The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Why no testing in planned giving marketing?

with 7 comments

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

7 Responses

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  1. This is a very timely idea. It would be good to test the question whether the canned legalese that has long been typical of planned giving materials is really landing with donors and potential donors versus messaging much more aligned and integrated with overall fundraising marketing in nonprofit organizations of all sizes. In the planned giving writing that I do, I put the emphasis on the “storytelling” about donor possibility (the “why”) before the practical legal/financial advantages, which are important, but actually details (the “how”).

    Janis Johnson

    April 30, 2009 at 4:57 pm

  2. Phyllis

    It’s refreshing to see a planned giving blog that actually gives useful, timely and un-biasd information for development officers to use and allows commentary (as opposed to another planned giving ‘blog’ that has popped up in the last couple years that’s nothing more than a corporate marketing tool, I’m sure you know who I’m referring to). Just an fyi, your blog has recently been posted to our newly created National Capital Gift Planning Council group on LinkedIn.

    I completely agree with you that not enough non-profits truly ‘test’ their mailings, emails, etc.. However, I wouldn’t necessarily make the broad assumption that testing isn’t happening in our industry as our company has dedicated itself to working with our clients, large and small, on testing all aspects of their planned giving marketing efforts from mediums, to design, to messaging, etc…

    Another thing that has been lacking in the planned giving industry is sound, data-driven research and we’ve recently finished the largest, national planned giving donor study and the findings exactly go to Janis’ point above that the ‘why’ is much more important than the ‘how’. Those results can be found at Again, glad to see this new resource for planned giving professionals and best of luck spreading the word.

    Nathan Stelter

    May 1, 2009 at 2:05 pm

  3. could the personalities of staff have something to do with this? Those with strong analytic skills end up working in direct mail, while those with strong people skills end up in planned giving.


    May 1, 2009 at 7:24 pm

  4. Interesting that Jaybird points out something I’ve noticed: The cutting-edge marketing is being done in annual giving, not planned giving. Yet, there is a huge market in the aging boomers.

    Much could be learned and effectiveness of all programs could be increased if the areas of individual giving–annual, major and planned–would break through their silos to collaborate more.

  5. In my nearly 30 years of fundraising I have found there is chasm, a rift, between the understanding of the two disciplines. This is interesting because they both have the exact same goal: to communicate with with those who are missionally aligned to create mututally benefical relatationships. Forget the technique and focus on the goal.

    Jim McLachlan

    May 4, 2009 at 11:44 am

  6. It’s tough to design a valid test for a planned giving mailing: Response rates tend to be low, yielding test results that aren’t statistically significant because the numbers are small. But you’re right that there should (and can) be a lot more testing so we can learn what actually works, rather than operate on our beliefs about what might work. It just takes smart test design.

    Jeff Brooks

    May 5, 2009 at 4:19 pm

  7. Planned giving professionals should check the metrics used in a annual giving phone programs and set up similar ones. Not all is transferrable to PG but here’s some of what they track:
    – # in calling pool
    – contact rate (reach individual designated and get definite yes or no)
    – pledge rate
    – pledged amt
    – average pledge amt
    – matching gifts (# and amt)
    – total pledged

    Also track typical rejection responses, bad #s, deceased, etc

    I think it would be beneficial if the field could come up with some viable metrics for planned giving based on the vehicle being marketed.

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