Data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the number of people dying in the United States will double in the next forty years. WOW!
Hard to read, but surely reality. And, sometimes reality is stark.
The Baby Boomers will soon be facing retirement, old age, and eventually death. And, Baby Boomers will have more wealth to leave behind – significantly more than previous generations.
Researchers have been hard at work calculating the details behind this transfer of wealth. Their findings? They estimate that approximately $41 trillion will transfer between 1998 and 2052 from a predicted eighty-eight million estates. Of that $41 trillion, it is estimated that $6 trillion will transfer to charity.
However, as large as these statistics are, only around 18% of the nation’s wealthiest individuals presently leave a gift to charity in their will. While data is insufficient, it is estimated that a small percentage leave a gift in their will.
So, are nonprofits so focused on their annual operating support that they are failing to include planned giving as part of their fundraising strategy? Are we just not asking enough? I would garner to say this is very accurate. Most of the organizations that I work with are so focused on meeting the day-to-day operational needs of the organization that they cannot even think beyond into the future. Or if they can think about the future, they just don’t want to talk about death. Or they fear that they will take away from their annual support. Or they are just impatient, and can’t wait for planned gifts to mature because the income won’t be forthcoming for many years. Or perhaps they have such high expectations within their departments to produce that their focus is more on immediate returns and not for the long haul.
We keep talking about this enormous transfer of wealth, but what are we doing as fundraisers to begin the conversations. Conversations in our organizations that confront current expectations by our superiors to raise money for today. Or how we as fundraisers don’t want to grapple with sensitive topics as death with our donors. Or because we as organizations need the money today to keep the doors open for tomorrow. Or maybe because we don’t have enough knowledge about planned giving and what it is, so we just don’t want to bring up the subject.
All organizations both large and small absolutely must begin thinking about legacy giving.
I know one thing for certain, these statistics point to us as fundraisers to do a better job. And, so the question is, what are you doing to do that better job?
This week, I read a post by the very insightful Veritus Group. In the post, they asked,”When you think of your donor, do you first think of them as a source of cash – as a way to reach the goals you have set?”
This question indeed touched a cord in me. How many organization believe that donors are ATMs. We go to them; we ask them for a certain amount of money, we get the gift, and we get a receipt.
I have worked for organizations that think donors are partners. How refreshing. And, then I have worked for organizations, that think donors are money as in the “We need money now!” donor.
I have a difficult time hearing donors referred to in this way. I can’t conceivably fathom such talk about another human being, mainly relating to them as if they were a transaction and not a living, breathing person with feelings, and beliefs, and values.
Over my career, donors have personally “cared” for me and my well-being. When I have been traveling, they have provided me with dinner. We I was in a new town, they ensured that I got home safely. When I was sick, they called. We built relationships. We were people connecting for a higher purpose. The “Show me the money attitude” just doesn’t work for me.
Do you view your donors as mere money machines? Do you love your donors just as much as they love your mission? Do you believe that donors should be treated with worth and dignity?
Ethically, I asked myself, would I as a donor want to be thought of or treated in such a transactional way? I couldn’t answer yes.
We are in a noble profession. We transform communities; ourselves, and the donor through the process of fund development. That is what I believe in about what I do.
And, ethically, I can’t operate otherwise.
Donors give to us because we have the highest ethical standards to do what is right. Trust is the basis of all we make possible.
Perhaps we need to revisit the “Donor Bill of Rights” and ensure that there is a clause in there about “to be treated as I would want to be treated by another, not as a machine, but as a person who has beliefs in and the capacity to support a mission.”
As a fundraiser, what I want remembrance for is my success on the job, both monetarily and ethically.
For many donors who hold great wealth, they sometimes want to do more than just give. In fact, they want to shape directly rather than just support a charitable cause. This term is often called, “hyperagency.”
In most cases, that is fine. In fact, it is very welcomed. Paul Shervish, Director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, noted that hyperagency is “a distinctive characteristic of major giving because such donors are capable of establishing the institutional framework in which they and others live.” They want to produce rather than support.
Not often, but in some cases, the donor upon giving an enormous gift expects the organization to do what he or she wishes, changing the whole agenda of the organization. They want to determine what happens and when programmatically.
To me, this can become dangerous territory. For you see, just because someone has extensive wealth and wants to give it us, does not mean that we have to entertain “mission creep.” Our organizations have been founded to serve a community through a particular mission. It is the obligation of the organization and its Board of Directors to ensure the organization’s programs, and mission continues to be relevant to the community that it serves.
We often see “mission drift” in cases where organizations “chase” foundation funding just because it is available and whether or not it meets the orgazation’s mission. As a result, programs develop that are not mission consistent, and the organization begins to take on areas that they do not have a specialty.
A case in point, in 1907, a $3 million bequest left to Swarthmore College met this description: It was made conditional on the school ceasing all participation in intercollegiate sports. (Though tempted by the much-needed funds, Swarthmore turned the gift down.)
So, are you tempted to keep the gift or would you turn it down?
