For the past several weeks I have been taking in Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang’s Associated Fundraising Professionals’ research on bequest giving. If you have not seen this research, you must read it (you can find this study at www.legacyleaders.com). I think it is a road map to many changes in how we handle what we have traditionally called planned giving. Consider that 95% of all estate gifts come from simple bequests. Over the years it has been my experience that major gift fundraisers and others in the fundraising profession have been intimidated out of asking for “planned gifts” because they didn’t know how to do it. Yet the reality is, despite all our efforts over the decades to train and educate fundraisers about all the vehicles related to planned giving—we have scared them away from inquiring about estate plans and the impact the gift can have. While Sargeant and Shang don’t come right out and say it, it appears that “planned giving” needs to be identified as the instruments of giving beyond the bequest. Given this information, what we need to do is train our staffs on the simple means by which one asks for bequest gifts. Given what we know now, we must resist the urge to believe this is too simple to be true and acknowledge the facts.Adrian and Jen have coined the phrase “bequest pledger” rather than “planned giver.” It is closer to reality, though I would change that to “estate pledger.” Financial planners, while providing a valued service to their client, don’t understand the philanthropic aspect of the plan. So they approach the gift as a tax-only transaction. And we all know this is not the top reason—or even one of the top five reasons—a person makes a major gift.Here is what we are suggesting our clients consider based on this research.1. Train all fundraisers in the asking and closing of an estate gift (most frequently a bequest). Use your planned gift staff, if you have any, for the more complicated estate planning vehicles.2. Remember that the fundraiser and/or the staff is among the most influential in asking for and closing a major gift—including estate gifts.3. Start using the term “Estate Pledger” rather than “Planned Gift Donor” when the gift occurs in the bequest. I have heard Fundraisers of the Year not understand the difference between a planned gift and endowment, let alone an estate commitment. Keep it simple, in language a fifth grader can understand, so we don’t muddy the issue further.4. Know that as prospects leave their employment and move into retirement, it is more difficult to get an estate pledge. The average age of estate pledging is 49 years of age and once a nonprofit is in the estate plans, it is seldom removed.5. Ask directly for an estate pledge. This can result in an increased number of estate pledges by 17 times. Thanking estate pledgers regularly and often can result in the donor not thinking that the pledge can be removed.6. Look at your materials and see if there is a bias against simple bequests and a focus on strategies that result in less than 3% of all estate gifts. Also look to see if there is a bias toward a particular socioeconomic group. Anyone can make a bequest.7. By a large margin, bequest pledgers want to know what their money is going to do after they die. By almost three times, the donor is more interested in its use than it its tax opportunities, estate planning or memorials.8. Finally, listen. Donors want to discuss their relationship to the agency. This is critical. Too many fundraisiers do all the talking and don’t listen. Again, I encourage you to look into this research. Only 5% of donors give money to a charity at death. Are you getting your 5%?
Will You Be There When John Shamberg Calls?
A big part of fundraising is showing up and being available. I learned this lesson on a very memorable New Year’s Eve, a very long time ago.
As an eager young fundraiser working for Washburn University, I didn’t know that it was unusual still to be at work in the evening of December 31st. But, there I was.
Earlier that year, a graduate of Washburn University School of Law told me he was going to give a gift of land to his synagogue, a private K-12 school and Washburn. John Shamberg, who has since passed away, made millions of dollars for institutions all over the world, and he wanted to give a significant gift to organizations he valued. His 40 acres of land on the outskirts of Kansas City were valued at $450,000, and his intention was to give $150,000 each to three organizations.
He’d left the task to the last day of the year, but now he was ready to make it happen.
He called the synagogue. No answer.
He called the K-12 school. No answer.
Then, he called Washburn and got me.
“Bob,” he said, “you just won the jackpot!”
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