Planned Gifts Don’t Go Bump In The Night

Somewhere, hiding under beds and in closets, lurk the creatures that haunt planned giving officers: losing current sustainable gifts, complex lingo, and the discomfort of speaking about death.

Mark Hefter, associate vice president at American Technion Society (ATS), and Marc Krause, associate vice president of National Jewish Health, gathered fundraisers around the campfire during Fundraising Day in New York at the New York Marriott Marquis to discuss what fears they have in soliciting planned gifts during their session “Legacy Giving: So What Are You Afraid Of?”

Hefter and Krause insisted, when asked by an audience member, that “legacy” and “planned” aren’t dirty words. ATS considered changing its planned-giving program to another name, but it wasn’t worth it, Hefter said.

The vast majority of planned giving donors Google “planned gifts” when deciding where to give to — making a softer term not worth the loss in traffic. Additionally, everyone wants a legacy and the two means of obtaining a legacy tend to be major Einstein-like accomplishments or large donations.

“You see this in your own lives,” Hefter said. As a former estate planner, he’d speak with clients about their family trees – the names of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on. “Your own family forgets you within four generations. We are not remembered for our name, but for our deeds. That message resonates.”

Krause added that he has never in his career referenced death in his interactions with prospective donors – a subject that some fundraisers fear to broach. Planned and legacy gifts are about life, according to the presenters, and the ability to find a level or immortality by giving to a cause that will endure for many years.

    Other fears discussed during the session included:

  • Losing sustainer donors by making a planned-gift ask. While a fundraiser might think of a sustainer gift and large, planned gift as an either-or scenario, donors aren’t necessarily looking at it the same way, Krause said. Hefter cited a Texas Tech University professor who studied probate records and found that about 95 percent of those who gave to an organization in their will also did so during life;
  • Engaging potential donors in conversations in a society that is less willing to meet face-to-face or speak over the phone. Hefter said that ATS takes a multi-level approach to engaging donors in planned giving including an updated website that provides comprehensive information on a variety of donation vehicles and a legacy society that enables the organization to invite supporters to events and engage with them.

    Krause said that the key is providing donors with as much information as possible and allowing them to self-select. Working in healthcare, Krause said that he informs prospective donors about a number of disease-related initiatives, searching for a cause that resonates with them;

  • Structuring combination gifts. Krause said that combination gifts are usually sought from individuals with whom the fundraiser has a long history. Usually, Krause said that asks are stretch asks. For instance, if a donor gives $10,000 per year and Krause asks for $250,000 – their jaw typically drops. But then he asks if they can work together to see how such a gift would work for the donor and his or her family – it’s a means of starting the conversation. Hefter’s approach is to sometimes get greedy, he said. When a donor provides a legacy gift, he asks them about a way that they might be able to support the organization currently and vice versa;
  • When it is appropriate to ask for a large gift. The answer is almost never to ask for money on the first “date,” Krause said. Hefter added that the best organizations create a culture in which donors can give in multiple ways. ATS communicates a number of different ways donors give – cash, wills, stock, etc., before ever asking so the donor knows what to expect; and,
  • Only lawyers can understand the complexity of planned giving. As a former lawyer, Hefter said that his legal background has not helped him as a fundraiser. While there might be technical aspects that overlay law and fundraising, Hefter said that marketing, soft personal skills, and an understanding of finance are all more important that capturing the legalese of planned giving.