marketing noise: every day the average prospect is inundated with over 2500 marketing messages. In a large city, it’s over 3700.  A battle is being fought for the eyes and ears of the world, and in most cases your enemy is an overstuffed mailbox.  Not only is your mail competing with the Legacy Newsletter of the hospital next door, but your prospects’ mailboxes are full of so much junk that your newsletter is often simply lost in the pile.  And admit it: many issues you mail out are not exactly compelling reads.  Come on. Do you really believe your prospects are dying to get home at night to read your “exciting” newsletter describing how to part with their wealth after death?

They will actually pay more attention to an advertising medium that delivers a quick, simple, focused message.  One that is cleverly designed, cleverly delivered, and most especially one that is benefits-based. These can include postcards and solicitation letters. (Important: if you send out solicitation letters, do not enclose any other pieces in the envelope. They detract from the message.)

Remember: Americans read their mail standing over a wastebasket.

Depending on the type of organization sending them, planned giving newsletters in general have less than a 5% readership(not response) rate. If you are a boutique nonprofit your readership rate may be higher, but do your homework.  No matter what kind of nonprofit you represent, however, expect to encounter the trend of more and more of your newsletters being trashed before they are even opened.

“But I like sending my prospects emails!”

OK, but remember: an email must be value-added — otherwise it’s “value-subtracted.” Follow the advice in the previous two answers on how to format emails so they are not received as spam.

One hint: if your non-profit sends out an institutional e-message, implant a planned giving story or a column in it. And make sure to give it a compelling headline.  Here’s one from a client: You too can establish an endowed chair with a gift that costs nothing during your lifetime.

“Why is e-marketing a bad idea for planned giving (i.e., using spam)?”

Before you press the “send” key, stop and think. You can alienate your prospects really easily that way.

Ready for a quick quiz? Consider the cost of non-responders. A fundraiser sends the same blast email to a prospect list of 10,000 prospects at a total cost of $1,000 (a print version could easily cost $5,000). Assuming a 2% response rate (200 people) and a $100 gift per response, she raises $20,000 (200 x $100). That’s a 20-times ROI (return on investment).

If you said “Congratulations!” then you’re probably operating under the old rules of email marketing, which is what most people do and why most fail.

But non-response is not free.

Prospects create value for a nonprofit in two ways:

  • Contributing today.
  • Increasing their intent to contribute in the future.

When the fundraiser sent the email campaign above, she sent it to 9,800 prospects who had no interest in the “offer.” What if the email was perceived as spam by a number of high-value and high-potential prospects — as an intrusion to their inbox (whether consciously or unconsciously)? If even a fraction of these annoyed non-responders decides to contribute less in the future, the loss in prospect value and profits far outweighs the short-term benefits the fundraiser received from the promotion.

Worse yet, some nonprofits, at the advice of vendors or consultants who do not research as meticulously as we do, send such emails on a weekly basis, and see only declining returns.

Clear, relevant and timely emails not only help boost short-term returns today, but they also enhance the lifetime giving potential of current and future prospects and donors. So you should focus not on ROI, but rather ROP — Return On Prospect. This perspective provides you with a more balanced picture of your email campaigns.

ROP measures the prospect value that’s created or destroyed, which allows for a more accurate gauge of the long-term effect of mass email campaigns.

“What do I do about a donor who tries to manipulate the tax savings to their advantage?”

Most donors are above-board and have your nonprofit’s best interests at heart. But there are a few in every crowd who want to manipulate the system simply to find (or create) tax loopholes. If you find yourself working with a donor who asks your organization to do something unethical, politely decline the gift and move on. Trust us: You don’t need the legal trouble, or the negative publicity that comes with it.

“Should I target my prospects with mass e-mailings?”

Very carefully, and after reading this must-read How to Make Prospects Tune Out Without Trying and its follow up: Using e-Marketing or ‘Spam’ to Promote Planned Giving? Think Again. The risk is that as few as 0.5% of mass e-mails may be read, vs. upwards of 95% of a large postcard mailing.

Choosing whether to mass-email also depends on your organization, its size, and its constituency. If you are a small local organization such as a theatre or a church, with close-knit prospects who admire your operation, they may welcome your emails. If you are a large organization with a diverse membership, you will encounter many respondents who aren’t pleased that you add to the clutter in their in-boxes.

In general, email blasts (especially automated ones) will be detrimental to your program.

“Can I, and should I, secretly capture visitors’ e-mail addresses from my website?”

No, and your prospects are grateful for that.

“Do prospects expect privacy on a fundraising website?”

Yes, and it’s essential in making them comfortable enough to spend time exploring your website. Tell them that they are not being monitored and mean it. (Take a look at PlannedGiving.Com’s websites that back you up by posting a friendly but explicit privacy notice for you.)

“What’s a good recording for my voicemail message?”

This may sound silly, but we have clients who say it works: Tell callers about your website as part of your voicemail recording:

“Hi! This is Richard. To skip this recording and leave a message now press #.

“While I am unable to take your call, please take a look at our website that features creative ways to give to (organization name); It’s fun and informative. You may even recognize some of your peers who are profiled online! The web address is …”

“How can I use my personal email to build awareness of planned giving?”

At the end of your email is your signature line. Develop a set of 5 signature lines and use the appropriate one depending on whom you are writing to. For example, if you know that your prospect owns appreciated securities, below your signature you may add, “Did you know giving stock could be more beneficial than giving cash?”* Better yet, have this hyperlink to your website’s page on Appreciate Securities.

Avoid vague blurbs like “Our Foundation’s Goal is to Support Our Institution.” First, most people don’t even know what a foundation is (a lady we know thought it was part of the building’s basement); second, it’s too generic to get a point across. Even stay away from words like “bequest” — most do not know what it is.

“How many planned giving calls should I schedule when I am on the road?”

Fewer than if you were making annual fund calls. Remember that typically you will be visiting older people, and either soliciting them or thanking them for a major gift. This is a big deal to them — a gift made from capital, not an annual fund contribution made from discretionary income. They expect you to take your time with them.

In addition, many of the people you visit will be retired, often to a location far away from their old home and family. They may be bored and lonely — and they will want to talk.

A typical planned gift visit will last one hour, perhaps longer if it is a repeat visit and the prospect has become friendly with you. Physical impairments — hearing loss, limited mobility — will increase this time. Figure two to two-and-a-half hours if you also take the prospect out for a meal.

A good average to plan on is three visits per day, or four if you schedule a dinner call. Any tighter schedule will be frustrating for both you and the prospects.

“How important are donor visits?”

They’re a must. There’s no way we can over-emphasize this. We always tell our clients the most important thing is visits. Everything we do is designed to get you in front of more prospects. We can come up with the coolest marketing stuff but if our clients aren’t visiting their prospects, the cool ideas are meaningless.

Some planned giving officers make few visits because their institutions are successfully raising a lot of money. We call them DNPs — Do Nothing People. Yes, their institutions are raising planned gifts, but only due to the size of their constituency and the momentum of the institution.

Unfortunately, with DNP fundraisers, they are also leaving a lot of gifts on the table.

“Should I develop people skills or technical skills? Which is more important?”

People skills are by far the most valuable to your success. You can always hire a professional to assist you with the technical details. If you are gifted with both skills (which is rare), may the force be with you.

Most companies base 80% of their hiring decision on technical skills, yet 85% of turnover is due to behavioral incompatibility. We’re so hung up on fulfilling the technical requirements that we frequently forget we’re dealing with people, and fail to identify or analyze the necessary people skills required.

Always remember: People give to people, not to institutions. So instead of taking the next course on gift annuities, pick up a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

“I want to do a gift annuity mailing. Should I have a gift illustration of $10,000, $25,000 or $50,000?”

Our advice? Do not include any numeric scenario. A $10K gift example will implant (even subconsciously) in your prospects’ minds that that’s the amount they should donate. Describe your mission and vision, show how a gift annuity can help a donor support that vision, and then follow up with a personalized gift example for each respondent.

“Why are donor stories important?”

Donor stories motivate others to give and generate second-time gifts. Imagine the impact of a simple, sincere story about a donor who was able to make the gift she had always wanted because the payments from her gift annuity more than replaced the dividends from the stock she donated! A real-life story demonstrates the effectiveness of planned giving in ways that technical gift details never can.

“Should I develop a planned giving brochure?”

Depends upon your budget and staff resources.

If you develop one, do not invest too much time and money in it, and use the finished product more as a leave behind than a direct-mail piece. Avoid overly expensive 4- to 6- color pieces (unless budget is not an issue). Many nonprofits are finding that it creates a better impression on prospects for the fundraiser to print out appropriate pages from the planned giving website, enclose them in a folder along with a personalized gift illustration request, and deliver this package in person (if possible), rather than to mail a mega-buck glossy brochure.

Focus on the relevance and quality of your message in your brochure, and leave the high production values to the banks and investment houses.

“What response rates can I expect from my planned giving mailings?”

It depends. It’s nearly impossible to universalize response rates. And if someone ever proposes a definitive answer to one of our profession’s most frequently asked questions, walk away quickly. Why? Because your nonprofit and constituents are different from everybody else’s. Even comparing mailings by two identical nonprofits with similar prospects, consider the factors that could make one mailing a success and other a failure: how long and how vigorously each organization has promoted planned giving; whether the recipients are loyal or indifferent annual-fund donors; the topic of the mailing; if it was sent out during summer vacation or busy holiday periods.

“Print ads and direct mail are expensive. Why shouldn’t I just advertise our planned giving program online? It’s much cheaper!”

Cheaper does not mean more effective or better. It just means cheaper — and in this case, you get what you pay for. First and foremost, any marketing program should be balanced; never put all of your marketing eggs in one basket. If you want to market your legacy gifts program online, fine — but make sure you also use direct mail and print ads, and throw in radio and TV, too, if it’s in the budget.

Secondly, keep in mind that the idea behind marketing is to effectively reach your audience. To achieve that goal, you need to reach your audience where they are. If your audience is on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc., then by all means, advertise there. But do your research first — jumping into digital advertising blindly will drain your budget, not grow your endowment.

“What if a donor offers more than they’re capable of donating? Does that ever happen, and if so, how would we know?”

When you’re working with a donor to create a planned gift, you won’t get a complete picture of their assets, but you will get a general idea. That should be enough to signal whether the donor is being realistic. If the numbers aren’t adding up, you’ll need to find a way to tactfully redirect the donor’s intention to something more manageable. If your organization is counting on a gift that then falls through, it could spell disaster.


Planned Giving Wiki

This is the definitive resource for professional gift planners. It covers all of the relevant information you’ll ever need as far as technical details go.