The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Archive for May 2009

Using the phone: tip #2.

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In my post on measuring success I noted that a big part of getting the overall return on your marketing investment has to do with appropriate follow-up.  Standard practice for following up on donor responses to planned giving marketing materials seems to be fulfillment with a brochure or booklet providing more information on the gift type the donor is interested in.  These mailings typically go in a #10 envelope with a cover letter and, in the case of gift annuities, an illustration of the payment rate and tax benefits, usually generic but sometimes personalized if the birth date and gift amount are known.

I don’t know about you, but my experience is that for most organizations that’s where the effort stops.  Since most of those prospects were not qualified leads and since even the qualified leads may need more than a simple fulfillment package to make the gift commitment, the vast majority of the expense (human and financial) to fulfill the mailings may be wasted.

Instead, here’s an idea for how to improve your results.  Try calling the donors prior to sending the fulfillment package!  Response rates are low so we’re not talking huge numbers here.  And if you’re lucky enough to have large numbers of respondents, you can outsource this piece of the follow-up.  This “pre-call” helps in a variety of ways.  You can qualify the lead and only send the fulfillment package (and incur the human and financial cost of doing so) to the donors who are truly qualified.   If you’re marketing annuities, you can realize the additional benefit of obtaining an exact age and gift amount from the donor, so instead of sending a generic annuity illustration, you can send one that’s customized. Have you noticed my fixation on this idea of personalizing and customizing your communication with donors?   And, when you talk with donors who are qualified prospects, you can notify them that you will follow up again in a few weeks, after they have had time to receive and read the package you’ll be sending them and to answer any questions they may have and, ideally, close the gift.

The time and effort to call and speak with donors who are not qualified leads isn’t wasted.  These turn into cultivation calls, a good thing when you’re talking about contact with loyal donors.  And since we know that most donors will never tell you of their commitment, these calls may, in fact, be to donors who are making a bequest, you just won’t know it until much later.   Of course, donors you are unable to speak with, either because they have no machine or because no one was reached, should get the fulfillment package.


P.S.  Dan Pritchard, the brilliant mind behind the hugely successful planned giving program at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago will be speaking with me at the upcoming Bridge Conference in DC.  Dan has instituted an innovative multi-part follow-up to planned giving marketing leads that is a key component of their success.  I’ll be blogging about Dan’s presentation during the conference in July.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 27, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Great minds thinking alike.

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One of the best ways to get someone to say “yes” to a planned gift is to tell her a story about someone who has already done so.  Unfortunately, too many stories fail to do move others because, according to Kivi Leroux Miller, they become tedious bios, are too shallow and wide, contain gushing flattery and/or fail to make the point.  And the point is?  Motivating other donors to make a similar gift commitment.

That’s why it’s lucky for us that two very talented writers are focusing, once again, on the issue of how to write good donor stories/testimonials.   Miller, writing in her blog, Nonprofit Marketing Guide, and Kathy Swayze, of Impact Communications, who will be speaking on donor centered writing at the upcoming Bridge conference, both want to help nonprofits do a better job of profiling donors, volunteers and clients.  Miller is hosting a  free webinar, June 9th at 1 pm Eastern, entitled “How to Write Moving Personal Profiles of Donors, Clients and Other Supporters.  The webinar is free but you do need to register in advance.    Meantime, Kathy is offering a free download of sample interview questions (scroll down to the bottom of the hompage for the link).

Experts giving away their advice free.  It doesn’t get much better than that!


Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 26, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Which test won?

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As promised, I want to share with you the results of the postcard test recently conducted and described in my post of May 12th.  Here are the two panels again for those of you who may not have seen them the first time.  es_tpcd_thumb3

First, the poll results.  Two-thirds of you (62%)  voted for the rate table and one-third for the Wall Street Journal (“expert” copy).  Only two of you voted for neither and Jess Arndorfer of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of the brightest young women in planned giving marketing, e-mailed me to say that she actually would have voted for both, if I’d been smart enough to offer that as an option.

Surprisingly to most of you, then, is the fact that the “expert” copy beat the rate table by a wide margin:  double the number of leads and closed gifts.  These were tests of 25,000 names each and will need to be re-tested in larger quantities but it’s interesting to note that confirmation of having made the right decision seems to be more persuasive than attractive rates at moving donors toward an annuity commitment.  Perhaps donors are seeing rate tables in mailings from other organizations and are familiar enough with them (maybe the donor already has at least one annuity with another organization) so the reinforcement of the wisdom of this kind of gift is more compelling than the rate, alone.

I often hear people say that you simply must include a rate table in your annuity marketing.  Apparently not always.  I guess questioning the conventional wisdom can be a good idea sometimes.

Please post a comment if you have a theory as to why the expert copy was such a strong winner.


P.S.  I think Jess is on to something and perhaps we’ll test “both” when we re-test in larger quantities in the Fall.

Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 20, 2009 at 1:57 am

Tidbits of wisdom.

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I’ve just returned to the office from Planned Giving Days in DC, sponsored by the National Capital Gift Planning Council.  Lots of good information shared there:

1.  In general, attendees reported that bequest revenue is holding up and, in some cases, ahead of budget, while other gift types are down and organization budgets are down overall.

2.  Penelope Burk of Cygnus Applied Research gave the keynote on Donor Centered Fundraising.  She emphasized that the “quiet unspoken rules” are changing as the elders, who were “not easily put off their game” make way for Boomers who will quickly go away if they don’t get what they want.  Donors themselves have offered the antidote:  acknowledgements that are prompt and meaningful, that tell the donor the specific way their gift was used and gives measurable results.  Burk pointed out that a thank you letter that starts “Please accept our thanks . . .” or “Thank you for your recent generous gift of . . .” is absolutely the wrong start.  In the first 15 words you must grab the reader.  Iin fact, she says the best thank you is only one paragraph long, beautifully written on good paper and with a unique opening line.

