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Make 2010 the Year YOU Start Planned Giving, Part IV

Hello there!

Welcome to my fourth article in a year-long series to get your planned giving program started in 2010. We’re starting with bequests, and it’s never too late to get started. Use the links on the right to read the first three articles in the series. This month I’m helping you follow up on the responses from the letters you refined and mailed after the last article.

My readers are willing sharers of written matter. I got about a dozen submissions when, in April, I asked for your sample letters and other promotional materials. You’re not the touchy-feely type, though. In June I asked you to send me your concerns about following up with constituents and discussing charitable bequests with them. Nada.

At the risk of appearing paternalistic—and based on my client work, teaching, and giving seminars since 2003—I’m going to presume that the idea of having these discussions is worrisome, but no one wanted to admit it, or knew quite how to articulate it.

Follow-up is critical to any fundraising promotion, so I do have advice for meaningful follow-up with those who want to remember your nonprofit in their wills.

Don’t talk about IT. What paralyzes fundraisers who lack planned giving experience is the fear of talking about IT—death—with their prospects. You needn’t, and shouldn’t, talk about death. Share what your nonprofit can do with the gift that comes in a donor’s will. Excite your prospect by the future possibilities. You see, it’s not unlike the conversations you have with donors who write checks today. Merely adjust the timeframe to the future. The vehicle of giving becomes your donor’s will rather than his or her checking account.

Bequest prospects become donors because you motivate them by future potential—big or small. The potential to provide simple comforts in a shelter for at-risk mothers and children; the potential to spot micro-plaques in 64-slice CT scans; the potential to provide a camp experience to adults on the autism spectrum; the potential to hold public officials and scofflaw companies accountable through investigative journalism.

I have an important reminder from a previous article: Your loyal donors over age 55 are ready to talk about how their estate plans can benefit the mission they love and the work that has moved them to give to you for years.

Show gratitude. Thank the person for thinking about a gift by will and acknowledge that it’s a deepening of the donor’s relationship with the organization. After all, whom do we include in our wills? Husbands, wives, children, grandchildren, other loved ones, and, perhaps, very dear friends. Someone who would consider putting you alongside those personages really loves what you do. Thank them for the mere possibility.

Be factual. Sure, one’s estate plan is a personal and intimate subject. Yet so is a checking account, and you talk about gifts by check (or stock, perhaps) all the time.

Open with something like, “Thank you for considering a gift to us in your will. A long-term commitment like that would really show how much you love us. May I show you what a future gift could do for us?”

You’ve been grateful and gracious, and you’ve steered the conversation where it belongs: how a bequest will further the work you do and make a difference for the people whose lives you improve.

Be sensitive. The conversation may turn personal, if your donor knows you well, because it is an estate plan, not a checking account. Your donor may share concerns about his or her spouse or children, or about fears for the future. Take it all in and don’t judge. A dose of compassion will serve you well.

Listen actively. After technical expertise, a fundraiser’s greatest skill is careful listening. Prospects and donors are telling you all the time what moves them about your work, and what turns them off; how they think about the world and your organization’s place in it; what makes your work special to them. The engaged listener is active in the conversation and taking in the clues that will lead to future giving and a deeper relationship with donors.

Looking Ahead

You have the remaining days of summer to keep getting responses in and following up with those who show interest. By the time we meet again it will be fall, and the October topic will be stewardship, including a planned gift recognition society. You’ve probably got ways of recognizing different levels and categories of outright, or current, donors. Your planned giving donors deserve recognition, too.

In December, I’ll take you beyond bequests, with a look at other planned gifts that don’t require technical expertise and that you can market inexpensively, starting in 2011. But you’ll always want to keep up your bequest marketing—it’s the bedrock of your program.

Happy end of summer!

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