How your donors literally think about legacy

Medical technology can track what your donors think about legacy giving. A conversation about planned giving makes prospects look back on their lives, think about their legacy and it’s all trackable.

According to Bill Tedesco, CEO and managing partner of DonorSearch in Marriottsville, Md., speaking during last fall’s National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC) conference in Chicago, it’s all about the science of giving.

A study conducted by Russell James, J.D., CFP, at Texas Tech University and cited by Tedesco showed what happens to a person’s brain during a conversation about planned giving. Subjects were placed in an MRI and their brains observed to see which sections activate when someone speaks to them about the topic.

It found that two parts of the brain are most active — the lingual gyrus, which is part of the visual system that contributes to dreaming, and the precuneus, another visual area that’s involved in memories and thinking about oneself in the third person. “What’s more important is what it tells you about why people are moved to a bequest,” said Tedesco. “When you’re talking about planned giving, you’re talking about death.”

Tedesco said there are two common reactions to the planned-giving conversation for people nearing the ends of their lives: avoidance and looking to their legacy. “As soon as you want to discuss a prospect’s death, they’re going to pull back,” he said. “To get someone to move beyond that, talk about it differently. If you’re talking about how do you see your life, a legacy, going forward, that’s a different discussion. From a tactical perspective, get the person talking about their legacy.”

Many organizations make the mistake of lumping planned giving in with major gifts, said Tedesco. The only similarities between the two are the size of the gifts. “With major giving, it’s all about the (prospects’) relationship with the people they’re talking to, who’s asking for the gift,” Tedesco said. “The relationship with planned giving donors is often remote, one where nobody’s come to visit them. It might just be through direct mail or over the phone or a service you provide like a prayer service.”

According to Tedesco, planned giving experts’ thinking on prospects has changed. No longer is planned giving propensity a function of age. It’s about loyalty to the organization. “When I started working with people who were introducing this concept, I fought it,” said Tedesco. “How could you have a planned giving (model) and not have age? (Age) doesn’t really matter. It depends more on how long and how frequent people are giving.”

The longer someone is on the file, the better the prospect they are. The best prospects have been on your file for 15 or more. Donors with eight to 10 years are moderately loyal.

“Does that mean I shouldn’t mail (planned giving information) to everyone over the age of 50, 55, 60? Yes, that’s what that means,” said Tedesco. “If you have limited funds, you’re better off mailing to consistent givers. Fifty percent of your file might be over 50, but what if those are all one-time donors or lapsed donors? I’m suggesting you focus on people who have been repeat donors on a consistent basis for a long time.”