Well, if the gift is going to subject your organization to terms it couldn’t possibly meet or that are not consistent with the core mission, then yes, I say it needs to be turned down. Turning down a gift is a rather difficult decision. But, you must realize that you are bound to the donors’ wishes once you accept it. If you can’t abide by the terms whether impractical, unethical, or for other reasons, then you just need to say “no!”
The dilemma mentioned above points to the importance of having a Gift Acceptance Policy in place. Yes, I know these policies are so mundane, and I know you don’t have the time to create them, but, when you start seeking major gifts, you just may come across a situation like this. Even the smallest organizations have found themselves with donors wishing to make contributions that have binding strings attached. And, when you are small, it becomes especially difficult to say no to a massive infusion of cash.
This situation is more of an ethical and moral question. But surely, the ethics involved in fundraising must be a topic that your organization discusses at a strategic level (meaning Board), and Gift Acceptance Policies provide a basis for that discussion.
So, you don’t always have to say “yes” to a donor who loves you too much. In fact, sometimes, it is best to say no, if it means you won’t hold true to your core mission and the community that you are bound to serve.
The one best tip I have for nonprofit newsletters – stop calling them newsletters. I am of the mind that this title creates a great deal of confusion both for the nonprofit and the donor.
First, donors are like investors. They are giving their financial resources to support something, dare I say, a mission in which they strong believe. Investors don’t get newsletters; they get quarterly investors reports showing them the return on their investments. And, sometimes, investors even get conference call options to review the investment reports and ask questions. How novel?
Secondly, its sets a small nonprofit or an inexperienced development person up to think that what one should include in a newsletter is exactly that – news. So, over the course of my years in the field both as practicing development director and consultant, I have seen way too many newsletters that report on things like what events are coming up, what events have just passed, and little at all about the donor. And, even more, many of them ask for yet another gift. More of a “Save the Date and we need more money” vs. “This is what our date made possible and thank you so much.”
Thirdly, the title newsletters suggest long, boring “newsy” stories. You know, stories you would likely find in say a newspaper, for instance. And, we know that best practice has found that these types of stories no longer work. Donors are skimmers; they look for photos, captions, headlines, and short, pithy text. Their eyes scan the copy, and, often, don’t even read it word for word.
So, what do I propose we title this nonprofit donor communication workhorse? Let’s see, how about something along the lines of “Your investment report?” or what about “Your impact statement?” or perhaps even “Your insiders report?”
Or, well, why don’t you think on it, and comment below.
Cultivate, cultivate, cultivate. The way we talk about donors sometimes makes me think that we are in relationships. And, in a sense, I guess we are.
Cultivation, what is it?
Well for one, it’s about learning more about a donor and his or her interests and how our cause’s mission intersects with their personal passions.
It is not about educating the donor on what our cause does and how they can get involved. It is not sales or persuasion. It is more about matchmaking. You know, just like in “real life” relationships. It is about learning what motivates them to give and why. Learning about what stirs their soul and makes them feel good.
As with all relationships in life, listening is paramount. We must listen authentically to our donors and not have a hidden agenda. You remember those first days of dating when you hinged on every word of your love? It is the same thing. Ask questions and then listen intently.
For me when I was doing major gift work, I made it an aim to get to know something new about each donor every time I visited with them. I developed long-standing relationships that were genuine and had the organization at its deepest heart.
I have spent countless hours sitting in donor’s homes learning about their lives both big and small. I have had lunch served to me by famous people. I have spent time in a donor’s office getting to know how they got involved and what keeps them involved. I have had donors treat me like family, insisting that I stay for dinner – they made it special just for me.
Each donor will want or necessitate different types and levels of cultivation. Some may want a tour of the facility, and others will want to meet with staff, serve on a board or committee, attend events, or be an advisor.
Most importantly, it is the donor that directs the relationship. The time spent together getting to know each other. This time is set by what makes the donor feel most comfortable.
I never felt as if I could rush this relationship, nor should you. Like all relationships, let it evolve organically over time and it will bear fruit, both for the organization, for yourself and the donor. In fact, the gift will be a transformative moment.
Share with me in the comments below your most poignant donor cultivation story.
There are two things that you need to consider when developing a major gift strategy. The first is deciding on what level of gift you want to solicit in person, and the second is prioritizing the list of prospects from the screening process to ensure that there are enough prospects for each level of gifts needed.
What is the goal of your campaign? Once you have that in place, you can develop a gift chart that will demonstrate the number of gifts needed at each gift level and the corresponding number of prospects needed to obtain one gift at each level. As one moves down the gift chart, the ratio of prospects to gifts drops. Naturally, it becomes much easier to solicit at the lower gift levels.
This gift range chart allows you to ensure that you have an adequate number of prospects to reach your ultimate goal. Not ensuring an adequate base of prospects is the number one cause of campaign failure. You can take the information gained through the screening process to determine if the gift levels are realistic and if enough prospects are available at each gift range level.
For your free e-course on establishing a major gifts effort in a small fundraising shop, sign up here!