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Make 2010 the Year YOU Start Planned Giving, Part II

Welcome back! Or, welcome!

This is the second article in my year-long series to help start your planned giving program in 2010. To get the most out of this article, you'll need to have read the first article and have done the homework. If you haven't, it's not too late to get on board. The series runs every two months, so there's time to catch up. Start with the first article, then come back here.

Your homework was to identify your planned giving prospects (i.e., your long-loyal donors) and to secure whatever approvals you need to launch a planned giving program. Assuming you've got those items in hand, let's move on.

Write your letter. The most effective way to promote your inaugural bequest marketing program is through direct mail. (You're starting with bequests for the reasons laid out in this article from 2009.) Direct mail is also the most costly, so if your budget cannot support it, stick with me. There are plenty of other methods, which I'll explain shortly. Direct mailers should use all the outreach ideas I recommend, not just mail.

If you can afford to mail to your prospects, here's how: Write an appropriately worded letter. This is the toughest part, I know. It's also something I routinely do for our clients, so I have lots of experience to share.

Write from the heart. Be warm, factual, sincere, and straightforward. Share how a bequest in a will can help support your important work long into the future, because today's bequest may not mean cash to you for many years.

If you have donors who have already included you in their wills, ask if they'll tell the story of why they did it and how it makes them feel to have your nonprofit alongside the bequests for their spouses, children, and grandchildren. Testimonial letters can have great power. Your donors who love you will accept a simple and heartfelt explanation of how their wills can help you. (That's why the selection criteria from the first article are so important.)

Your prospects are in their 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. Bear that in mind as you write.

Confidently ask that the reader consider a gift to you in his or her will. I like to see that "ask" sentence standing alone in its own paragraph. Don't be ashamed or ask humbly.

Limit your letter to one page; take the advice I've given and make it concise.

I also recommend:

  • Devote your letter exclusively to promoting a gift by will. No other subjects to distract from your heart-whole purpose.
  • Personalize. Use full inside address and a formal salutation (Dear Miss/Mrs./Ms./Mr.); please don't use "Dear friend" or "Greetings!"
  • Use a closed outer envelope, not a window carrier. The subject is personal, private, and serious, so your letter shouldn't look like an invoice.
  • Include a reply card with options for people to tell you they'd like more information or would consider including you in their will, and, most important, that they already have included you.
  • Your reply card gets returned in an envelope, so don't design it as a self-mailer. The return information is sensitive; I don't even like self-mailers that fold over to conceal responses because they don't "feel" as secure as an envelope.
  • Apply a live stamp, at the First Class Presort rate (to save money over First Class); I don't like bulk mail or metering for your personalized, earnest, and important letter.

Direct mail gurus may disagree with parts of what I've put forth. They may even have research supporting different advice, but the research I've seen is never based on long-term, informational mailings. This is what I do for clients, and it works.

Your objective isn't strictly to hit a target rate of reply. Largely, mailings like this are educational and informative. Although the reply device is essential, you've hit a home run if someone saves your letter for retrieval when meeting an attorney years from now to prepare or revisit his or her will. This is long-term fundraising.

You have other means at your disposal, in place of or in addition to direct mail. You won't target these specifically to planned gift prospects, but you'll get word out that you're encouraging gifts by will.

Look at your meetings and events. In face-to-face sit-downs and at larger events, it takes just a few sentences to ask constituents to think of your organization when they prepare their long-term plans. This message isn't appropriate for every event, so look for the times when you've gathered people who love your work and you're already asking for their support. Explain how they can give support for the long term—by including you in their wills.

Look at your publications. Newsletters, magazines, briefs, annual reports, anything where a fundraising message is appropriate, because this is fundraising. You don't need a full article; a sidebar will suffice. Include your legal name and federal tax ID number (Employer Identification Number, or EIN), so readers can take action. A lawyer will need those to prepare a bequest properly. If you have an attorney on your board, or otherwise close to the organization, prevail upon him or her to write a template bequest paragraph to include. It shouldn't take more than five minutes to write one for you.

Use your Web site. I wouldn't make this your first priority, because Internet penetration is low among the bequest prospect population I've recommended. Yet, it doesn't hurt to have a presence, because some seniors are Internet savvy, and the rate of penetration increases each year. Also, your prospect's attorney might go to your site looking for the necessary details. Provide information similar to what I've suggested for your printed pieces.

Small ways, too. Can you slip a couple of check-offs into your annual appeal turnaround device? What about a check-off saying, "Send me information ... " on the back flap of your return envelopes? Wherever you've got a few extra lines on something your donors are returning to you anyway, give them the chance to ask for information or tell you they've already included you in their wills. But don't put the "have included" option anywhere it's visible to outsiders.

Those are the ways to start to get out there and ask for gifts by will. If you don't ask, you won't achieve your potential. Perhaps you get some charitable bequests now. That's quite encouraging. Considerably more will come your way if you ask.

What You Need to Do before Part III Is Published in June

Send me ( your sample letters, publications, and Web pieces, and I'll review them—in aggregate—in my next installment in June. I won't identify you or your organization, and I won't be able to reply individually. Please don't ask for a personal reply. That's your homework, and it's due by May 1 because I've got a May 15 deadline. (These people at GuideStar are slave drivers. [Editor's note: We sure are.])

Good luck—and have fun with it. We'll all learn from each other in June.

Read the Other Articles in This Series

Tony Martignetti, Esq., Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC
© 2010, Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC

Tony Martignetti, Esq. is managing director of Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC, a planned giving consultancy that works with a wide range of educational, cultural, advocacy, social service, religious, and healthcare institutions to create donor opportunities by building planned gift programs where they don't exist. You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Topics: Fundraising