4 Steps to Making Planned Giving More Effective Than Ever, Right Now

The COVID-19 pandemic provides a unique challenge for nonprofit fundraisers: While most recessions can hurt people’s ability to give, this one can also affect our ability to ask.

There are more than 10,000 planned and major giving officers in the United States, and almost all of them are trained primarily on using in-person events and 1-1 meetings. So what should you do when those are off the table for most of 2020?

Here are four steps for making your planned giving program even more effective than it is in a normal year.

Step 1: Make a plan, right now.

Effective nonprofit fundraising leaders know that “wait and see” is not a plan, and many are moving much more quickly and nimbly than ever before.

In a recent survey we ran of planned and major giving professionals on March 24, 44% said they were already increasing their digital fundraising. Only a week later, a survey of the same population showed that 60% were moving to more digital fundraising — a massive shift for a normally slow-moving sector.

This video outlines what a new plan might look like, starting at the 24:30 mark, and many of those steps are outlined below.

Step 2: Recognize that this may be the most powerful moment for planned giving in decades.

For years, planned giving experts have been talking about the coming “Great Wealth Transfer”, in which aging Baby Boomers will allocate more than $68 trillion through their estate plans over the coming 30 years. This is the greatest wealth transfer in history, and may be the biggest opportunity for philanthropy ever.

It turns out that many of those Boomers (and other adults), are making those estate planning decisions right now. A recent CNBC article reported: “Americans rush to make online wills in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.” At FreeWill, we’ve seen not only a surge in estate planning, but also a rush to include charities in those plans. A week-by-week analysis of bequest giving shows an almost 600% increase for the week of March 23rd over the same time in 2019.

bequest giving
Bequest giving on the FreeWill site in the past 14 months

It appears that not only are donors more primed for estate planning (which is the biggest challenge most planned giving officers face), they are also more attuned to their role in making the world better at this moment.

Step 3: Increase marketing, and do so thoughtfully.

One of the interesting side effects of the widespread shutdown is that most people are getting fewer commercial emails and direct mail than usual, as businesses like hotels, restaurants, music and sporting venues, and travel agencies all put a halt to their marketing.

We’ve also seen that donors have more time and attention than ever before and are primed to think about collective action, making your marketing even more effective than it would be during a normal time.

Smart fundraising professionals can be kind, thoughtful, and effective in this challenging time with a few key tactics that we’ve developed.

As planned giving expert Dr. Russell James says in a recent interview, one of the least effective methods of marketing planned giving is to lead with having people contemplate their own mortality, which leads to an “avoidance” reaction.

Instead, we recommend using an email template we call the “Triple Option”, which gives a donor multiple ways to help, including, but not limited to, planned giving. Organizations have seen strong success with this approach, as it puts the donor in a more thoughtful mindset.

A second option is what we call the “Open Door email” (template here) that invites donors to see several ways to help (including planned giving), but only after acknowledging that some won’t be able to, and that this is understandable.

Step 4: Use a two-step process for 1-1 conversations.

While many gift officers are ruing the fact that they can no longer visit donors, it’s possible that this will be the most successful year yet for many.

First, donor expectations no longer include an in-person conversation, so a gift officer can have several more “visits” per day than she would traditionally do, and may be able to book significantly more gifts.

Second, at many organizations, there may be underutilized staff due to stay-at-home directives in many states. So tour guides, receptionists, security guards, coaches, etc. may have extra time on their hands and can participate in making phone calls to steward and check in on your loyal donors.

To make the most of this, use a two-step process with donors.

  • Call 1: Call for a check-in and update them on how the organization is getting by and adhering to its mission in new circumstances. Ask if you can follow up with “ways that supporters/alumni/etc. can get involved.” (Some of these calls can be made by underutilized staff members.) You see a sample phone script for this call here.
  • Call 2: Come prepared with three possible ways to help, including planned giving. This call will more than likely be done by a fundraising professional.

To make the most of “call 2”, try to arrange to have it over video chat (many older donors are more tech savvy than you expect), and make it more intimate and memorable by agreeing to have tea, wine, lunch, dinner, or cocktails “together.” We’ve seen this approach work well with our nonprofit partners, and donors are thrilled for the opportunity to connect.

A final note

For many in the fundraising profession, this is an exceptionally difficult moment. On top of a rapidly changing professional landscape, you’re dealing with homeschooling kids, taking care of older relatives, and perhaps concerned for your own or your family’s health.

We hope these resources are helpful, and we are thinking about you and your teams at this time.

-Patrick & the whole FreeWill team

To help the social good community prepare for and respond to any impacts of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Blackbaud has also compiled a list of resources from across the sector that may be useful.