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How Well Do You Know Your Planned Giving Prospects?

One in five planned giving donors had never made any gift at all to the recipient charity before making a planned gift, according to a new study by The Stelter Company, which reveals a variety of interesting data about planned giving donors and how charities can begin the planned giving process.

What Makes Them Give?, a new Donor Insight Report by The Stelter Company, was based on 15-minute telephone interviews of 400 adults age 40 and older who were either current or prospective planned givers. Current planned givers stated they currently had a gift in their will or a planned gift to a charity in place. Prospective givers indicated they would definitely or were considering a planned gift.

While planned giving is often seen as the culmination of many years of giving to a particular charity, the study revealed that this trend isn’t consistent among planned giving donors. Forty percent of planned givers had given to the charity for more than ten years, but 20 percent said they had been donating for less than five years, and 21 percent had never donated to the charity before putting a planned gift in place.

“This was one of the findings that we think is key to unlocking success for nonprofits—for example, just introducing the topic of planned giving much earlier in the conversation and targeting a wider group of people than what they do currently could really make a significant difference for a charitable organization,” said Bev Hutney, Stelter’s director of innovation and research, in a press release about the study.

In a similar vein, the amount of previous annual giving isn’t necessarily a bellwether of planned giving interest either. Nearly 40 percent of current planned givers with a history of giving make annual donations of less than $500.

Written Communications In, Legacy Societies Out

The study also looked at how charities could improve their communications about planned giving and their stewardship of planned giving donors. More than a third (37 percent) rated the attention they received from charities as excellent, with another third (35 percent) rating it as good. In contrast, 13 percent rated the attention and stewardship as fair, while five percent said it was poor (with 10 percent either unsure).

Not surprisingly, those ratings improved when donors revealed their planned giving to the charity. And in turn, those donors who hadn’t told a charity about their gift and didn’t intend to do so gave lower ratings.

What was slightly surprising was the appeal of written communications over in-person communications. While a majority of respondents didn’t have a preference, almost a quarter (24 percent) said they would welcome more written communications, while half that number (12 percent) preferred more in-person messages. Younger donors in the survey (40 – 49) preferred written communications even more strongly.

Almost no respondents liked the idea of a legacy society. The idea of joining an organization for major donors and/or people who have made a planned gift to a charity was rejected by virtually every best prospect and current planned giver who was not already a member of such a society. Only three percent of nonmembers say they would welcome an invitation.

What Messages Worked

The survey also tested ten messages that supported the ideas of charity and philanthropy. According to the report, just two of the messages considered influential by a majority of respondents.

The most influential message, rated as “strongly influential” by 66 percent of respondents, was “gifts to charities make the world a better place. This message was especially effective for those with some postgraduate education and incomes of $100,000 and up. Those respondents who considered themselves major donors also responded to the statement strongly.

“Giving to charity makes people feel good” was rated as “strong influential” by 56 percent of respondents. In general, individuals with lower incomes (less than $50,000) and less education (no more than a high school education) ranked this message especially high.

The two least influential messages were “people admire donors who give to charities” and “giving to charities is a good way to pay less in taxes.”

Lessons Learned

The reported listed five key recommendations for charities and planned giving fundraisers with regards to their development programs:

  • Increase communication to middle-aged supporters.
  • Focus planned giving messages on a wider variety of donors.
  • Harness the influence of family.
  • Provide singles with more and better attention.
  • Rethink legacy societies.

The report also provides some steps and ideas for charities to take regarding these recommendations, as well as information and data about different demographics of donors.

“Our research reveals a bright future for planned giving,” said Hutney. “Upcoming generations of donors appear to be ready and willing, but in order to resonate with this group, nonprofits may need to reinvent the ways in which they steward members. Now’s the time to start thinking about experiences that would encourage greater participation and, in turn, offer greater benefit to the organization as a whole.”

The survey can be downloaded at The Stelter Company website.

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