Quick Tips — Bequest Asks

While attending this year’s Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in Baltimore, I sat in on an interesting session by Stephen Pidgeon about getting bequest asks right.

Since I enjoyed the session so much, I want to share a few quick tips that I learned from Stephen:

  • When asking donors and prospects to consider making a bequest to your organization, acknowledge the importance of family and friends, as this demonstrates your respect for the donors’ relationships outside of your organization and can lead you into an easy ask for a residuary bequest (leaving whatever is left after they have taken care of loved ones to your organization).
  • Providing social information about recently made (or confirmed) bequest intentions in your ask can triple the number of people who consider and make their own bequest.
  • Organizations should be asking donors and prospects to consider bequests in all modes of communication other than the telephone (e.g. personal letter, supporter newsletter, inserts/ads, events, website, etc.).
  • Asks should be made by: a beneficiary of the organization’s work, a senior trustee who has made a bequest of his/her own, or another supporter who has made his/her own bequest.

I hope that you find these points interesting and that they will influence how your organization is pursuing its legacy giving goals, as I will be integrating these into my efforts for our next fiscal year.

For more from Stephen, check out his book Love Your Donors to Death.

Have any thoughts or specific responses to these ideas? Share them in the comments.


Seminar Recap: Ethics & Stewardship in Planned Giving

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the last session of the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York‘s The ABC of Gift Planning seminar series, which focused on ethics and stewardship in planned giving.  The seminar was facilitated by veteran fundraiser and consultant Davida Isaacson; you can read Davida’s full bio (and more about the seminar) here, but let’s suffice it to say that she is one of the big names in the field especially after her amazing tenure at WNET/New York, where she helped raise $30 million in planned gift initiatives for the $65 million Campaign for Thirteen.

I learned a great deal in this session and want to share with you some of those lessons that may help you in managing your planned giving program (or serve as points to consider as you add planned giving to your fundraising program):

The primary ethical issue for fundraisers in planned giving is the tension between who’s interest are you serving — the donor or your organization?
As a fundraiser, you likely have a long and trusted relationship with your planned giving donors, but you also have a responsibility to secure gifts for your organization that will help support its mission for the foreseeable future.  When a donor wants to make a gift that may be more beneficial to him/her and not as useful to the organization, on which side will you fall?  [This is when Davida would start advocating that every non-profit organization compose its gift acceptance policies, which would provide a clear understanding of what gifts will be accepted; the processes of evaluation, valuation, disposal, etc.; what gifts you will not accept; etc.]

Planned giving is more vulnerable to ethical issues.
“Why?” you may ask, well you are usually dealing with older donors, with whom you and/or your organization tend to have longstanding relationships and are likely to trust you.  One particularly interesting issue that can arise in this work is the mental competence of the donors making these commitments.  How would you deal with a donor who is showing signs of dementia but wants to make a planned gift?  Is it even your place to bring this up?

Access to your fundraising database usually presents an ethical issue.
Have you considered that volunteers using your fundraising database could access all sorts of private information on your donors, board members, etc.?  Only because this came up while managing interns have I given this some thought before.  You should set up restricted access logins for your volunteers and anyone else who may need to access a certain part of your fundraising database; if this is not an option, you need to set some office policies in place about how information is provided to volunteers.

Your gift servicing operations must be viewed as a part of the stewardship process.
Providing tax reports, copies of completed agreements, endowment reports, acknowledgments and the like are another way to solidify the relationship with your donors.  By getting documents like these to the donor in a very timely manner, they are more likely to trust you and may even consider making another gift (especially when this is paired with more ongoing stewardship activities).  Be sure to review these processes in your organization and assure that there is a maximum turnaround of a few days.

A few other quick tips:
-When making calls to planned giving prospects or donors, do not get into too much detail if you have to leave a message.  Davida made a great point that the spouse or family of a donor may not agree with his/her intention to make a planned gift and may not pass on the messages if they know why you are calling.
-Use a gift disclosure form like this sample that Davida provided in the seminar materials.  A document like this gives you and your organization some extra protection in the case that the family or other potential heirs of your donor want to contest the gift at a later date.

Have you thought about any of these issues before?  What changes would you make to your planned giving program in light of these points?

P.S.  If you would like to see Davida in action and live in the NYC area, you should join PPGGNY or keep your eyes open for the class schedule at NYU’s Heyman Center for Philanthropy & Fundraising.

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