Nonprofits are facing increased competition for and more challenges related to annual fundraising for operations. Organizations which have strong endowments have been able to weather the storm. Today, every nonprofit organization is looking to develop endowments. Those who have had the most success have demonstrated that endowment fundraising is more about long term relationships and stewardship than advertising and print marketing. Prime prospects for planned gifts, bequests and legacy giving are not necessarily the “major annual donors”. The best prospects for endowment development are individuals who have a long history with the organization, are over 55 years old and who have reasonable net worth. Many of these prospects are living off of unearned income, have concerns about their ability to provide for themselves long term and or other family members. Their net worth may primarily be in property or assets which do not produce income. They are usually individuals who have been small or moderate long term contributors to the organization.
Many organizations are not in a position to have full time professional planned giving staff. However, volunteers can be very effective in opening doors for planned giving which can be followed up by financial advisors or others. Many small organizations are collaborating with community foundations or other nonprofits to share professional resources related to planned giving. With or without professional staff, the following marketing strategy has proven very successful and can be modified for organizations depending on size and scope of service. Create a giving club for long term donors. It can be called Org ABC Heroes, Golden Givers, Org. ABC Angels, etc. Note that club members will be invited to a recognition event each year (regardless of how much they give each year). A donor of $ 25 each year will be recognized as much as a donor of $ 25,000 each year.
The most honored donors will be those who have given the longest. A special program that highlights the history and current involvement of the organization can be part of each event. Identify those donors to your organization who have been contributors for more than 20 years. (fewer years if your your organization has not been in operation that long) If you do not have good records of historical giving, let all donors self identify for membership in the club. To be a member, they must meet the threshold (number of years) of giving. Promote the club in your newsletter and annual reports. In each edition of your newsletter show a photo of a club member or couple with a brief caption/quote as to why they have been a supporter for so long. To obtain the photo and quote, have a planned giving staff person or volunteer solicitor be the one who interviews the individual(s) for the newsletter. Get the prospect to tell you their unique story of involvement and caring for the organization, how the got involved and why they have been such committed long term supporters. At the conclusion of the interview, comment on how impressed you are with their commitment and caring. Either have them give you a photo to use or have one taken.
Ask if they have ever considered making a legacy gift to the organization that will serve as a gift in perpetuity. Typically, they will respond that they are not wealthy and don’t have the ability to make such a gift. The staff person should respond as follows: “If you were in a position to make a legacy gift, and had the resources, would you want to make a legacy gift in perpetuity to the ABC Organization?” In most cases (not all) the answer would be that they would if they could, but they can’t. That opens the door for the interviewer to respond as follows: “If we could show you a way that would enable you to make a legacy gift, without any cash out of your pocket and the possibility to receive income for the rest of your life greater than you are earning from some of your investments, would you be interested in learning more? In most cases, long term supporters will be curious as to what you are suggesting and will be willing to learn more.
If the interviewer is a planned giving professional they can continue the conversation. If it’s a volunteer, they should ask if it’s ok to have one of the organization’s advisors to set up a time to share with the prospect some of the ways they can make a legacy gift and also receive income and significant tax advantages. The next step would be to determine what are the primary assets of the prospect (residence, collectibles, life insurance, other appreciated assets, etc). In addition, a determination should be made regarding investments in low performing instruments. (money market funds, CD’s, bonds, etc.) With that information, the professional/advisor can suggest some of the techniques that would best fit for that individual. (Gift annuities, trusts, life insurance, bequests, etc.)
It is important to encourage the prospect to engage their own financial advisors to make sure what is being discussed is appropriate based on more detailed knowledge of their unique financial situation and needs. The professional/advisor should offer to contact the prospects financial advisor once the prospect has had a chance to initiate the discussion with him/her. Follow up is important. The photo and caption should be used regardless of response from the prospect regarding legacy giving. Timely follow up to provide information and initiate discussions with advisors is critical. My experience working with organizations which have used this strategy has indicated that at least 2 out of 10 prospect contacts/interviews of club members result in some form of planned gift. Recognition and ongoing stewardship of all gifts is an important component of any planned giving program. Relationships make the difference.