The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Archive for April 2009

The disappearing cover letter.

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It’s always been curious to me that most organizations send their planned giving newsletters in an envelope but then fail to include a cover letter.  I don’t get it.  Why go to the trouble of making your mailing look personalized by sending it in an envelope (and sometimes adding a pre-cancelled first class or nonprofit stamp) and then de-personalize it by not including a cover letter?  If you were sending something to a friend, would you send it without at least a note?  Not likely.  You might not include a letter, but you’d certainly add a post-it note or a piece of note paper.  Not only is it a warmer and, I might add, proper way to communicate with your best prospects, but most of our planned giving donors are of the age where a letter  is still a preferred mode of communication.  And, that goes for Boomers, too!

Including a cover letter enables you to take advantage of some key strategies for getting your newsletter read and acted upon.  For one thing, you can tailor the messaging to the audience.  I pointed out in an earlier blog the importance of crafting a special reply card for your legacy society donors.  They warrant a personalized letter, too.  After all, maybe they’re wondering why they’re still getting estate planning information from you when they’ve already told you they have you in their plans.  The cover letter enables you to explain to them that personal situations and laws change over time so you thought they’d like to be kept informed.

A cover letter also allows you to highlight a particular article you want the donor to read if they have time to read only one article.  Not only does that “call to action” serve as an involvement device that helps move the recipient to open the newsletter, but it can highlight time-sensitive information you want the donor to quickly see.  Year-end IRA giving information is a good example of this.

And because the majority of the cost of your newsletter is in postage and the newsletter itself, the addition of a cover letter won’t break your budget and will likely improve response, too.


P.S.  Don’t forget to add a P.S. to your cover letter.  It’s the most read part of a letter.  Use it to provide key information that may be in the body of the letter but is worthy of highlighting again.  Or use that space to give a name and phone number the donor can call with questions, ask for a visit or otherwise engage with you.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

April 30, 2009 at 10:51 am

Words never to use with Boomers.

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I have no intention of telling you my age.  Let’s just say that I’m eligible for AARP membership.  That makes me a (dreaded by some) Baby Boomer.  One of the things I fundamentally believe is true about Boomers is that you can’t generalize about Boomers!  It’s too diverse and broad a group to lump together.  On the other hand, I do think it’s safe to say that there are phrases that should never be used (or used with extreme caution) when talking to Boomers (and older donors, generally):

1.  Retired.  Boomers will never retire (and this was true even before their retirement accounts declined by 50%).  Why do you think AARP just goes by the acronym?

2.  Still going strong

3.  Forever young

4.  Growing old (growing older is ok)

5.  Looks good for her age

6.  Anything that describes a metal, e.g., silver, golden.

7.  Senior/Senior Citizen/Elderly – Instead, mention the age specifically or say “older adult” or “mature adult” with regard to individuals beyond the Boomer demographic.

8.  Suffering from/victim of (in regards to illness or disability).  Same goes for “confined” to a wheelchair.

How we speak with donors is critical to our success and being alert to the loaded phrases we sometimes use can help us communicate more effectively.  I’ll be speaking about “Changing the Conversation to Increased Planned Gift Commitments” July 22nd at the “Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising” Conference.  If you’re going to be there, please stop by and say hello.


P.S.  For a daily dose about my generation you can subscribe to The Boomer Blog.

Written by Phyllis Freedman

April 29, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Planned giving reply cards: tip #1

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Are we treating our planned giving donors like friends or strangers?  Sadly, we often treat them as strangers in spite of the fact that planned giving donors and prospects are typically some of our most loyal supporters.  Most planned giving newsletters include a reply card.  Usually, the donor is invited to send back the card to request further information on the type of gift being highlighted or to indicate whether she has already named the organization in her estate plan or would consider doing so.

