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Planned Giving’s ‘Magic Words’

by: Jeffrey Stein on

Planned Giving’s ‘Magic Words’ 

Learn what they are and find out 3 great ways to use them. 

Are you a fundraiser tasked with creating planned giving marketing communications (letters, postcards, e-newsletter content, newsletter articles, etc.)?

Do you find yourself mired in phrases more mystically passive than magically engaging; phrases like “remember us in your will,” “leave a legacy,” or “consider a gift that may have tax benefits, too”?

Does the latest research about the word ‘bequest’ have you wringing your hands over a better way to say ‘what happens to your stuff when you die’?

Have you heard that somewhere out there that certain “key planned giving messages” will work? That often leads to you and your boss word-smithing a bequest letter into the bore-o-sphere only to spend a full year circulating around the office, being decorated with red circles, black lines and other “edit” marks. No magic words will ever get that letter in the mail…

If you’re looking for planned giving’s magic words, look no further-- you already know them! And as a fundraiser, you use them all the time. You’ve also said them to the waitresses who handed you a cool cocktail, that man who opened the door for you last week, and to your sweet Nana when you she gave you a $5 bill on your 8th birthday…

The Planned Giving Magic Words are…

Thank you.

Finding fresh new ways to say “thank you” is the fastest, clearest, and most authentic way to talk about planned giving with your donors – in person, in your communications, and your specific planned giving appeals.

1. The Magic Words in Person. Don’t know how to ask for a planned gift? Try a “thank you” ask. Thank a donor for his consistent gifts of $25 a year for 25 years. Mention that another donor has given the same amount/number of years is also leaving a charitable bequest to your org. Then say nothing, and see what the donor says. You may be surprised to hear that your org IS IN HIS WILL (but he’s just never told you) or he’s been thinking of updating his plans and hadn’t considered a charity – but he might.

2. The Magic Words in Your Newsletter. Have you been saying “Remember us in your will” in your newsletter for years with no results? Instead, try featuring a photo of the lovely Kathleen, a donor who named your org in her will (even if it was years ago). All you need is a “Thank You, Kathleen” headline and a few short words about Kathleen’s future gift. This simple “thank you” communicates all the key planned giving messages (the real ones!). It shows prospective donors that naming a charity in a will is NORMAL, that your organization values and appreciates this type of gift, and that when people include your org in their will, they share the news and that’s a good thing. Always include a line like, “even if you wish for your gift to remain anonymous, please inform us of your gift.”  No fancy words are necessary because Kathleen’s photo says more than any carefully chosen copy.

3. The Magic Words in Your Planned Giving Appeal. If you truly want more prospects, ditch the “appeal” and instead, say thank you.  And don’t just SAY thank you, also offer a sincere and tangible “thank you” in the form of a gift to uncover your best planned giving prospects and silent donors who have yet to inform you that your org is in their will.

For example, the Yellowstone Park Foundation (YPF), a national organization based in Bozeman, Montana, mailed a Valentine’s Day postcard to 2,525 longtime, loyal donors. This card simply thanked donors for their support over the years and offered a free gift just for visiting a personalized URL (PURL). Upon arriving on their personalized landing page, the donors were asked one question about charitable estate planning before clicking through to receive their gift.

The response was overwhelming. The results are this: more than 190 people who care deeply about preserving Yellowstone Park self-identified as donors indicated they would be interested in making a charitable bequest or other planned gift. Also, with this simple yet effective direct and email campaign, YPF learned of 13 NEW planned gifts. In addition this mailing was also a nice stewardship piece for the client. A typical planned giving marketing appeal may yield an OVERALL response rate (any type of response) of just 3-10%. This YPF “thank you gift” appeal achieved an overall response rate of 33.87% which is astounding in planned giving marketing.

(Learn more about this campaign HERE.)

A few key things to understand about this particular mailing: the card did NOT MENTION planned giving, it did not ask the donor to “consider” anything or offer “more information” about planned giving. The card was sent from the Old Faithful Society (YPF’s legacy society) with the logo and tagline, but other than that had no typical hallmarks of a planned giving mailing.

What this means for you and your organization:

There is so much magic in the two words “thank you” that if you focus on new ways to use them, you will surely secure some very large future gifts for your organization. How large? A Blackbaud study shows the average planned gift in the United States is between $35,000 and $70,000, but if you follow the world of planned giving like I do, you’d routinely hear of  $100,000, $250,000, $500,000 bequests and higher – mainly from everyday people like retired teachers, nurses, firemen.

In our fundraising world, we hear a lot about “donor engagement strategies,” and there is no clearer strategy than the simple “thank you.” 

The “thank you” is effective in many forms of nonprofit marketing because it affirms and validates a donor’s intention – and it’s just plain good manners. Surveys show that many donors don’t feel like they’ve been adequately thanked, so basing a marketing effort on a “thank you” also helps you with your stewardship efforts.

If the real, true goal of your planned giving outreach, engagement, and marketing is to identify prospects, try ditching the tired “planned giving talk” and focus on how you can do more with those two magic words everyone loves to hear…

Thank you.

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