Sunday, March 28, 2010

Planned Giving

Many times nonprofits fall into basically two distinctive camps when it comes to talking about planned giving.

First you see small nonprofits with limited staff and budgets that are totally consumed with running their organization and raising the money. They simply don’t feel like they have the time to devote to something that on its face seems so nebulous.

The second type of nonprofit organization is one that is bigger possibly better funded but more than likely does not have one person who is just devoted to only fundraising but it is the job of several which obvious includes in large part the board of directors. Even in this organization planned giving and creating an endowment appears to be more of an after thought versus something that is in the forefront. Instead of thinking about funding that might strengthen the future of the nonprofit they focus solely on what they can see directly in front of them by way of their annual campaign.

If the organization is more motivated many times you see an effort on their part to offer seminars to “help the donor” with their estate planning. The assumption here is that the donor has no other help. While I’m sure this effort helps the proverbial little old lady in the shoe I can only give this organization a C+ for at least addressing the topic of “planned giving.” In my opinion this is not the best motivational tool to encourage someone to give. In fact, when I receive a note from a university or other agency inviting me to a seminar to hear someone I have no knowledge of or have never established a level of trust with, I get more than a little irritated.

I recently read that 70% to 90% of all planned gifts to charity are made with the charity having no knowledge until after the donor’s death. So much for thanking your donor, huh!

So how can this change and who is the best to guide you on his journey? First while I am sure there are a number of well qualified consultants I would like you to give each one a little test. Ask them if they themselves have made a planned gift! If so ask them to tell you about it and why they made it. If they tell you, no, then I’ll let you decide.

It is one thing to tell you what you should be doing and another to have actually done it. I am happy to report that long before I became a consultant for nonprofits I began my philanthropic career at an early age. Giving was both taught by example as well as in actions taken after making an effort to get involved and feeling a sense of responsibility to help others.

By the way as a consultant that does almost all pro-bono work I’m not trying to get more business. Trust me, I’m already busy!

Anyway, I currently have several planned gifts funded by insurance policies. While many organizations might shy away from this type of gift because the giver can always choose to stop paying the premium, I started at a young age so it was something I felt I could afford to do. I realized back then that long after I was gone it would have a lasting effect and impact on the lives of others.

I wish I could tell you that in my case the nonprofits involved did all the right things and were active in keeping me involved, but that would be lying. The fact of the matter is the planned gifts I made were self driven.

A few facts nonprofits need to understand. First less than half of all Americans have a will and the ones that do only 8-9% include a gift to charities. The good part about that percentage is that once a charity is included 97% of the time they will remain in the will.

So how does one go about actively finding that individual who might be willing to make that planned gift?

The answers, while quite simple, are ones that need to be thought about as you review your donor database. People who make a planned gift “care” about the organization as a whole. This level of caring is something that is not often studied or talked about but is something you as a nonprofit need to develop with each and every donor you meet.

You need to make sure that when someone gives to your organization you have some method of establishing that that gift has a greater sense of purpose.

We all at some point have written a check for a utility bill or phone bill. You know the feeling you get seeing the figure owed and thinking about what you paid last month, looking at your balance in your check book and writing the check. Even if you now are doing all these transactions online, unless it is automatic draft, you still have a certain thought process.

The worst thing that can occur to a nonprofit is when a donor makes a donation in the same rote, lifeless automated response. When this happens there is little joy in making a gift. Much like helium birthday balloons with a slow leak, eventually there is nothing happy about it at all.

Coupled with the sense of caring about your organization is another deep rooted emotional response a donor has is the need to do something special.

We all understand what it means to have someone go out of their way to do something nice for you. Not because they have to but because they want to. In this same spirit of openness the donor seeks to share a literal part of their self with the organization.

Sadly most organizations are so self absorbed that if someone truly does care to that level it is missed completely by the leadership. Even if the board or staff recognizes that this person is really special to the organization often times there is a lack of response as a way of just saying thanks for being there.

Many nonprofits, especially those that really don’t understand what giving is all about, incorrectly think that “rich people” want to give to a nonprofit because something is in it for them like a tax deduction. While no one likes to pay more taxes than they have to 65% of the time a gift to charity in a planned gift is NOT for estate tax reasons.

Lastly, I have said this many times and it is worth repeating.

People give to people first before they give to the organization.

So, get out of your comfy office and go visit your donors. Spend some time getting to know them! But let me warn you first, if your motivation is only because you’re thinking about a gift and not a friendship then realize that your will not be able to hide your insincerity, so don’t stay long.

If you have any questions feel free to send me an email or visit my website at:

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