The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Archive for November 2009

PG Websites tip #1

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I’ve recently been asked to audit some gift planning websites and I noticed something they all have in common.  They start from the assumption that site visitors (that is, our donors) not only have an estate plan but intend to include a charitable provision. The content of the sites seems to suggest that it’s just a matter of helping the visitor identify the right type of gift.  However, statistics show that the vast majority of Americans, even those giving annual fund or direct mail gifts to charity, don’t even have a will.

It seems to me that we should make sure our websites (and all of our other marketing, for that matter) offer assistance to donors who don’t yet have an estate plan, including information on the importance of a will, how easy it is to get started, and how easy and satisfying it can be to leave a lasting legacy.  Given what we’ve learned recently about younger donors creating estate plans and making charitable provisions, offering valuable information for those in the planning stages is especially important.


P.S.  I’ll be posting more website tips in the future.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

November 30, 2009 at 11:31 pm

“Aren’t you the most beautiful baby in the world?”

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Nothing annoys me more than reading a gift planning newsletter or a letter to a donor that goes on and on about the institution instead of talking about the what the donor has helped accomplish or, equally annoying, talks about the donor in the third person instead of the first.  “The donor can make a gift” vs “You can make a gift.”

Tom Ahern, of Ahern Communications, Ink., writing in the November issue of the Mal Warwick Associates November e-newsletter, clearly and with good humor, makes the case for why it is so important and why it works.  After all, says Ahern, “We are addressed by the word “you” from our earliest days.  It begins with: “Aren’t you the most beautiful baby in the world? Oh, yes, you are!””

A must read.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

November 23, 2009 at 11:50 pm

Lessons learned.

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Last week the New York Times published a wonderful story of a multi-million dollar bequest to the Metropolitan Opera that served to remind me of some important lessons for gift planners:

1.  You never know who your best bequest prospect might be. Mrs. Mona Webster, the Met’s donor, had been a fan of the Met from her home in Scotland, via radio, for decades before she surfaced on the Development staff radar.  So, even though we should give lots of thought to who we select for our planned giving marketing efforts, we should never forget the exceptions to the rule.

2.  Stay focused on the donor’s needs, rather than the needs of your institution, and you’ll never go wrong. When I was at Paralyzed Veterans of America back in the 90s, we had a donor who was trying to decide between us and another organization for creating a CGA.  She was thinking of splitting her assets between the two of us.  Our Planned Giving Officer told the donor we would respect her decision and that we could only speak to how the gift to PVA would be used.  The other organization apparently tried to talk her out of using part of her assets to fund a CGA with PVA.  The result:  PVA got the entire amount.  In the case of Mrs. Webster, the Met stewarded her not by focusing on their institution but by focusing on Mrs. Webster and her interests.  In addition to opera, her other love included birds and some of the stewardship by the Met reflected this other love.  I’m sure that illustrated to Mrs. Webster the Met’s understanding of and commitment to her.

3.  People give to people. While on vacation in Scotland, Gail Chesler, the Met’s director of planned and special gifts, visited Mrs. Webster just before she died.  Note:  “while on vacation.”  I don’t know Gail Chesler but that fact suggests to me that her relationship with Mrs. Webster was personal, going far beyond a relationship a donor might have with an institution.  I’m sure Gail Chesler was an important factor in the gift.

4.  Although we may not know about 6 or 7 of every 10 bequests we receive, the ones we do know about, and steward properly, will result in bigger gifts.  The article describes some of the stewardship of Mrs. Webster. No doubt that had a bearing on the size of her gift.


P.S.  Thank you to Jennie Thompson, consultant extraordinare, for bringing the article to my attention.

Written by Phyllis Freedman

November 17, 2009 at 11:50 pm

No gender differences in legacy giving.

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At the recent PPP Conference, Patrick Rooney, Director of the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, reported the findings of an AFP/Legacy Leaders study to determine if there are gender differences in giving motivations for bequest donors and non-donors.  The short answer: an unequivocal “no.”  But that result obscures some very interesting findings.

The study was consistent with other recent surveys in finding that single individuals (which may equate to the absence of children or grandchildren) were more likely to have a charitable provision in their will.  What was new and interesting is that household income correlates favorably with having a charitable provision in the will.  In the past, most of us in gift planning thought that long-time, small gift donors were equally good bequest prospects. But the study indicates that the more likely prospects are higher annual givers and those with high household income.  I wouldn’t throw out the small, frequent, long-time givers, though.  A low income could simply mean that donors with incomes less than $50,000 are living frugally but are sitting on significant assets that are not income-producing or at least not high income-producing but that can form the basis of a legacy gift.

