The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Archive for October 2009

If not “planned giving,” then what?

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The Stelter Company recently conducted a webinar to explain market research they just completed.  They also presented a summary of the research at the recent PPP Conference (more on that next week).  One of the things their research revealed is that donors don’t know what the term “planned giving” means.   “Just one in three aged 30 and older (37%) say they are familiar with the term “planned giving.”

Unfortunately, the reserarch didn’t ask about other labels and descriptors (maybe next round!).  So, for now we’ll have to be creative on our own about how we characterize our work to donors.  “Legacy planning” and “Legacy giving” are two that might be better than “planned giving”.  And, in some cases, “estate giving” or “gifts through your estate plan” might also work.  Any other ideas?


P.S.  One of the most obvious places you might want to change “planned giving” is on your website.  Alot of nonprofits use that term for navigation purposes which means that your donors may not understand where they need to click to learn more about legacy giving.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

October 28, 2009 at 11:35 pm

The paradox of choice.

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As early as the 1970s, Alvin Toffler, the futurist, identified the concept of “over-choice,” the idea that faced with too many choices, consumers have trouble making decisions.  In his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice,” Barry Schwartz illustrated how our chocies have grown exponentially since then, making decision-making that much more difficult.  So, what does this notion have to do with gift planning?

Many planned giving marketing and fulfillment pieces try to cover too much ground.  We offer readers content covering a wide range of gift types in a single piece.  We already know that 85% of all planned gifts are bequests.  But we also know that there are other gift types that might interest some among the broad audience to whom we are writing.  That’s why we need to find the middle ground between offering too few and too many options.  When we persist in spending too much of our marketing “real estate” on a wide variety of uncommon gift types or gifts that are complex to understand and execute we risk paralyzing our reader with too many choices.

This is especially true when our objective is lead generation rather than closing a gift.  Lead generation is akin to an impulse transaction.  We want the recipient to raise her hand/ask for more information/indicate an interest.  We don’t really want our donor to agnoize over that decision.  We want a gut reaction that says “That interests me.  I’ll think I’ll find out more.”  Later on, ideally after we’ve had a conversation with the donor and shared more detailed information about the type of gift she has in mind, she can thoughtfully decide whether or not to make a gift commitment.  But by then, we’ve narrowed the choices to the gift type(s) that are right for her.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

October 27, 2009 at 7:25 am

Promiscuous e-mail dispersal.

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What the heck?!  Seth Godin’s blog last week revealed an interesting though unscientific test of “Contact Us” information on websites.  Godin is one of my marketing gurus and truly the father of permission marketing, an idea he championed long before the internet made permission a fact of life.  His post read “I just went through the hassle of trying to get some B2B firms the details needed to give me an informed quote on a project.  I visited eight sites. Six of them hide their email address. They use forms of one sort of another. One firm refused to accept more than 500 characters in the “how can we help you” box, while three of them wanted to know what state I was in, etc.  Email contact is like a first date. If you show up with a clipboard and a questionnaire, it’s not going to go well, I’m afraid. The object is to earn permission to respond.

If you sell something, set up an address like “”   Put this on your home page, “contact us if you’re looking for more information or a price quote.” Sure, you’ll get a lot of spam, but deleting spam is a lot easier than finding customers. (Hint, ask your IT people to make it a mailto link, with a subject line built in. That way, you can use the subject line to find the good email).”

Brilliant as usual.  But it made me wonder whether nonprofits do any better job of making the Contact Us information on their websites accessible.  So, I did my own random, unscientific study. I went to 10 websites.  They were just the first ten that popped into my mind but the list included two institutions of higher ed and one hospital along with some traditional charities.  Most (8 of 10) buried Contact Us at the bottom of the home page in mice type–they didn’t even elevate it to the top navigation.  And, as Godin found, even when you got to the Contact Us page, it was typically a form you could complete, rather than an e-mail address or phone number.  And this was true even if you navigated over to the planned giving section of the site.

With increasing investments in planned giving website content and a growing utilization on the part of donors of web content as additive to information they might receive through the mail, why would we make it so difficult for donors to contact us, especiall donors who have gone to the trouble to visit our website?   Check out your own website.  You might be surprised at what you find.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

October 13, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Stewardship done right #5

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Jay, the son of my first cousin, has Aspergers, one of the disorders along the Autism spectrum.  Jay attended a private school that has helped him immeasurably.  Some months ago, for the first time ever, I got a letter from my cousin, asking for a contribution to a special annual fund campaign the school was undertaking.  The letter was personal and heartfelt so of course I made a contribution.  I received a thank you from my cousin and from the school and just last week I received a stewardship piece that is notable for a number of reasons.

The letter is nicely written, giving donors like me credit for helping the school achieve its goal.  “We are proud to report that you surpassed that extra mile and raised $154,365 . ” (The goal was $130,000).  The letter went on to say, “Your response was, indeed, phenomenal!  Not only did we receive 86 percent participation from the Board of Directors, we also were honored with the financial support of 64 percent of the school’s teachers and staff!”   WOW!  That’s impressive and reinforces for donors like me the confidence insiders have in the School.  They themselves are supporting the school with time and treasure.

The letter then describes how the money was used:  ” . . . to fund curriculum enhancements, technological upgrades, new textbooks that address the varied learning styles of our students, student activities and tuition assistance.”  In other words, impact, impact, impact.

Enclosed with the letter was a small, inexpensive but nicely designed annual report.  In particular, I liked that the recognition in the back of the report was not organized by giving level but instead was divided by relationship to the school:  Board, Staff, Parents, Grandparents,  Parents of Alumni, and Friends.  I like that way of recognizing donors.  It communicates, as does the letter, that broad-based giving is more important than the size of the gift.  The School is more interested in participation from all quarters.  Especially in times like these when donors want to continue to support you but may not be able to do so at prior levels, the message that it’s any gift rather than the size of the gift is important.

Finally, the P.S. of the letter notes the inclusion of a pledge envelope to get started on next year’s annual fund.  A smart strategy handled with just the right tone.  And it worked.  I enclosed a gift!


Written by Phyllis Freedman

October 12, 2009 at 11:25 pm

Marketing to today’s 65-plus consumer.

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Advertising Age recently published a great summary article about the challenges of marketing to older consumers.  The article validates some of what has been written here previously and also makes some interesting new points.

1.  Although generally speaking images of 65+ consumers should show them no older than their age and ideally younger, the main point is that the people be shown as active but not unbelievably so.  The article cites the idea of showing a 65+ individual water skiing as an image that may not be believable while showing older people bicycling or hiking could work.

2.  Don’t just show couples.  Many older consumers are alone (not lonely!) due to divorce, being widowed or, perhaps, never married.  In the recent Pew survey on growing old in America it was found that most older people do not feel lonely and rely heavily on a circle of friends, rather than family, for support.  So, showing a group of women together is a fine image to use.

3.  The top two things on the wish list of older Americans, according to that same Pew survey, are spending time with family and spending time with grandchildren.  Previous blog posts have talked about the importance of making the case for legacy giving to donors with grandchildren, since those without children (and grandchildren) are exponentially more likely to make a planned gift.  However, if done right, we can help donors with children and grandchildren understand that there are gift types that can work for them and, more importantly, that part of the legacy they may want to leave their family has to do with their values, philanthropy being chief among them.  Clearly, as gift planning professionals, we need to focus more time, energy and marketing effort on making the case for legacy giving even when the donor has children.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

October 6, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Transparency triumph.

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“Think ‘transparency’ is an established, maturing theme? You ain’t seen nothing yet,” says the latest trend briefing from Trendwatch, which bills itself as an independent and opinionated consumer trends firm.  With transparency a crucial lever in fundraising, the briefing, “Transparency Triumph,”  is worth reading.  Gift planners can learn alot from the findings.

1. Review R(evolution).   Recommendations by personal acquaintances and opinions posted by consumers online are the most trusted forms of advertising globally.  A recent Nielsen survey shows that 90% of online consumers worldwide trust recommendations from people they know, while 70% trust consumer opinions posted online.  Do you know where and who is reviewing you online?  And not just Charity Navigator and the obvious review sites?  Do your gift planning web pages include donor testimonials and articles and testimonials from experts and professionals in the field?

2.  Reviewer trumps review.  The latest trend in online opinions is profiling reviewers so you can find an opinion from someone whose lifestyle mirrors yours, who thinks, lives, acts, and consumes like you, and whose reviews therefore have real relevance.  So, instead of examples that simply say Mrs. Jones, age 80, why not add a little more information about the donor.  It will increase the possibility that a reader will say “that’s alot like me.”


Written by Phyllis Freedman

October 5, 2009 at 11:42 pm