How To Kill Your Program

Some institutions seem bent on making sure their estate giving programs don’t grow and thrive. While reasons for marginalizing estate giving donors and treating them as if they don’t matter aren’t clear, these are highly effective strategies for discouraging planned gifts.

It might take some work, but if you are trying to kill your estate giving program — perhaps permanently — do the following.

Tell your planned giving donors and prospects their gifts aren’t “real money.” Even if you don’t say it to their face, say it to your board and staff. This will ensure that those closest to you never consider an estate gift or tell their friends and family this kind of giving is important.

Put estate donors only in a separate giving category. Never list them with other “champion” or “platinum” level donors. And, don’t differentiate between a $1 million estate gift and $10,000 gift.

When a donor makes an estate gift, treat it like a transaction. Don’t communicate with or reach out to them after they have made an estate gift. Don’t invite them to your donor appreciation events.

Always qualify their gift by telling people they gave $X in their estate. No matter what, don’t just say they made a gift of $X. Always stress the terms of their gift, rather than the gift itself.

At all times, reinforce the message that their gifts don’t count. Don’t invite them to serve in leadership positions or come onsite to learn about new programs.

When you solicit estate gift prospects, talk about how they will make their gift, not the impact it will have. Use compelling, meaningful language and pictures of those impacted by philanthropy only with cash and pledge gifts. In fact, create an entire newsletter about “real giving,” then put a small picture of an estate gift donor on the back page and talk about a charitable remainder trust or gift annuity. Make it sound complicated.
When you receive a realized estate gift, talk about your donor in a disparaging way. Gossip, if you can. If you receive an estate gift from a person you don’t know, don’t kick yourself for a missed opportunity to know them and to make their lives more meaningful. Instead, laugh about it and treat it as if you won the lottery.

Only talk to people 80 and older about estate gifts. Make sure everyone who is in your legacy society is 80 or older, and only acknowledge them once a year.

Wait until they are gone to celebrate or put their name on the donor wall, and make sure it is in a dark hall.

Now . . . if you are one of the fundraisers who sees the value in a vibrant, “alive” estate giving program that will reap huge rewards, you will obviously want to disregard the previous tips and pay close attention to the following.

Think of planned giving the same way you do major gifts and treat prospects with the same care, attention and strategies. Identify and qualify your prospects by considering their interest and gift potential, including cash, pledge and estate if appropriate. For instance, a prospect with a gift potential of $250,000 might be one who could make a $25,000 cash gift now, $100,000 pledge over the next four years, and $125,000 via the estate.

Listen to your planned giving prospect. Take the time to get to know them. Learn their story, what they care about, and what concerns them.

When it is time, ask for the gift the same way you would any other prospect. Develop a unique solicitation strategy and ask for a specific amount. Set a time and have the right person ask. Tie what the prospect cares about to impact the gift will have for the cause. Make sure you use the word “gift.” This implies you will be grateful.

Celebrate when the donor makes a planned gift. Thank the donor and have a board member or two call. With permission, publish the name under the appropriate giving category as you would any other gift. According to your recognition policy, announce the gift and involve family members.
Any time you can, make sure your donor knows how meaningful this gift will be to those whose lives will be impacted. Communicate with them often, invite them to be a part of the life of the institution. Assume that they care.

Tell your planned gift donor you want to meet with them annually. Not only will this ensure your gift remains in their estate, but it provides that excuse all major gift fundraisers seek — to spend time with their donors. At this annual meeting, share the exciting news happening at your institution now. When they say you don’t need to meet with them, if appropriate, insist. Assure them you enjoy their company and the opportunity to share, and to let them know how important they are to your institution.

Treat everyone like they are a prospect. Board members, staff, family, neighbors, friends — everyone. Those who are 55-65 are the best estate giving candidates, as they have likely not yet decided where their planned gifts will go, and are more likely to give generously.

Building and nurturing a strong planned giving program is one of the best ways to grow philanthropy for your organization. You might already know who your prospects are and you already have the skills. You know what you need to know if you have been developing relationships and soliciting gifts face-to-face.

You might still want to separate your estate giving solicitation and appreciation strategies. But before you defend that line, ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can happen if your planned gift donors feel valued and appreciated, and drawn even closer to the life of your institution during their lifetimes?


*Karin Cox is senior executive vice president and chief creative officer of Hartsook Fundraising Counsel Worldwide. Her email is [email protected]