The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Archive for January 2010

Storytelling as engagement & stewardship.

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We all know it’s important to effectively tell both our organization’s story and legacy donor stories in order to motivate other donors to give.  But, there is another way of thinking about donor story-telling.  As donor engagement/stewardship.

Karen Gallardo of AARP, in her “Bequest Boot Camp” presentation at the PPP conference, spoke about giving donors the gift of capturing their stories.  Capturing a donor’s story enables the donor to communicate and document the significance of her life.  If written properly, it can serve as an autobiographical legacy or a type of ethical will that can be shared with family members.  And, of course, with the donor’s permission, you can share the story with other donors as a way of inspiring them to also leave a legacy.

Katherine Swank, in her presentation at the same conference on “What Women Want” referenced an online Story Bank maintained by Families USA.  The Families USA Story Bank is used to document grassroots examples of the problems Families USA is trying to solve.  But their approach can easily be adapted to an online donor story library.

Take a look at for an interesting example of a commercial, web-based vehicle for enabling individuals to post their autobiographical legacies.  I love the idea of making something like this available exclusively to Legacy Society members on your website.  Seems like a great way to engage Boomers.  And for older donors who may not feel comfortable doing it for themselves, you can do it for them (with them).

The bottom line is that collecting a donor’s story is a gift to the donor and to your organization.  Send me your ideas for how to collect donor stories and I’ll post them in a subsequent blog.



Written by Phyllis Freedman

January 25, 2010 at 11:31 pm

Listening as a differentiator.

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You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” —Dale Carnegie

This quote is from a presentation by Tom Peters, author of “In Search of Excellence.”  Hard to believe his management textbook was written nearly 30 years ago.  During that time he has never stopped examining what makes people and organization’s excel.

Today, one of the things Peters is most focused on is listening, a characteristic critical for success in gift planning and in fundraising more generally.

According to Peters:

Listening is … the heart and soul of Engagement.

Listening is … the heart and soul of Kindness.

Listening is … the basis for true Partnership.

Listening is … a Developable Individual Skill.

Listening is … the key to making the Sale.

Listening is … the key to Keeping the Customer’s Business.

Listening is … the sine qua non of Renewal

Listening is … Source #1 of “Value-added.”

Listening is … Differentiator #1.

Listening is … Profitable.* (*The “R.O.I.” from listening is higher than from any other single activity.)

We know these things to be true from our work with donors.  The real connection with a donor happens when we listen.  The understanding of a donor’s intent happens when we listen.  A gift commitment or an increase in a gift commitment happens when we listen.  Do you and your organization have a culture around listening?

Download an edited selection of Peters’ slides on listening here.  Peters on Listening


P.S.  I’ll be speaking on planned giving marketing with Steve Froelich of the ASPCA and Glen Beasley of the Arbor Day Foundation at the DMA Nonprofit Federation conference in Washington next week.  Our session is January 28th, 3:45 pm – 4:45 pm at the Renaissance Washington Hotel.  Hope to see you there!

Written by Phyllis Freedman

January 19, 2010 at 11:28 pm

What women want.

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Katherine Swank of Target Analytics/Blackbaud, has written a wonderful paper titled “What Women Want.”  The white paper describes the needs and objectives of women as philanthropists, which, no surprise, differ markedly from what men want.  The paper is full of great information, including the “Six C’s” of women’s motivation for giving:

1.  To create new solutions to old problems. (Think seed money)

2.  To use their financial power to effect change rather than to preserve the status quo.

3.  To make a commitment (or commit) to the organization’s vision. (Ask them to come along with you.)

4.  To enjoy a personal connection with the institution or organization.

5.  To collaborate and work with others as part of a larger effort.

6.  To celebrate!  (Don’t name a building.  Go out to lunch!)

I’ll be excerpting more of Katherine’s writings in later posts.  Meantime, you can download her white paper by clicking on the title, above.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

January 12, 2010 at 11:51 pm

Why do newsletters work?

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Traditional planned giving newsletters, mailed in an envelope with a reply card and cover letter, continue to be the very best vehicle for identifying qualified legacy prospects.  I have personally been involved in attempts to use letters with brochures, letters inviting donors to join the legacy society, self-mailer newsletters and postcards for this purpose but in each case these options yielded results short of tried-and-true newsletters.  Most of these alternatives are motivated by a desire to find a lower cost alternative to newsletters but the bottom line is that they are not cost-effective if they don’t produce the best and most leads.

The exception to this is postcards, with confidential reply cards part of the format, that offer gift annuities or year-end IRA rollover gifts.  I think it’s the immediacy of the transaction in these cases that make a postcard a good vehicle for this purpose.

But the question remains:  why do newsletters work so well?  I have a theory.  I used to manage a gift catalog for a nonprofit where I once worked. One of the rules of catalog marketing is to offer a wide variety of products at a wide variety of price points in the hope that the largest number of recipients will find something they are willing to buy at a price they are willing to pay.  I think the same logic works in planned giving newsletters.

Because we know that donors are at different life stages and at different points in their estate planning process, newsletters provide enough real estate (space) to cover a wide range of topics, giving donors across the spectrum a better chance of finding information that is relevant.  Maybe that’s why they work so well, or at least better than anything else I’ve tried so far.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

January 11, 2010 at 11:55 pm

More donor visits: part II.

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Yesterday I wrote about the importance of making as many donor visits as possible even in the face of difficulty getting donor permission to do so.  Here are some tips for moving donors to “yes.”

1.  Some organizations have had success in breaking the ice by holding a group function, such as a donor luncheon.  Once the donor connects personally with staff in the relative safety of a public place, she may be more likely to say “yes” to a visit in her home.  If you don’t have the human/financial resources to create a function specifically for this purpose, leverage an existing event, such as an annual meeting or conference, to which your donors can be invited.

2.  If an event still doesn’t make sense for you or if your donors are so geographically diverse as to make an event problematic:

  • Make sure that reply cards for your Legacy Society members include checkboxes that offer opportunities for engagement such as a visit to your facility, if appropriate, or a call/visit from a staff person to explain “how my gifts are having an impact.”  I wrote about this previously.

  • Photos of gift planning officers, in newsletter profiles of those individuals, and even on business cards, can make the donor feel as though she “knows” the person who calls and can eliminate a significant barrier to a visit.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

January 5, 2010 at 11:43 pm

New year’s resolution #1: more donor visits.

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A common performance objective for gift planners and an important goal of good gift planning marketing &  stewardship is increasing the number of donor visits.  But, getting those donor visits is no easy task.  Our oldest donors are often fearful of permitting a stranger through their door.  Other donors, may want to remain private.  Their unwillingness to agree to a visit may go hand-in-hand with a wish to remain anonymous in print.  And, others, especially leading edge Boomers, may suggest that they’re too busy for a visit.

But don’t take “no” for an answer.  There is good reason to push for a home visit.  Donors who have had personal visits from gift planners (or who have had personal contact with the organization’s work) typically make legacy gifts orders of magnitude larger than the average.  Although the number of donors who tell us of their intentions and the number of those who agree to a visit are small, their gifts make up in size for what they lack in number.

Growing gift planning revenue depends on both/and:  large numbers of average sized bequests, most of which you’ll never know about ahead of time, and small numbers of very large gifts. It’s the Pareto principle.  It’s not uncommon for the small number of large gifts to amount to much more total revenue than the large number of small gifts.

If getting more donor visits is so difficult yet so important, how do we get more donors to say “yes?”  I’ll offer some tips tomorrow.


Written by Phyllis Freedman

January 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm