Although it may seem counter-intuitive, given the distractions of COVID-19, ongoing political turmoil and social unrest, there are actually good reasons why now is the ideal time to cultivate and close planned gifts. In this article, we’ll explore some of the reasons why and suggest ways that your organization or institution can take advantage of the favorable climate.
The pandemic has created a focus on personal legacies.
Mortality is a reality that is always with us, but the COVID-19 pandemic has brought that reality closer to home for many Americans. Everyone has experienced lifestyle changes as a result, and most of us know someone who has been directly impacted in a devastating way by the virus. A natural reflex is to contemplate to some extent the fragile nature of our own lives and what we would leave behind if the end came earlier than expected. This has created an atmosphere in which people are actively considering their own personal legacies – the lasting statements that will or won’t remain when our lives are over. In such an environment, charities are well-served to reframe planned giving as “legacy giving.” The term “planned giving” is actually a poor choice for use with donors in any instance. Aside from sounding somewhat clinical, few people have an accurate understanding of what planned giving is, and the term is best reserved for use among peers and colleagues as part of the development industry lexicon. “Legacy giving,” on the other hand, has intrinsic meaning. It suggests something that is not only lasting but personally meaningful. Skilled marketers and gift officers can use this opportunity to respectfully broach a potentially delicate subject at a time when many Americans are already engaged in some level of internal (and, in some cases, external) dialogue around it.
Action Item: Engage potential donors by providing them with the opportunity to visualize and define the legacy that they would like to leave. Couch discussions of testamentary gifts around the concept of creating that personal legacy and the feelings that drive the desire to do so.
Mail has taken on increased significance as a connection to the outside world.
This is translating into higher response rates to lead generation mailings for planned giving. For many, especially the most senior segments of the population, the pandemic has created a “shut-in” effect. Because the consequences of COVID-19 are generally more severe for the elderly than for younger people, seniors have taken the CDC’s recommendations regarding staying home and avoiding face to face contact with others more seriously. The net effect for many has been isolation. Mail therefore takes on greater significance as a form of communication with the world outside the home. The daily delivery of mail infuses a bit of normality into days which for many, have become profoundly abnormal. Of course, planned giving appeals must be crafted in especially tactful and sensitive ways in this environment. (This is a topic I will address at length in a later article). The last thing we want to be perceived as saying, however covertly, is anything akin to “You might get COVID and die, so please arrange a testamentary gift to our organization right away.” As evidenced by higher response rates to well positioned planned giving communications, the climate is favorable for skillfully executed lead generation using direct mail.
Action Item: This is not the time to cut-back on the direct mail component of your planned gifts marketing program. If anything, charities would be well-served to increase mail volume in order to penetrate their donor files more deeply and spread their planned giving message to a higher number of donors than might be reached under “normal” conditions.
Donors are pledging larger than average gifts during the pandemic.
Not only are many nonprofits reporting an uptick in the number of planned gift commitments secured since the pandemic began, quite a few are seeing larger than average gift amounts. A recent report published by the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners in association with industry consultants Marts & Lundy revealed that not only are donors increasing the size of their planned gifts, but many are opting to fulfill a part of their commitment outright now. According to the study, sixty-three percent of organizations have seen donors increase the amount of their planned gifts. In another important trend, nearly half of the organizations in the study have had donors elect to make some or all of their previously deferred gift commitment outright rather than at some point in the future.
Action Item: The strategic use of donor stewardship may well result in donors increasing the value of their planned gift commitments. Remember, it is unlikely that a donor will call you to say that they would like to make a larger gift than they had originally planned. It’s up to you to give them the opportunity to do that by reaching out. A personal phone call is probably the best medium for this type of contact, especially if the donor is one with whom you have some form of personal relationship.
Now is the time to leverage advisor relationships.
As donors are being motivated by the pandemic to demonstrate increased interest in planned giving (62% of fundraisers report such an increase), many are reaching out to CPA’s, estate planning attorneys and wealth advisors for assistance. A healthy, mature planned giving program should always have made a concerted effort to build relationships between gift officers and professional financial/legal advisors in the communities they serve. This is the ideal time to reach out to those advisors to offer assistance in the form of consultation on especially complex gift arrangements and/or provision of mission-centered collateral materials that advisors can distribute to clients who demonstrate an interest in your cause. It is important to remember that like a large percentage of the workforce, many advisors are currently working from home. Hence, email is likely to be the best method of contacting this important group of potential allies. Note that email as a primary communication medium is largely limited to the advisor population. Digital engagement of donors regarding planned giving has been grossly overstated – primarily by agencies seeking to sell digitally based marketing products and services (another topic I will address at length in an upcoming article).
Action item: Now is a great time to “check-in” with your contacts in the professional advisor community. Use a personal email – not a group blast. While you may send the same or similar content to each of your advisor contacts, it is critical that your email be perceived as a personal extension of the relationship that you have cultivated with each advisor individually. Chances are, the advisor is seeing an increased interest on the part of their clients to establish meaningful personal legacies, with a charitable gift often acting as the primary conduit for so doing.