How to Soften the Death Undertones of Planned Giving Marketing

Man in a dark path depicting death

The unspoken message in the planned giving world is that a death must occur for a gift to be fully realized. This presents a unique challenge. 

Here are three ways to alleviate the macabre undertone of death language in your planned giving marketing and get your program on track for success.

Feature a Story from a Living Donor

Storytelling should be the place you start for all of your nonprofit marketing campaigns, including planned giving. Appeals rely on building an emotional connection, so stories are a natural tool to use. For planned giving, instead of telling a story that focuses on the legacy of a former donor who has passed away, feature a current donor who has arranged for a future gift to your organization—and avoid any death reminders. 

The story can highlight and celebrate this person, their family, and their life. They can share why they chose to make a planned gift and talk about the emotional and financial benefits they’re enjoying from it. They can talk about what they hope the gift will accomplish and what that means to them. These kinds of stories are an emotional gold mine! If told well, to the right audience, they will motivate action, especially if they include the kind of planned giving language (more on that later) that works. 

As a bonus, the time you spend interviewing this donor and then celebrating them publicly is a wonderful stewardship act. Hearing and telling someone’s story makes them feel special and appreciated and connected to your organization—which is exactly how you want planned giving donors to feel.

“But I Don’t Have Any Stories”

What if you are a small shop just getting started on your planned giving strategy and you don’t yet have a pool of legacy donors from which to share a story? Find someone who may benefit from the planned gift and share their story instead. All meaningful fundraising campaigns contain a compelling case for support. This is the quantified, real-world reason why you are asking for donations in the first place. Maybe your planned giving campaign will establish a scholarship endowment or help build a new building.

Likewise, a story about someone who has benefitted from your mission can be used to show that legacy gifts can continue to fill similar needs in the future. Use a strong call to action with planned giving language like, “Explore our planned giving program to find ways to shape your legacy and help us continue our mission for future generations.”

Add a ‘Save the Date’

This strategy is simple but effective. Simply adding an invitation to an in-person event in your email or direct mail brings your message to life. It takes the focus away from someday (i.e., when you die) to now. 

Planned giving donors want to be able to picture their legacy. One great way to do this is by committing to social activities for your planned giving donors on a regular basis. These events should provide ways for donors to connect more deeply with the organization and get their questions answered—like a site visit, facility tours, or program exhibitions. You can invite your organization’s legal representation so donors can conveniently schedule follow-ups as needed.

Use the Right Planned Giving Language

Getting your planned giving language “right” is not rocket science. In most cases, it’s simply a matter of being mindful of the donor by putting yourself in their shoes and avoiding death reminders. 

For instance, which would you rather hear?

  • “You can make a gift in your will today that won’t take effect until after your death.” 
  • “You can make a gift in your will today that will have no impact on your day-to-day finances.” 

 The second version sounds much better, right? You’re not reminding your prospect of their own mortality—and you’re reassuring them that their gift will be painless. The same logic applies to any legacy gift appeal. You don’t say, “You’ll get guaranteed income until you die.” You say, “You’ll receive a guaranteed paycheck for life.” 

 Donors Don’t Want Death Reminders

The only reaction you’ll get by using death language in your planned giving marketing is avoidance. 

Instead, focus on storytelling, creating social activities for donors, and using the right words and phrases in your planned giving language. You’ll be rewarded with a better ROI — and more (and bigger) planned gifts.  

All of our blogs, products and services are proudly conceived, created, reviewed, and disseminated by real humans — not A.I. (artificial “intelligence.”)

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