In my time, I have heard it said (more than once) that when a donor commits to a bequest or some other sort of planned gift that they have made their last, best investment in an organization. Fundraisers and Board members and volunteers have come to believe that reaching the top of the pyramid is the ultimate objective. And once at the top, well, that was the goal so now everyone can flip the switch and start to glide.
Curiously, I have almost never heard this from donors. I may have exhausted them in the process of negotiating their commitment, but never that they thought they were done. Their gift hinges on a belief it will make miracles possible. Their journey with the organization just got more interesting.
You can see it in their eyes, hear it in their words. They are ready for more if we are smart enough to read the signs. And if you think about the work that went into getting a planned gift written up, why is this a surprise? Thinking that a planned gift is the donor’s final flash of support is just poor understanding of the donor, their motivation and want for engagement. We risk missing a lot of fundraising and Development opportunities.
Now what will you do with them?
A gift falling into a planned giving portfolio is just the start of meaningful and hopefully lifelong support, commitment, and value to your organization. Vigilant fundraisers know this and build it into their entire Development program. Here’s why. Donors who make the journey to fully understand and appreciate the work your organization have embraced powerful, strong, and compelling reasons to continue supporting your organization.
Think about it. A donor who commits their estate-impacting assets to support your cause clearly gets the impact of their giving. In my experience, these types of donors do not tinker with their treasures. They are thoughtful and engaged people intent on making a difference. You are their outlet. They are the kind of people you would want to associate with and connect to the organization for as long as possible.
They are the kind of people you would want others to meet. You have worked hard to get them to this point so do not waste the opportunity. This is the key to a whole slew of benefits and spinoffs that impact your Development plan.
Ask them to give
Planned giving donors can still write a cheque at Christmas or buy a ticket to an event. Annual giving focuses on upgrading and renewing gifts to satisfy ongoing needs. If ever there were a group who should understand what it costs day-to-day for your organization to change the world, it is your bequest and legacy donors.
Challenge them to give well. The same donors who deferred their gift through a bequest, still have some pocket change or other current resources with which to help buy a piece of equipment or fund a special service. And if disaster occurred, you would likely be asking your most loyal supporters for help to rebuild, replace, or renovate. You will need to tap into that pool of people who know and love your organization. Exactly.
Now ask them to do other things.
Practice extreme stewardship and a few other things
You are going to commit resources to stewardship initiatives anyway so make it a two-way experience. Stewardship is not recognition. It must celebrate philanthropy. Have planned giving donors attend Board and committee meetings or special event to tell their story and talk about what a great organization they are supporting. Have these donors interviewed by the local media on what philanthropy means to them and comment on why they support you. Practice reciprocal recognition and make use of their social media networks.
Yes, there is some sweat in persuading, preparing, training, and managing this, but the payoff when others start following the donor’s lead is enormous.
You fulfill the fundamental purpose of a Development program to bind donors to your organization when you give them something important to do. Giving donors permission to broadcast their opinion of how terrific your organization is will accomplish this and support other Development work at the same time. Think of the doors that might open with the right endorsement.
In my consulting and staff positions I am often challenged by the perception that there are a limited number of ways donors can help an organization.
There are the overworked and underappreciated volunteers and staff that planned giving donors can help motivate and retain. Who better to stress the importance of the work volunteers and staff do, and what a marvelous place it is for them to be doing their work?
There is a money donation, (of course there is!) and with a little creative thinking there could be a whole lot more. But also look to your planned giving donors to promote your organization, raise visibility and awareness. Lean on their motivation and commitment to accelerate stewardship and cultivation activities. Let them be examples of community engagement. We are professionals. It is our job to make sure we show donors all the ways they can exercise their philanthropic muscle and help them to do it often. If we do, they will continue to invest in key programs and services, advocate on your behalf, and continue to tell others about what a great organization they support.
Regional Manager, Western Canada, BNP GOLDIE Canada
John is a contributing author to The Vigilant Fundraiser and numerous articles on fundraising and Fund Development.