Year end is a time of retrospect and anticipation. For fundraisers, especially those responsible for planned gifts, you remember all that you didn’t get done and anticipate all there is to do before December 31!
Helping your donors meet the December 31 tax deadline means that you can plan on staying longer and doing more than just about everyone else — except for your office’s gifts processor. So plan a nice rest in January (Isn’t there a planned giving conference in the Caribbean, then? There should be…) and get ready for the year-end sprint.
First of all, let’s talk about your donors and your organization…
My guess is that your organization isn’t up for spending a lot of money this year. Not that they’re flush with cash for fundraising at any time, but this year’s economy has your boss looking for ways to be more productive and less expensive. Let’s go with that.
I’ll also guess that along with your organization, your donors aren’t feeling particularly wealthy, either. Like in any recession, this is only partially based on facts. Most of our “feeling poor” is just that, a feeling. But let’s go with that emotion, because that’s what you’ll be running up against when you’re out there.
Yet these same donors that are feeling poor are likely to be your most loyal donors. That’s because your best planned giving donors are not the ones who also fall into the “major gifts” category, but the ones who fit more of a middle class profile. These are the ones who have been giving $25, $50, or $100 for year after year. They love you and are likely to help you in the long term.
So with all of this happening, what’s a nonprofit to do this year when it wants to make a year end “push” for planned gifts? Let’s look at some options…
Start “dialing for dollars.”
Just call up and say “thanks.” Making a list of your most consistent, loyal donors (remember, not the largest, your most consistent) and calling them goes a lot farther than sending them a holiday card. Yes, it will take some time, but particularly if you’re dealing with an older population, but your voice is really appreciated. No asks here, just say thank you, happy holidays and maybe ask why they support you so well. This is real holiday giving, plus you might get some good testimonials to use for publications and other marketing programs. (A must read is the story of a neglected donor, You Had Me at Bequest!)
Stay on those phones.
Did anyone even remotely express interest in a life income agreement (a charitable trust or gift annuity) or other planned gift over the past year? If so, call them “just to check” if they will need to do anything before year’s end. Tell them (and so much the better that it’s true) that you’re trying to plan your work so you can help everyone that needs it before December 31. Between calling your loyal donors and your potential planned giving donors — and the work that results — you may fill out your calendar pretty well for year’s end. But if not, read on…
Plan a year-end mailing.
If you do this, focus on the easy, inexpensive ways to make a planned gift. That means bequests and assigning beneficiaries of insurance, retirement plans and bank accounts. Why? These are the least costly, easiest way to fund your charity through a planned gift. A bequest only costs the donor the fee to contact her lawyer, which might already be happening anyway. (Remember to have bequest language ready in case it’s needed.) Insurance policies, retirement plans and bank account beneficiaries only require the filling out of a form. All of these are relatively easy to do and require little or no out-of-pocket dollars.
Circle around an event
Many organizations have Holiday related, mission focused events that make great cultivation activities. If you have a legacy society (a “Heritage Club”), or even just a list of those people who have you in their will, invite them along! For schools this could mean a year-end theater production. How about a New Year’s bird count or helping serve the homeless at Thanksgiving? Don’t be afraid to invite your donors to events where they can participate, not just watch. Being part of the mission strengthens their relationship with your organization and provides memories for years to come (including when they’re with their lawyer, writing their will).
Update your gift acceptance policies
Of course you have them, right? This may seem odd, but in preparation for year-end work, I would update your gift acceptance policies to state that outside of marketable securities, cash and credit cards, all gift income needs to be approved by your Board of Trustees if donated after December 15. Why? Because charities get themselves in the most trouble when dealing with high pressure, last minute financial deals — especially those dealing with non-liquid assets, like privately held stock, real estate and gifts-in-kind. Don’t be that nonprofit who took the beautiful meadow on December 29 only to find out on January 3 (my birthday, by the way!) that it was a toxic waste dump. Being able to point to an approval process is healthier for your charity and your career, regardless if you’re missing the “deal of a lifetime.”
Once you’ve done all this, plan to stick around, or at least be accessible. I’ve had some very boring year ends, and some that came out of the end of a fire hose. There’s no telling which will be yours, but one thing for certain: if you take that last week off and turn off your cell phone, when you’re back you’re sure to hear from the security guard “someone was here asking for you, but they said the charity down the street would be just as good.”
Most importantly, begin now. Year-end comes fast.
Here’s to anticipating a busy, fruitful year’s end, and a nice relaxing vacation in January!