Perhaps the most interesting finding is that educational attainment is the single biggest predictor of likelihood of having a charitable provision.  This is true even when income is controlled, that is, even at lower income levels if the donor has a college education, he or she is significantly more likely to be a legacy giver.  The exciting thing about this is that both income and educational level are data elements that are available for appending to your file.  In other words, you can do a pretty good job of identifying your donors with these characteristics, whereas, frequent religious attendance, another high predictor, is not a commercially available piece of information.


Are you a futurist?

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Are you a futurist?  Do you personally and does your organization institutionally have a discipline around recognizing the shifts taking place in our sector?  Do you and your organization feel the urgency of those challenges?   If you answered “yes” to those questions then you’re well-positioned to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by the convergence of emerging trends.  That’s the finding of a new study funded and published by the James Irvine Foundation.  You can download a pdf of the report by clicking on the title, “How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector

Here are the five trends:

1.  Demographic shifts redefining participation

2.  Technological advances abounding

3.  Networks enabling work to be organized in new ways

4.  Interest in civic engagement and volunteerism rising

5.  Sector boundaries blurring

The report suggests that it’s not just any one of these factors but the interconnectedness of them that makes for dramatic and fast-paced change in our sector.  Organizations that fail to anticipate trends like these, and react to them, will be left behind.  For fundraisers, not only will our organizations falter, but funders, corporate, individual and foundation alike, will be investing more heavily in the organizations that are taking advantage of these trends.


P.S.  Special thanks to Laura Deaton, principal at Full Glass Consulting and founder of Nonprofit Local, a new beta website committed to helping the sector. The site provides aggregated daily news, tips, and more, entirely free.  Laura brought this valuable report to my attention via the Nonprofit Professionals Forum on LinkedIn.

Marketing knows no age limit.

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Ken Dychtwald has been writing about age-related marketing since his company, Age Wave, make its debut in the mid 80s.  He has developed a unique understanding of the body, mind, hopes and demands of new generations of maturing consumers and workers.   His most recent thinking has relevance for gift planners.  Speaking at the Annual Conference of the Direct Marketing Association, and reported online at, Dychtwald spoke of the majority of elders (he defines as 65 and older) as belonging to one of the following four groups:  Ageless Explorers, Comfortably Content, Live for Todays and the Sick and Tireds.  Here’s his advice on marketing to this audience:

1.  Be aspirational, not desperational. Making your prospect feel old isn’t motivating if you’re trying to urge action.

2.  Have fun and laugh with, not at. The happiest people in the world are over 50.

3.  Understand generational anchoring. Some call it nostalgia but the key is to touch on messages and moments in the past that connect with meaningful moments in the consumer’s life.

4.  Don’t target from behind.  Get out in front and dig a big hole. Seventy percent of all of the money in banks is held by people over 50.  Moreover, elders are not “resolved to a linear life of education, work, leisure and death.”  Instead, they try new things, seek new dreams, pursue new occupations.”  This group will be our focus for a long time to come.

5.  Seek transgenerational appeal. There’s value in tapping into familial relationships and connecting the generations.

More detailed information is contained in a good summary article you can find here.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

November 10, 2009 at 11:44 pm

The dreaded communications department.

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I’ve just returned from a trip to Philadelphia and New York.  While there I met with three different nonprofit organizations and in each conversation the challenges of working with a communications department that “just doesn’t get it” came up.  I know there are lots of things some communications departments don’t get but here’s something that may help–a little.

One of the most talented graphic designers (and fine artists) I know, Andy Farkas, sent me this great article, “Typography and the Aging Eye,”  from AIGA, the professional association for design.  You should forward it to your communications department, graphic designers or anyone you work with who helps you create gift planning marketing materials or any printed materials for that matter that are intended for an older audience.  It’s kindof geeky stuff for most of us but it’s a wonderful resource for designers.  It gives examples of typefaces to avoid (Bodoni Book, for example) and typefaces that are particularly good (Fruitiger).  It also gives some criteria for trying to judge whether a particular font will be readable or not.  Clicking on the article title will open up a pdf of the article.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

November 9, 2009 at 11:36 pm