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Make 2010 the Year YOU Start Planned Giving, Part III

Hello again!

This is the third article in my year-long series to help start your planned giving program in 2010. We're starting your program with bequests, and it's not too late to join in. Here are articles one and two. I'm reviewing bequest marketing letters this month, and you can learn from what others submitted to prepare your own.

Let's get to the homework. In April's column I gave advice on writing an appropriate bequest marketing letter and asked you to send me your sample, or other bequest promotion pieces if you don't use direct mail.

The materials I received remind me of the rich diversity of our nation's nonprofit community. We're protecting women and children at risk, along with wild animals and habitats; giving compassionate care to the elderly; helping families stay together; and educating children, to name just a few missions. Every cause is compelling—when its story is told well—which means you've got stiff competition. That's why your bequest marketing materials need to be top notch.

Based on the submissions, here's my advice:

Make it personal. Estate planning and wills are serious subjects that merit a personal salutation in your letter. That means use the person's name to greet them. I prefer a formal greeting with "Ms./Mrs./Miss/Mr./Dr.," etc. but if you know your constituency uncommonly well, first name can be appropriate. Avoid "Dear fellow member/alumnus," etc. That adds cost if you're engaging a mail house and not doing your own printing and stuffing. If you truly cannot afford the additional cost, then go ahead and de-personalize. That's the only exception to the general rule.

Keep to one page. A fair number of letters I saw were too long. Use other communication vehicles to share extensive information about what's exciting and new. Share your news concisely and keep your bequest marketing letter to one page. Add your newsletter to the mailing if you want to elaborate on news and events.

Write short paragraphs. This advice applies to all direct mail fundraising. Five- and six-sentence paragraphs are so dense they look forbidding, reducing the likelihood that your prospect will read your letter. Paragraphs shouldn't be longer than three sentences, and those sentences shouldn't all be complex. Forget what you might have been taught in high school English class about one-sentence paragraphs being taboo. You weren't in a direct mail marketing class. (High school is on my mind because my 30th reunion is this year. Go Knights!)

Don't bury the headline. Journalists put their main point in the first paragraph, which is where this admonition originates. You needn't necessarily do that, but your "ask" should be within the first three or four (short) paragraphs. By that time the reader is wondering what the point of your letter is.

Include tax ID number. A few letters were follow-ups to initial ones and included sample bequests. That's a good idea. I also like to see the federal tax ID number (also called EIN, or Employer Identification Number). Include it as well in the bequest section of your Web site and in your newsletter if you offer sample bequest paragraphs. Your EIN is a unique identifier that adds another level of identity beyond name and address. (And I see a good number of bequests that incorrectly name the organization and don't include an address.) To clear up a common misconception, your organization's EIN isn't private like your Social Security number. For instance, it's on page 1 of your IRS Form 990, and that is widely available and very public.

Here are two letter excerpts I particularly liked:

... but many times, because we aren't told of their intentions, we lose the chance to say thank-you and to make certain their dreams and wishes are clearly communicated.

This letter appealed to prospects to include the organization in their wills and went a step further by emphasizing the importance of telling the organization about the bequest. I especially like "dreams and wishes." Instead of "are clearly communicated," I suggest "are properly carried out by us," or something similar (preferably in the active voice), to suggest that the organization takes responsibility for execution and wants to do right by its planned gift donors in carrying out their wishes.

The purpose of this letter is to ask you for your support through a bequest for the ... in your estate plan.

That is a perfectly straightforward appeal and it stood alone in a paragraph. Brava!

When to mail. After your letter is finished you've got to get it out the door. But when? If your constituency travels a lot during the summer, you probably already avoid Memorial Day through Labor Day mailings, and there's no need to do differently with your bequest mailing. September through mid-November is good. If your supporters aren't summer travelers, then you're ready to mail now.

Include a reply device. My last article included recommendations for your reply card. Every piece of mail, bequest or otherwise, should include a way for prospects to correspond with you.

In August I'll talk about managing replies. I'd be grateful if you'd share with me your number one and two concerns over following up with your constituents about a bequest. Whether by letter, phone, e-mail, meeting, or otherwise, what causes you to think twice and hesitate? I won't identify you or your organization, but I would like to know what you're thinking—and so would your colleagues.

That's easy homework and I need your e-mail by July 1 so I can meet my deadline. My GuideStar editor is cracking her whip. [Editor's note: Am not!]

Please share your thoughts honestly so everyone can benefit in August. Until then, happy June and July!

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