The problem is that most organizations, rightly, continue to include their legacy society members in their newsletter marketing but because the reply card is usually designed as one-size-fits-all, the organization receives reply cards (repeatedly) from legacy society donors saying “I’ve already told you you’re in my will!.”  We are annoying some of our very best donors!  And because some planned gifts are revocable, if we alienate the donor, we may forfeit her gift in favor of another organization who is being more respectful.

Wouldn’t it be better to customize the reply cards for legacy society members?  Even if the number is small relative to the size of the mailing, these donors are worth the extra effort.  You could use the reply card to offer donors opportunities to engage or to deepen their relationship with you.  Why not use the reply card to allow the donor to request a visit or ask for a tour?

Or, use the space to collect information about the donor’s specific interests. For example, if you’re an international relief organization, ask which specific geographic area is of most interest to the donor or whether clean water, agriculture, or maternal and child health is most important to her.

You can (and should) apply this same philosophy to other audiences, for example, monthly donors.  If your monthly donors are part of your planned giving marketing audience, recognize them as such as you’ll see the benefit in your response.  The bottom line is this:  “Show ’em that you know ’em.”  Make sure your communication is targeted and relevant and your donors will respond accordingly.  And, best of all, these are things you can safely “just do.”  No need to test.


P.S.  I’ll expand on other donor reply card tips in future posts.

Written by Phyllis Freedman

April 27, 2009 at 11:41 am

Why no testing in planned giving marketing?

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As a professional fundraiser concerned with how planned giving is marketed, I’ve long paid close attention to what arrives in my mailbox.  I figure I might see an idea I can use helping my clients conduct their planned giving marketing more effectively.

Here’s the problem.  I have no way of knowing whether or not what a given organization is doing has been tested and is actually working!  In fact, in my 30 years working in nonprofit fundraising, I’ve found ample evidence that organizations routinely use planned giving materials and techniques that they’ve never tested.  Most organizations don’t conduct tests in their planned giving program, even though the very same organizations do extensive testing in their direct mail or annual fund program.

Why is there no (or little) testing in planned giving marketing?  It seems everyone is lamenting the decline in response rates but few are testing new techniques to boost response.  People are trying new things.  Postcards, for example, seem to be a format that has gained attention of late.  But does a postcard work better than a newsletter?  Has anyone tested this head-to-head?  Well, I have.

Part of the reason I don’t understand why testing isn’t done in planned giving is that some testing can be done for virtually no incremental cost so there is no financial barrier to testing.  On top of that, the direct marketing expertise that’s needed can often be found right down the hall, with the folks who run the annual fund or direct mail fundraising program.  Why not sit down with them and identify some low cost, potentially high return tests you can implement in the coming year?

In my work with clients, I’m systematically testing a variety of formats and techniques.  I’ll share some test results with you in future blogs.  I would love to hear about any tests you have done as well.  And, in subsequent posts, I’ll explain how easy it is to test and I’ll offer some suggestions for tests that are low-cost and have been shown to produce results for some organizations.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

April 24, 2009 at 11:49 am

Starting the planned giving conversation.

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Those of us in the planned giving community spend a lot of time thinking about how to start the legacy giving conversation with donors.  The ironic truth is that most of the time we will never have that conversation.

Most donors will never tell us they’re considering or have already named our organization in their estate plans.  Moreover, the majority of donors haven’t even taken the first step of crafting a will or considering a charitable bequest.  That’s why it’s especially important that our marketing effectively respond to donor communication needs even when we have had no opportunity to personally understand what those individual needs might be.

Instead, we should talk about donor values and aspirations and how our organization puts its ideals into practice.  We must communicate effectively to groups of donors across the spectrum of information needs.  And we must use proven communication techniques, whether those relate to format, design or content.

This blog is about that conversation–communicating effectively along the continuum of a donor’s life-stage and along the continuum of a donor’s relationship with your organization.  This blog is also about a conversation among planned giving professionals.  I hope you’ll join in, post your thoughts and keep the conversation lively.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

April 23, 2009 at 10:33 pm