A direct marketing bridge to… planned giving

If you look at a planned giving consultant’s guide to how to approach planned giving, direct marketing will be a significant part of it.  In fact, they will want to take over the entirety of your direct marketing program.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t let them, for the same reason your three-year-old does not get to pick what s/he eats.

However, there are intelligent ways to use your direct marketing savvy to cultivate planned giving prospects.

In order to market your planned giving society, you need to create your planned giving society (contrary to popular belief, my master’s is in marketing, not the obvious).  That is to say, you need to give your society a name (even if it’s as simple as the [Your Organization Name Here] Legacy Society) and let people know what will happen when they join by letting you know they have named you for a bequest.

In addition to creating the society, you need to create the systems to handle inbound queries by phone, mail, or email.  The person or people that help with this need not have legal training – in fact, it will likely help you avoid acting like a lawyer if you are not one – but should have a knowledge of different types of instruments for giving.  At its simplest (which can you shoot for if you are just starting up your planned giving program), you can start with just wills/bequests, of which there are few variations:

  • A fixed amount of money
  • A percentage of an estate
  • A fixed amount of money after X is taken care of (X can be family, friends, other charities, etc.)
  • A percentage of an estate after X

Pretty simple; don’t let the lawyers complicate it.  This can be a part where a direct marketer can help.  We are used to boiling things down to a low reading level and making abstruse concepts understandable (for example, by not using the word “abstruse”).  Research shows that complicated words like “charitable remainder trusts” and “bequests” can scare people away when we really mean “making a will.”

The systems you create should be fairly simple as well.  You should have a response system for whatever means they contact you for people who are considering a planned gift and one for people who have told you they have designated one to be made.  For the latter group, you should show them the love – donor newsletter, customized copy in mail and email pieces, recognition and regular thank you’s.  You want these donors to have guilt if they choose to remove you from their will.

Once you have your inbound systems in place, it’s time to work to attract planned giving donors.  You are looking for similar quality here as we talked about for major givers.  In fact, planned giving is a common fallback from a major gift ask (“I realize you may not be in a position to make that gift of eleventy billion now; would you consider us in your will?”).  To summarize for those who have not memorized the canon of this blog, you are looking for loyal, long-term donors, or those who have demonstrated a deep passion in other ways (e.g., volunteering, a large initial acquisition gift).

And you are looking for people who are older.  Planned giving experts will tell you that you should start with people in their 40s and 50s, because these are the people who are most likely to be putting together their first will or thinking seriously about this.

This may be true.  But there’s not one single other investment you can make at your nonprofit where you will say “now, all we have to do is wait 30-40 years and we’ll start to see if this investment paid off.”  Nor should there be.  For one, you lack effective testing data (reporting of leaving in a will is only a middling indicator of actually leaving in a will); for another, the time value of money has eroded so much over that time as to be negligible.

And, as a fundraiser, not one single person will pat you on the back for the bequest in 2058 that you set up with your marketing today.

So I would suggest a much older age selection for your planned giving prospects.

Then, planned giving experts will tell you to mail and call this entire file.  Also, car donation experts will tell you to mail and call your entire file about donating your car.  Everyone wants you to spend your money on their thing.  I haven’t seen anyone advocate a telemarketing campaign to get people to use text to donate, but I’m sure I will.

Instead, save your money by piggybacking on pieces you are already doing.  Donor newsletters are a great place to put planned giving information because those are the loyal donors who are most likely to participate.  Similarly, you can insert a planned giving buckslip into your acknowledgment envelopes for people who are in your target audience much cheaper than you can for a single mailing.

Now take the money you saved and run another donor acquisition campaign.  You’ll do more for planned giving by having a larger file with better donors than you will having a one-off planned giving campaign.

So those are bits of the direct marketers guide to planned giving.  Tomorrow, we’ll wrap up the week with the bridge to monthly giving.

A direct marketing bridge to… planned giving