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You Had Me at Bequest!

The Care and Feeding of Donors

Why not begin the New Year with a fresh, new approach to cultivating and stewarding planned giving donors? Too often, once a prospect has documented his/her bequest intentions, the donor acknowledgment period lasts through several months of standard thank-you letters, a holiday greeting or goodie, and perhaps a recognition dinner, depending on level of gift.

The donor’s name is summarily noted in recognition reports, on walls of fame, etched onto a plaque or mug, and whisked away into a legacy giving society.

Then, drops off the crevice into the deep, dark hole of no further action required.
Let’s instead become Masters of the Revocable and review our current practices to find more creative ways to maintain relationships.

Several years ago, while attending a Mid-American Development Conference, I was intrigued by a panel of donors discussing their pet peeves of fund raising.

One older donor stunned the audience as she recounted how her multi-million dollar bequest went largely ignored.

“I was virtually forgotten...tucked away in someone’s file,” she explained, “I wasn’t on anyone’s invitation list, never received a call, never even got a simple birthday card. In short, when I updated my Trust, I took them out. They probably still don’t realize, but when I pass, they’ll discover what I did, and it will be far too late for anyone to make amends.”

Aha...payback, and rightly so.

Here was a donor who simply wished to be remembered and engaged on an ongoing basis. Not tucked away and tossed into a drawer...

Another hazard of the road to a planned gift expectancy, is improper or insufficient stewardship where the donor learns that her estate gift will either not be used as intended or has not received the good housekeeping seal of approval from the benefiting programs. What else can a revocable planned gift donor do, but revoke the gift and find another organization more befitting of its intended charity?

For this reason, including all individuals at the organization in the gift acknowledgment is essential. Crafting appropriate gift agreements that substantiate the gift and how it will be utilized is simply good practice.

As development professionals, we prioritize our pool of prospects and maximize the activity spent to ask for and secure gifts. As planned giving officers, we must also build in the appropriate process to provide ongoing cultivation of our revocable planned gift donors.
For small shops, this focus can be easily done by instituting new policies to replace outmoded ones; for larger programs, a team can be put into place to “do the thank” and do it well.

Here are the axioms of Best Behavior for Bequests:

A revocable gift is just that...revocable. It comes with its own caveat emptor: I have given, yet I can take away...never forget!

Every planned giving donor belongs in the current donor file, if only to be “touched” as frequently as donors of gift annuities, or outright gifts.

Donors of bequests don’t get annual updates on their endowment performance or how you have utilized their gift; create a way to communicate with them on a regular basis providing good information, and another expression of appreciation.

Donors of bequests are excellent prospects for other gifts, especially current and annual. As you keep them engaged and looking forward to how their legacy will be preserved, they may become interested in experiencing donor satisfaction during their lifetime as well.

Holiday greetings are a must, as would be special birthdays or other landmark occasions – however why stop with a greeting? Invite them to join advisory groups, special committees, or accompany you on calls to other planned giving prospects as any other major benefactor of your organization.

In every communication, be sure to include the legacy society as the firm foundation of the future, and acknowledge the importance and generosity of the donors who have made the ultimate gift.

Market the bequest as a way for everyone to participate in your charity’s future, and equip all your front-line fund-raisers with information and access to your expertise; coach them on how to listen for verbal cues that invite a planned giving conversation, even inquiry.
Provide a physical and constant reminder of your organization that is heart-felt.

Every donor who is engaged with your organization should ultimately be approached for a bequest.

Don’t think of a planned gift as the donor’s last gift ... think of it as the beginning of their relationship with your institution, the kind that includes discussion of their lifetime goals and assets.

A final thought: an intention to leave a legacy is confirmation of the donor’s passion. Treat every intention as a promise... for you to keep the donor upfront, and the passion ongoing.

— by Mindy Aleman, CFRE, APR

Mindy is the Associate Director at the Center for Gift and Estate Planning at Kent State University.

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