“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. As fundraiser and blogger Reinier Spruit says, “We need to value donors as much as we need value from them.”

“How important are donor visits?”

They are 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, most engaging marketing materials ever, but if our clients aren’t visiting their prospects, the materials 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.

“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 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 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 Appreciated 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 is 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 people do not know what it means.

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

This may sound silly … but we have clients who do it: 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 …”

“Won’t I annoy my 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 mail often.

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.

“Is it better to meet a donor prospect at their home, office or the agency location?”

There are advantages to both. However, meeting a donor prospect on their turf allows the agency representative to learn more about the prospect. Donors are usually most comfortable in their own surroundings. If you are observant and ask the right questions you can learn much more about the prospect if you are in their home or office.

Be observant. What touches has the donor used to decorate the home or office? Do they appear to be representative of travels to foreign places? Ask the donor about them. Get the donor to talk about what interests them. Your visit should be more about them, not you. Are there pictures of people on the mantle? Are there recognition plaques on a wall? Here again, ask about them. The key is to remember that a donor call is all about relationship building. It won’t happen if you do not appear to be interested and do all of the talking.

Oh, I almost forgot. After you ask a question, be quiet, let the donor answer, and above all, listen — it will make you a better fundraiser!

“What do donors like to talk about?”

Donors will talk about a myriad of things interesting to them. However, they do tend to fall into three main categories: Family, Occupation, and Recreation. If the donor is retired, ask about what they did during their career. The people we deal with in fund development generally were very successful in life and work, and are proud of that success. Have your prospects talk about their career and what they may have thought was their greatest achievement.

Ask about family. Grandparents love to talk about their grandchildren.

Show a personal interest in your prospect, and you’ll gain their trust. That’s the first step toward gaining a donation.

“What should I talk about during a donor prospect call?”

You should always have a purpose in mind when making a call to a donor prospect. The primary purpose of most donor calls is to get to know the donor and establish a trusting relationship. Part of your responsibility during the visit is to talk about your agency. Thus you need to have a message to deliver about your agency.

Prior to your arrival you should have prepared in your mind two or three items or programs that you wish to convey about your organization. If you know what the donors’ interest is in your charity bring them up to date on the program’s status. Talk about needs and future direction. Share ideas about the agency’s strategic plans for the future without going into too much technical detail.

The second purpose of your call is to ask for or discuss a potential gift to your charity and how it can be structured. You may have a donor who initially contacted you in regard to a Charitable Gift Annuity, and after talking about their economic and philanthropic objectives, you both discover that a better gift might be to use undeveloped real estate to fund a Charitable Remainder Unitrust.

Don’t be afraid to talk about a gift arrangement. That’s why you are paid the big bucks!

“Donors always make annual gifts before they make a major financial commitment to a nonprofit, correct?”

No. It used to be that donors were more likely to make annual gifts for a few years before they’d consider a major commitment. But these days, it is less common to see the traditional pipeline for a major gift start with annual gifts.

There are a number of factors contributing to the shift: uncertainty in the economy, more frequent career changes, an aging population, and a pool of prospective donors who are raising their children at the same time they’re caring for their own parents. Your best course of action is to build a meaningful relationship with your prospects and treat them as individuals with unique interests and abilities to support your organization. When the prospect is ready to consider a commitment, you can partner with the prospect and his/her advisors to craft a gift plan that meets the donor’s personal planning objectives while also supporting your mission.

Gift options such as bequests, bank or investment accounts, real estate or personal property, stock, and gift annuities will fling open the doors to more possibilities for supporting your organization. So find out what their needs and priorities are. Then, help them identify the ways they can give now and in the future. You might be surprised. Their first gift may be a major gift!

“We always promote the idea that loyal prospects are your best planned giving prospects. Doesn’t the above response negate that?”e

Not at all. It makes perfect sense to market planned gifts to your loyal, consistent donors, as that’s where you’ll find your most likely prospects. But when you’re working with a donor one-on-one, you must treat that person as an individual and try to understand his or her needs. If you make assumptions about your donors based on their annual giving record (or lack thereof), you risk missing out on major gifts.

“I need to set a goal for new legacy society members. Should it be a percentage or a specific number? How do I calculate it?”

Planned giving programs that are early in development often see a significant number of new members when they form a legacy society, as people who have already included your nonprofit in their plans tell you about it in response to the launch announcement. This is especially true if you use a charter membership campaign to give your new program a lift.

Once your program is established, you can measure performance based on your prospect pipeline. For example, let’s say you have 240 planned giving prospects assigned to you. Typically, that would mean 80 in qualification status, 80 in solicitation status and 80 in stewardship status. Review the 80 in solicitation status and determine how many you expect to solicit for a planned gift this year. Half is a reasonable goal. So let’s assume that you will solicit 40 of them this year. Using the rule of thirds, approximately 13 should say yes to your request. This is your personal goal for new legacy society members this year: 13. Follow the same process to set goals for the other gift officers on your team. This shares planned giving responsibility across the development area. If there are four of you and each of you have a goal of 13 new legacy society members, then your organization’s goal for the year is 52.

If you work in a small shop and wear many hats, your numbers may be very modest. But you can use the same process to set goals. So let’s say you have 80 prospects instead of 240. In that case, around 26 are in solicitation status and you’ll solicit 13 of them this year for a planned gift. Again, using the rule of thirds, that means your goal is four new members in your legacy society.

And when setting your goals, remember the words of our 26th president, Teddy Roosevelt: “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

Best of luck and let us know if we can help with your goal setting or with any other aspect of your planned giving program.