As we go about our daily lives as fundraisers and gift planners, we all know what a boon it can be to have experts sharing their experiences and helping us to look out for pitfalls that could slow us down or trip us up. What could be better than a friendly voice offering sound guidance? For this reason, I decided to ask 5 experienced fundraising professionals to share their best advice; from how to get started if you are in a small shop, to how to become a better gift planner. You may be surprised at what they had to say.
Be not afraid! Getting started in gift planning doesn’t need to be scary.
Dan Brunette, Chair, AFP Canadian Government Relations Committee, Immediate Past-President, AFP Ottawa Chapter
Most charities only briefly address the concept of planned giving when an unexpected gift is received. This is often because death and personal finances are very private matters and make just about everyone uncomfortable. Consequently, many organizations still avoid the topic altogether – out of fear of causing offence or being perceived as vultures. Done correctly and respectfully, nothing could be further from the truth.
While proactive conversations can happen in the context of existing deep and meaningful relationships, charities can also subtly sprinkle the notion of a planned gift in their communications materials (from including a bequest announcement in the newsletter to having a tick box on response forms for the donor to ask for more information). The interest in leaving a gift might lay dormant for years and only surface after a life event occurs or in a conversation with a professional advisor who, by the very nature of their work, needs to have those sensitive conversations.
A planned gift is a statement of trust in your organization and its mission. It is also an opportunity to help fulfill one of the last wishes of a donor, which is a noble task. Make sure your stakeholders are, at the very least, aware of this concept and that you, or their advisors, can help them explore it further if they wish to do so!
The devil is in the detail.
Derek DeLouche, Director, Resource Development and Membership Services at Canadian Federation Of Humane Societies; President, Association of Fundraising Professionals Ottawa Chapter
You’ve been told by your donor that they’ve left a bequest to your organization. Job done? No! As follow-up, I ask for a copy of the Will or the relevant section to exercise my due diligence. Is our name listed correctly? Are we actually in the Will or is it something the donor is meaning to get around to? Are there conditions we can’t meet?
Recently a lawyer contacted us to notify us that a donor had passed and we would be receiving a bequest. When we reviewed the Will our name was listed with four words following it, indicating it was for a chapter of our organization in a specific region. The lawyer who drew up the Will encouraged the donor to add this since she lived in that area and he was sure we had a local chapter. Problem one: we do not have chapters, we have members. Problem two: we have no “member” in that area. Problem three: we are a national organization working on national issues and cannot claim to work locally.
We could not accept the bequest as listed. Despite claiming we are making it difficult for him, the lawyer now has to go back to the judge to decide if the donor meant to give it to an organization working on the ground locally or to the work we do nationally. Bequest still outstanding!
Walking the talk!
Jill Nelson, CFRE, Associate Vice President, Estate Giving, The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation
One of the simplest ways to become a better gift planner is something you should do anyway: get your own affairs in order. We all know our estate plans should be updated every five years, or after a significant “life event.” But how many of us walk the talk? How many of us are guilty of describing the Will writing process as “simple” and “inexpensive,” not really knowing what the current market price for a Will and Powers of Attorney document actually is?
As for simple: well, writing a Will is emotional! It can dredge up complicated life history, happy and sad. It can remind you of how full your life is, and what you regret. It forces you to look in black and white at what you are “worth” – hopefully reminding you that your value is not tied to worldly goods, but possibly making you take stock of lost opportunities. It can emphasize loneliness and isolation in someone who struggles to think of who they can trust to name as executor.
But it will also force you to think of what you’re grateful for, and experience the relief and satisfaction that attends the signing of the Will at last. Having your Will written and executed will make you a more empathetic and insightful gift planner. It’s an experiential education that none of us can afford to do without.
“Coulda, woulda, shoulda” – Small shop planned giving
Ligia Peña, M.Sc., CFRE, Global Legacy Manager, Greenpeace International
As a former small shop fundraiser, I always struggled to schedule time to work on our planned giving program while at the same time getting the annual appeal out, coordinating the annual golf tournament and race, researching major donors, etc. You get the point!
Now that I have moved to a large NGO, I find myself reflecting on the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” of my time in small shops. So here are some tips for you small shop fundraisers (which could also be applicable to large shops):
- Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be a planned giving expert to start or run such a program.
- If you don’t know a lot about planned giving, surround yourself with experts or better yet, get one or several mentors.
- Make everything you do in planned giving (and fundraising in general) about the donor and their personal journey, not about what you need and where you want them to be.
- Be humble enough to recognize what you don’t know, then go out there and get yourself that missing knowledge.
- Lastly, take it one step at a time. If all you can handle at the moment are bequests, then inspire your donors to leave a legacy through their Wills. Once your capacity increases, offer other planned giving vehicles. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day!
Being vision-focused to reach a younger audience
Annette Paul, CFRE, President, Association of Fundraising Professionals, South-Eastern Ontario Chapter
As fundraisers, we use a range of cultivation tools and fundraising vehicles, such as events and annual giving, to engage younger generations (age 25-40). There is no reason why you can’t use these opportunities to raise awareness about planned giving too. It just depends on how we communicate about it!
With annual giving for example, while sharing information about current programs, try including a discussion about your longer-term vision of the organization. This will plant the seed about the needs of your organization in the distant future. Or, you could explore opportunities to have an annual event that focuses on the purpose of a planned gift, with a talk by a financial advisor about the “how-to details.”
In doing this, there are several factors to think about with regard to your donor:
- how you can help them to mentally and financially place themselves in the future
- reminding that it does not cost the donor anything to plan their giving now
- communicating that the job of annual donations is often to support currentprogramming, while planned gifts look to the future and towards achieving the vision of the organization
If you need more guidance and advice with regard to gift planning, there are several places you can go. Reach out to the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, or to your local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. From providing training sessions to mentorship, you can connect with a community of experts and seasoned professionals to give you even more great tips to lead you to greater success!
First published in Gift Planning in Canada.
Photo by Shawna Miller.