The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Archive for September 2009

Planned giving marketing that baffles me.

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I should probably start a category of posts that discuss things about planned giving marketing that baffle me.  I’ve already touched on the lack of cover letters with newsletters and the fact that some organizations don’t even call their legacy society members once a year.  I submit as an addition to the list the fact that many organizations spend what I consider to be an inordinate amount of time on complex gifts rather than emphasizing the simplest gifts a donor can make and, I might add, the types of gifts that are most commonly made.

Maybe CRUTs and CLTs are the most interesting types of gifts planners can work on and I’m sure that’s true for the lawyers in our profession, but for those of us advising nonprofits on how to broaden their pool of legacy donors and increase income from planned gifts, spending valuable money and real estate (I mean space in a newsletter or brochure) on rare gift types seems to me to be counter-productive.

The webinar I wrote about yesterday was a good example of this.  Although the speakers made passing mention of bequests and spent some time on stock gifts, the majority of time was spent on CRTs, CRATs, CLTs and life estate gifts with a term of years.  Even in a changed environment, these types of gifts are only relevant for a very small segment of our donors.

Why, then, and here’s the thing that baffles me, don’t we spend more time talking about the easiest gifts to make:  bequests, gifts of life insurance and gifts from retirement accounts? All three are due at death and thus require no outright cash to make and, in the case of gifts of life insurance and retirement benefits, only require the donor to complete a change of beneficiary designation form to execute.



Written by Phyllis Freedman

September 29, 2009 at 11:38 pm

Top giving strategies and techniques in today’s economy.

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Here are a couple of the key take-aways from a recent webinar sponsored by Trusts & Estates Magazine and Food for the Poor featuring Robert Sharpe and Marc Hoffman of the Planned Giving Design Center.  The webinar was billed as an opportunity to discuss the tools and techniques donors are using in today’s political and economic environment to accomplish their personal and philanthropic financial and estate planning goals.

1.  Cash is no longer king.  Cash gifts come from discretionary income.  Seven of the 10 largest gifts reported in 2008 were bequests.

2.  Tax-efficient gifts are assuming more prominence, especially gifts of appreciated securities. When a donor gives stock they are thinking about their philanthropy in terms of making strategic gifts from their assets – a much larger and more tax-efficient pool.

So, why aren’t more donors giving stock?  Perhaps because it’s not as familiar to them as writing a check.  Also, we may be assuming donors know about the advantages of stock gifts but, in reality, we need to be educating them.  Transferring stock ownership is definitely a more complicated and time-consuming process than simply writing a check.

How do we solve the complexity factor?  The speakers suggested several approaches:

1.  Community foundations have helpful resources.

2. There are online tools that can be helpful for web-savvy donors.

3.  Non-profits need staff who are capable of assisting donors.

I would add a fourth to that list.  We need to make sure that our marketing materials don’t frighten donors off by illustrating a dauntingly complex set of steps that need to be followed.  In printed materials we should leave it simply as “Contact Us.”  Then you can hold your donor’s hand while you walk him or her through the process.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

September 28, 2009 at 11:21 pm

Planned giving reply card: tip #2.

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I wrote previously about looking carefully at what comes in my mailbox.  And, when given the opportunity to check a box requesting planned giving information from one of the organizations I support, I always do.  My friends also know about my curiosity and sometimes save samples they receive in the mail to give to me.  And, my mother regularly sends me care packages from Houston with materials she’s received.  At age 85, she’s receiving lots of planned giving newsletters along with other planned gift marketing pieces.

Recently, a friend shared with me a postcard he received from his alma mater.  It was a good reminder that those of us in planned giving often have the best of intentions but make honest mistakes.

The postcard was nicely written with an engaging headline and a good case for legacy giving through a gift annuity.  The detachable postage-paid reply card was well laid out and asked for all the right information.  What tripped me up was the italicized copy at the bottom of the reply card assuring the donor that her information would remain confidential.

Too bad the piece was missing a fold-over panel to enable the donor to tape the card “closed” to keep confidential the information she would be providing.  Maybe the College meant that the information would be confidential except for the USPS, the mailroom and anyone else handling the reply card.  An honest mistake, but one that can and should be avoided.

Sometimes the smallest thing can stop a donor from responding.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

September 21, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Seeing store shelves through senior eyes.

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That was the title of  a cover story in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal Marketplace section.  The article described the efforts of a variety of retailers to make the shopping experience more user-friendly for older Americans.  Morgan Stanely, for instance, is recommending that financial advisors “ensure report colors and office lighting are friendly to elderly eyes.”  Rite Aid is putting bigger type on its private label goods and Walgreens is doing the same with store flyers, even going so far as to try to read with yellow-tinted glasses to replicate the yellowing effect of age.  One result:  vitamin bottles’ yellow labels disappeared against a bright yellow background.  Kimberly Clark uses large rubber gloves to simulate the limited manual dexterity brought on by arthritis.  Have you re-evaluated your marketing with our audience in mind?  Are your print materials available in larger and readable typefaces and without type reversed out of colored backgrounds?  Is your website accessible for someone with limited mobility?


Written by Phyllis Freedman

September 14, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Stewardship done right: #4

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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital recently sent me a letter that is a good example of stewardship done right.  The letter, announcing the appointment of a new CEO, says, in part, “Extraordinary friends like you have helped St. Jude’s beacon of hope grow brighter each year.  For this reason, it is with great pleasure that we share with you some headline news from ALSAC/St. Jude.”   The letter goes on to say ” . . . we wanted to reach out to you in a special way so that you would be among the first to hear this exciting announcement.”

In addition to listing his more typical qualifications for the position, the letter introduces the new CEO, Richard (Rick) Shadyac, Jr., in a warm and personal way by noting that his father is a former CEO of ALSAC and a long-time Board member who was a personal friend of St. Jude’s founder, Danny Thomas.  As a result, the letter says, ” . . . St. Jude lives in Rick’s DNA.”

The letter confers on the recipient “insider” status for being on the receiving end of this special news from the organization.  It helps the reader connected to Mr. Shadyac by describing him as part of the St. Jude family.  And, without saying it directly, the letter says something important about the strong process of governance within the organization.  This is especially important in today’s environment when donors are increasingly skeptical of nonprofits and, in a time when they may have less to give, some donors are making decisions about which organizations they will continue to support.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

September 9, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Remembering parents and grandparents in your will.

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Elvis Presley did it.  Maybe we should counsel donors to do it, too.  A surprising idea?  Maybe not.  Recent research shows that first wills are often created by individuals in their 40s.  With longevity increasing, this means that many people in their 40s, 50s and even into their 60s have both parents and sometimes grandparents still alive.  Why not remember them in your will?  And maybe we should talk with donors, in the articles we write and in conversation, about this topic.  This article from the Winnipeg Free Press makes a persuasive case.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

September 8, 2009 at 11:55 pm