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Planned-Giving Programs & the Small Nonprofit: Getting Started - Part Three

NOTE: This is Part Three of a four-part cover story from the September/October 2002 issue of Advancing Philanthropy.

Parts 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | Full Version

Marketing and Donor Services

After a nonprofit has ensured that it is set up operationally to respond to donor interest in planned gifts (and remember, that might just mean accepting bequests), a decision must be made about how proactive the organization's marketing of planned giving should be.

A good start, most agree, is to do what Richard D. Barrett refers to as piggybacking with current communications. "Put information about planned giving in the newsletter that goes out to your current donors and on your website," he says. "Figures are scarce about the expected return, but anecdotal evidence says that you'll get a response of 1⁄10 to 2⁄10 of 1 percent. That means maybe 10 expressions of interest from a mailing of 10,000. But those 10 can represent pure gold."

Kayla Stevenson agrees that small nonprofits should "incorporate bequest options into all other fundraising programs. Provide a check box so donors can ask for more information on leaving a bequest to your organization." Websites, of course, can also easily include a way for donors to request more information on planned gifts.

Once a donor has expressed initial interest, Barrett believes that nonprofits can transact most of the give-and-take over the phone. "If donors call or write to express some interest, send them a booklet," he says. "What kind of booklet am I talking about? There are many good ones out there from planned giving consultants that explain the basics of planned giving. You can get them imprinted with your nonprofit's logo and address, so you don't have to create a planned giving booklet or brochure from scratch. You send donors a booklet with a personal cover letter, then follow up with a phone call. Depending on their interest, you might schedule follow-up calls with your planned-giving expert on the line." (AFP publishes the Who's Who Directory of Consultants and Resource Partners, available electronically at

Others feel that a personal visit plays a larger role. "You need to at least offer to make a personal visit, and sometimes you'll learn a whole lot more face-to- face with donors than you ever would over the phone," says Douglas E. Smith. "They might approach you about a gift annuity because that's what they've heard about. But the conversation, the body language, might take you in a whole other direction."

Kathryn W. Miree also thinks that a personal visit is key. "There may be 100 prospects," she says. "It might take you two or three years, but meeting face to face with the donors who already love you is the most effective process I've seen."

Whichever marketing approach you take, donors should be publicly recognized to the greatest extent they'll allow. Shari Fox, president of Beech Acres Foundation in Cincinnati, says, "I tell donors that recognizing them will help make planned giving more accessible to other potential contributors so that, in effect, publicly acknowledging their planned gift helps the nonprofit even more."

Most fundraisers involved in planned giving have found that setting up a "legacy society" or some special designation for planned-gift donors strengthens their overall planned giving program. Segree notes that the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy created the Omega Circle about 10 years ago for people who have included the Foundation in their wills. "We do the same thing that we hope others do with their planned-giving programs," he says.

In many cases, prospective donors are already involved with some level of estate planning, usually with their own lawyers or other advisors. At a certain point, particularly for more complicated instruments, the nonprofit's and the donor's advisors will coordinate on the details of a planned gift.

Some donors choose not to tell a nonprofit that it is the recipient of a planned gift, and the nonprofit might not know the size of a prospective gift. "I try to get as much information as I can, such as a copy of that part of the will or trust document," says Miree. "But I don't force it, because then the donor may choose not to say anything at all. People have valid reasons for not sharing the information. They may change the amount, or their financial or personal circumstances might change. Of course, you are curious. But if you try to force them to make an amount binding, you might lose it entirely."

Planned Giving's Spillover Effect

According to NCPG's Johnson, donors look at their readily available funds when considering making a contribution to an annual fund or buying tickets to a special event. But planned-gift decisions come from a donor's examination of all accumulated assets. Does that mean that a planned giving component will detract from their other development efforts?

On the contrary, our experts believe that planned giving alternatives complement a balanced fundraising program and, in fact, can strengthen annual and major gift campaigns. That's only logical: A donor with the vision to support the long-term financial health of your nonprofit will most likely want to help your current operations stay in good shape as well.

Planned gifts don't come easy. They don't come fast. In fact, fundraisers might well be at their next job before a gift they nurtured finally comes through at their former organization. But by starting a planned-giving program now, a small nonprofit begins a process that will build enduring relationships and bring support that will resonate for many decades to come.

--The editors thank Sandra K. Kerr, director, Government Education Services, National Committee on Planned Giving, Indianapolis, IN, and Bruce B. Makous, CFRE, CLU, major and planned gifts officer, American Association of Cancer Researchers, Philadelphia, PA, for their assistance with this article.

Go to Part Four»

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