3.  Bob Brennan of The Foundation for Physical Therapy reminded the audience that “You learn more from donors who say “no” than from the donors who say “yes.”

4.  Geoff Peters, of CDR made an interesting point about the difference between bequest and annuity marketing.  In bequest marketing, he said, the objective is both lead generation and gift closure.  In annuity marketing, on the other hand, the objective is lead generation, since it always requires a second step for gift closure.  That’s why we only know about a fraction of the bequests we receive whereas we know about each and every annuity.

More to come.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 18, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Using the phone to good effect – Tip #1

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I really don’t mean to offend anyone but it never ceases to amaze me when strategies that seem like no-brainers to me, aren’t equally obvious to others.  I’m referring here to the idea that everyone in your legacy society should be called at least once a year.  No excuses!  I don’t care if your legacy society is 20, 200 or 2,000.  Each and every one of those donors deserves an annual call.

I’ve already talked about the fact that bequests are revocable and if my example is any indication (and all the evidence supports it), appropriate stewardship can result in a bequest many times greater than your average.  And don’t forget the conventional wisdom:  “If appropriately stewarded, many legacy society donors will make a second planned gift within two years.”

Legacy society donors are major donors-in-waiting so it’s a good use of your time to make sure that throughout the year, each of them is touched at least once in a personal way.   A message left on a machine is a reasonable “Plan B” if you can’t actually speak with the donor.  I find that lots of older donors don’t have machines and repeated attempts to reach them by phone never results in a connection.  In that case, a handwritten note that starts “I’ve tried several times to reach you by phone . . .” works very well.

No need to have a long phone call, either.  Just a “thank you” and a “how are you doing?” suffice.  Don’t forget that for many of the oldest legacy society donors, the phone rarely rings, so your call will be welcome.


P.S.  If you’re among the fortunate organizations that have too many legacy society members to make the calls in-house, there are several firms in the marketplace that specialize in high touch calling that can make the calls for you.  Don’t be afraid to use them.  It’s not telemarketing in the sense that we typically think of.  It’s a warm, personal touch from a highly trained callerjust what you’d have if you made the call yourself.

P.P.S.  The voting on the test described in yesterday’s post is still open.  If you haven’t cast your vote, please do so.  Results next week!

Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 14, 2009 at 12:32 am

Testing in planned giving marketing: a case study.

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I promised to share results of some tests that I’ve had the good fortune to be involved with in the hope that the information can help inform your planned giving marketing.    Here’s a great example.   We recently tested whether a rate chart or quotes from trusted experts, like the Wall Street Journal, were more effective at helping to prompt gift annuity inquiries and contracts.  You can see the two versions here. es_tpcd_thumb3

In an upcoming post I’ll reveal whether the Wall Street Journal or the rate table won or whether there was no difference in result so stay tuned.  In the meantime, I’m taking a poll to see what you think.  Cast your vote!


P.S.   One of the best and brightest minds in fundraising, Peter Schoewe, of Mal Warwick Associates, has just written the first of a two-part article entitled “The A, B, Cs of Testing” which appears in the May issue of their e-newsletter.  Definitely recommended reading!

Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 12, 2009 at 10:32 am

Measuring success.

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In a previous post I wrote about the importance of testing in planned giving marketing.  And I lamented the fact that it’s a missed opportunity to identify techniques that can improve results and ultimately bring more money to the cause.  Several of you e-mailed me or posted comments rightly pointing out that one of the reasons more organizations don’t test is that because of low response rates in planned giving, it requires mailing a large number of donors to do testing and most organizations are not mailing that many names.  Some organizations do mail large enough volumes to test and I’ll be reporting on the results of some of those tests in subsequent posts but, for now, whether you are testing a technique or just trying to measure the effectiveness of your planned giving marketing more generally, it’s worth having a conversation about how, exactly, success is measured.

Well, when I talk about improving results I don’t mean more outright, small gifts.  After all, that’s not our goal in planned giving marketing.  In fact one thing I’ve seen tested is including or omitting an “Enclosed is my gift” line on the reply card.  Including the line does generate more small gifts but it also produces fewer qualified prospects (see below) and fewer leads that result in a closed gift.  My definition of closed gift for most organizations is a bequest commitment or a gift annuity contract.

When evaluating results and measuring success, it’s important to remember that improving initial response rate isn’t necessarily the goal.   We all know that we get lots of reply cards from donors who are just in the habit of checking check boxes or requesting anything that is offered free.  So, initial response doesn’t really measure our desired outcome.

We should really measure planned giving results using different metrics.  How many qualified prospects did the mailing generate from among the donors who responded?  That is, did that response end in a closed gift?  Or, in a meaningful conversation with a donor who is legitimately interested in making a legacy gift?  Of course we have to track all the metrics:  number of responses and amount of gifts that come in, the number of qualified leads and number of closed gifts.  But, it’s important to remember that it’s qualified leads and closed gifts that really count and really determine a winning test or whether your marketing is having the desired effect.

Sometimes it takes several months to know the outcome, too, since closing gifts can take a while. And closing gifts takes good follow-up (more on that in a later post).   So, before you embark on your next test or your next mailing, be sure you’re ready to measure success.  How do you measure success?


P.S.  And don’t forget that for every donor who does raise her hand, there are 6, 7 or even 8 who may act as a result of your marketing but never tell you about it.  So, when you’re figuring the return on your marketing dollar, don’t forget those unidentified bequests that are sure to follow.  Maybe you should “soft credit” them to your marketing results report.

Written by Phyllis Freedman

May 7, 2009 at 12:01 am