Your Best Planned Gift Pipeline… is Your Database

Jess Hutchins
Director, Donor Advancement

Did you see the recent headline about the $4 million dollar bequest from a janitor? As a former Planned Gift Officer, I see these stories all the time. Where do these donors come from, and how can I find them? Those questions would often pop into my head.

I was delighted to hear just such a story from a client last week. A multi-million dollar bequest they knew nothing about – good for them!

Here’s what we learned when we dug into the donor’s history:

  • His first gift of $45 was in 2012 in response to a direct mail acquisition package
  • All subsequent gifts were made in response to direct mail appeals
  • Since coming onto the file, this donor made a total of 11 lifetime gifts
  • All his gifts were made in response to direct mailings
  • His largest gift ever was $1,000 (all other gifts between $25 and $54)
  • Last gift was in May, 2014 (we’ll get back to this later)

This gift – and the donor who made it – illustrates why a robust direct response program – and its database – is a critical pipeline for any nonprofit who wants to increase planned giving revenue (and who doesn’t?).

And yet, it’s an opportunity that is being missed, mishandled, and far too often, misunderstood.

“Many of our valued donors who have provided for Mercy Corps in their wills are acquired through donor acquisition direct mail campaigns, including a recent six-figure donation.”

David Rubin
Senior Director of Major Gifts
Mercy Corps

A different mindset
Planned giving professionals often come from different backgrounds than direct response marketers. We know that the organization we work for has a direct mail fundraising program and asks donors for annual gifts – but often we don’t really know who these donors are, how they behave, or that many of them are qualified to be pursued for planned gifts.

What it took me almost ten years to learn is that, in fact, this database is a virtual gold mine for PG prospecting.

Some organizations are going to have millions of records on their database, some will only have thousands. But the process of identifying, communicating, and cultivation remains the same. One of our most successful programs was with a highly respected international humanitarian organization with more than two million active donors.

We’ve included a brief case study of how THD was able to uncover nearly 8,000 PG prospects for cultivation and stewardship in one client’s database… and successfully generate dozens of planned gifts.

But identifying planned giving prospects is just the beginning. Without a clear plan to cultivate, steward, and communicate with them, you’re wasting your time and money.

Where intention and action meet
Most planned gifts are nothing more than good intentions… until the check is in the mail.

Yes there are some cases, such as irrevocable trusts, where you can count on the revenue. But since most gifts are bequests, they can be changed, altered, or withdrawn at any time.

Without continued cultivation and consistent communication, you can lose a percentage of planned gifts BEFORE they are received by your organization.

So reach out to them even if they have already indicated that you’re in their will. Make sure that your organization is top of mind. And continue to keep them active, engaged, and involved.

How to recognize when someone’s ready for a planned gift
There is one excellent marker for a potential planned gift, and it may not be what you expect.

Take another look at the behavior of the donor who left that multi-million dollar gift I mentioned earlier. He gave frequently and he was loyal, both of which matter. But there was one specific behavior that you want to look for.

He had stopped giving more than two years ago.

When loyal donors lapse, it might indicate a lifestyle change (such as moving to a fixed income) that prevents them from making annual gifts. At this point, whatever they give is going to be through their estate.

These are donors who love you and may want to make sizable gifts! But if you’re not watching closely (or having a PG partner do it for you) these prospects will make their gift to someone else.

When it comes to planned giving, matures rule
Beginning this year, the oldest baby boomers will turn 70. Approximately 72 percent of them give to charity – and the majority reside on a database, along with both older and younger donors who are excellent prospects for planned giving.

Show the love to your direct response donors and you will reap planned gifts for years and perhaps even decades to come.

To continue this conversation with our team at THD, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *