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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.

3 Proven, Personalized Planned Giving Marketing Strategies

by: Jeffrey Stein on

3 Proven, Personalized Planned Giving Marketing Strategies

Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before Congress was eye-opening on many levels.  On one level, it was remarkable to learn how much data is being collected about everyone -whether we realize it or not.  And on another level, how utterly clueless many of us (and our representatives) are about how pervasive the use of our personal information is used in advertising to us.   

The point isn’t to start a debate about data privacy issues or the ability of our representatives to legislate it. The point is that Zuckerberg made it pretty clear that advertising is most effective when it's personal, and the only way to make advertising personal is to leverage data about the intended audience into the messaging.   

If you’ve worked on an annual fund (or receive annual fund solicitations) you already know this.  In addition to basic name and address information, your solicitations leverage giving history to present each donor with an ask that’s slightly higher than what they’ve given in the past.  If a donor is particularly loyal, you may include a sentence or paragraph acknowledging their loyalty.  On the other hand, if the donor’s loyalty has lapsed, you inject language designed to woo them back.  It may not be as sophisticated as what Facebook and Google are doing, but at its core, it's pretty similar.  Your organization is using data it has collected about a donor and is using that data to serve up messaging designed to get them to respond more favorably. 

Personalized advertising doesn’t just work for Facebook, it's their business model.  And your organization would never consider hiring an annual fund consultant who didn’t know how to analyze giving histories or use versioning and personalization in your appeals. So, why is it okay that your planned giving efforts are so generic?!?!

The short answer: Generic planned giving marketing materials are cheaper and easier to produce.

The industry is dominated with providers whose businesses are built on selling the same content, in the same format, to as many non-profits who will buy it, and they’re advising those non-profits to mail them to as many donors as their budgets permit.  Good for them.  But is it good for you? 

Top performing planned giving programs know that while generic may be cheap and easy, relevant personalization is far more effective.  And with so much at stake, they don’t risk results in favor of saving a little time and money.

Consider these proven, personalized planned giving marketing strategies for your next campaign:

Legacy Society Member/Non-Member branding: What’s the best way to lose your legacy society members?  Ignore them.  Smart planned giving programs go out of their way to make sure their current legacy society members are in the loop, but they don’t resort to sending them the same materials sent to everyone else.  Let your planned giving donors know you’re paying attention and create unique messaging for this special audience.  Perhaps its two versions of a cover letter, or adding a special seal indicating their membership on the outside of the mailer.  

Class Year/Reunion versioning: College and independent school planned giving programs are smart to take advantage of returning alumni.  Nostalgia and peer pressure (yes, peer pressure endures well beyond our adolescence) are significant philanthropic motivators.  Rather than a broad-based message inviting everyone to consider a planned gift in honor of reunion, version the invitation by class year. Include an honor roll recognizing the members of the class who have already made a commitment.  Get even more creative and swap out images specific to each class.  Make it clear: “This isn’t about just any reunion.  This is about YOUR reunion.” 

Age-specific Charitable Gift Annuity illustrations:  If there is one type of planned gift where age does matter, it’s the charitable gift annuity.  Your age determines your rate.  So, if you know how old your donors are (or can estimate based on when they graduated), why would you ask them to consider a gift annuity using a generic rate chart?  Running calculations for your donor file requires additional effort, and transferring that data to a personalized direct mailer a bit of care, but the results will speak for themselves. 

You don’t need to be Facebook or Google to create data-driven marketing campaigns that get results.  If you’re looking to take your planned giving marketing to the next level then follow the lead of top performing programs by taking advantage of the data you have.  A little creativity and a little effort will go along way towards generating better leads and more planned gift commitments.

PGM partners with top-performing programs to develop, design and deploy personalized marketing communications that work.  If generic just isn’t working for you, give us a shout.  Our expert data-driven marketing advisors are ready to help.

How will the 2017 tax law impact nonprofit fundraising?

by: Allison Sanka on

The largest piece of tax reform since the Reagan administration has been passed and signed by the President. The real impacts from the new tax law changes have yet to be seen, but all of us in the nonprofit world will be watching carefully as the impact on nonprofit fundraising initiatives unfolds. Meanwhile, some initial concerns are being addressed.

According to an article in The Nonprofit Times, the Association Fundraising Professionals believes there will be a huge decline in cash gifts. The hypothesis is that because of the increase in the standard deduction, fewer taxpayers will itemize on their returns. Because so many depend on those deductions on their itemized tax returns, without that tax benefit fewer people will give cash gifts to nonprofits. 

"The Association Fundraising Professionals is anticipating a reduction in itemizers of about 30 million on account of the standard deduction increase. About 82 percent of individual giving comes from itemizers, per Giving USA estimates, equating to an annual loss in giving of between $12 billion and $20 billion." [read more]

Those are some big numbers to ponder. 

The face of donors is changing. Many believe the motivation to give is not enough to suppress the projected 4.5% drop in annual giving next year. According to The Washington Post:

"[The] decline is expected to be concentrated among gifts from the middle of the income scale. The richest Americans will mostly keep their ability to take the tax break. That could create new winners and losers in philanthropy. Nonprofits have long noticed that the wealthy are more likely to cut big checks to support museums and universities, while smaller donors tend to give to social-service agencies and religious organizations. Charities fear that this shift could change how the public views donating and alter the priorities of nonprofits." [read more]

Doom and gloom aside, what's the opportunity for planned giving? Plenty, actually. Middle and lower income loyal donors may now be the perfect audience for planned gifts. They may have given in the past but those annual gifts may drop off, while the wealthy will still likely benefit from itemization.

It's more important than ever to kick your PG program into high gear with a solid, awareness-building marketing program. Building your planned giving program will not only bring in some additional funds now and in the years to come, but also it will help ensure the long-term health of your organization. Money needs to come in from as many avenues as possible, and the best time to market your PG program is now.

Cast a Wider Net

by: Jeffrey Stein on

When our clients tell us about realized gifts that came in response to our marketing efforts, I temper their praise by reminding them we have little to do with their mission and their donors philanthropy. We're just helping to bring the two parties together. 

Last evening, a client called to let us know they closed $275,000 in gift annuities today. One was for $250,000 from a donor with lifetime giving of $7,200. 

That's right; a guy who graduated more than 60 years ago and who averaged $120 in giving per year funded a $250,000 gift. Why? He has no heirs, he's getting little-to-no return on his savings, and he figured this was his way to make his major gift. What inspired him do it now? He received our personalized CGA illustration in the mail.

The full analysis is incomplete, but it's pretty clear this donor was way off the organization's planned giving radar. And had he not been included in the highly targeted, personalized direct marketing effort, he may never have stepped forward. 

This organization has a mature annuity program and they've had success in the past. However, they struggled with developing and deploying consistent and compelling marketing communications. Their previous efforts were a combination of ads and postcards produced in-house and drab, generic and cheaply produced mailers and brochures from the industry's subject matter experts, but not marketing experts.

Your best prospects may be outside your typical target radius. Adding to your target list of a well-crafted, thoughtfully designed planned mailing or marketing initiative will likely pay for itself with just one additional planned gift.

We helped this planned giving team to expand their campaign, casting a wider net, and now their pipeline has never been as full. Yet another example of what's possible for forward-thinking organizations when they leave the marketing to marketing experts.

Want a team of marketing experts to help fill your call list with qualified leads? Give us a call at 484-680-7600 or contact us today.

Best regards,

Jeff Stein

Claire's Coffee Time Quick Tip #1: Perk up your planned giving instantly!

by: Allison Sanka on

PGM's Editorial Director Claire Meyerhoff brings her "Coffee Time Planned Giving" presentation to AFP and other nonprofit groups around the country. She enjoys sharing her simple, fun and effective ideas for perking up your nonprofit's planned giving outreach and most her ideas will cost you absolutely nothing but a little time. Following is the first in a series of Quick Tips for your planned giving marketing campaigns. We hope you enjoy them and find them useful!

Allison Sanka (like the coffee)
Director of Marketing Operations

Claire's Coffee Time Quick Tip #1: Perk up your planned giving instantly!

This Quick Tip is something you — the busy fundraiser — can implement QUICKLY. Just pour a cup of coffee, read the tip, then do it! Right now, some of your favorite long-time donors have three charities in their will and yours is NOT one of them. That's because no one from your org has asked them in person, online or in print… 

Quick Tip — Grind up that OLD boilerplate bequest message and brew up something NEW!  

(Note:  this week's Quick Tip, our placeholder, fictitious charity is "General Hospital."  Paging Dr. Quartermaine!)

Old! You've seen it a million times, hunkered down at the bottom of a newsletter or anchoring a fundraising appeal. It's the boilerplate bequest message:

Remember General Hospital in your will.

It just sits there. At the end. Like death itself. 

Yes, it's better than nothing. Yes, you've done it this way for 37 years. But it's like saying "have a nice day," and doesn't engage your prospective bequest donor. What do you expect them to do after reading this? Run to their attorney? Call you? Did you tell them how to call you? Did you put your phone number there? Did you tell them why they should call you? Maybe. Maybe not.

New! The next time you're doing your newsletter, engage your donor with a question:

Is General Hospital in your will?

Right out of the gate, you're engaging your donor with a question and triggering a more lively thought process. "Is it in my wil? Really? Do I have a will?" People put the hospital in their will? " By begging a question, you're guiding the reader towards some kind of answer, and maybe the answer will be….


Yes! That's the answer you want the most! There are two types of your constituents who will read this question and think, "Yes," and both are fantastic. One is the bequest donor KNOWN to you — and your question prompts her to think "Yes! I have done that, I have my charitable act together!" It affirms her action. The other donor who thinks "yes" is the bequest donor who is UNKNOWN to you. So for him, he needs a little prompt to raise his hand:

Is General Hospital in your will?

If the hospital is in your will or other estate plans and you have yet to inform us, would you please take a moment and call me?  Even if you wish for your bequest to remain anonymous, it's important to let us know so that we can ensure your gift will be used exactly as you intend. We would also like to send you a thank you gift. If you're still making estate plans, I can provide you with all the information you need. 

Thank you!

Bobbie Spencer, Director of Development

555-123-4567 | Bspencer@GeneralHospital.orb

This example has all the "Call to action" you need. See how this also speaks to the "haven't done it yet crowd?" This one brief blurb packs a lot of planned giving punch. I've seen an organization take up a whole page in a newsletter to explain their entire planned giving program, and if any donors had bothered to read it, they wouldn't have known WHAT to do next.

Use the format I've given you here and you can place this boilerplate language in many of your existing communication platforms. 

• In a newsletter inside a nice graphic design treatment
• Annual report
• On a buck slip to include with appeals and other mailings
• House of worship  program 
• On your Facebook page (stay tuned for another Coffee Time tip to show you a great way to do this)
• On a postcard mailed to a group of top planned giving prospects
• In some communities, for certain organizations (hospitals, ASPCA and other "iconic" orgs) you may consider making this into an advertisement and buying ad space in a local paper or special-interest publication.

I hope you enjoyed reading about my easy way to perk up your planned giving! If you're a program coordinator for your local AFP or other group, I'd be happy to bring the entire Coffee Time Planned Giving presentation to your meeting or conference. Feel free to contact me by email to discuss dates.


Are Baby Boomers' Estate Planning Behaviors Changing?

by: Allison Sanka on

While we are just beginning to see Boomers retire, this video suggests that many Baby Boomers may have spent, or plan to spend, a good chunk of what they would have given as an inheritance to their children. As mentioned in the video, Baby Boomers are spending their money while they're alive on retirement, healthcare and themselves, mostly out of need. The reality of longer lives and bigger expenses could mean there's less left to leave, or give, in their estate plans. 

There are always creative opportunities and solutions for planned gifts, even when the estate is limited. And of course, if you are seeing this trend emerging, PGM can address it in your direct marketing messaging.

Are you seeing this trend emerging, and what, if any are the implications for planned gifts?

What Works in Planned Giving Marketing?

by: Claire Meyerhoff on

What Works in Planned Giving Marketing?


That's a question we hear every single day here at PGM! What "works" for one organization can be entirely different for another. All nonprofits are different -- and more importantly, so are their donors.


But there are some common goals. The organizations we work with all want two things:

1. They want more donors to ‘raise their hand’ and say "YES, I'm including a gift in my will to your organization!"

2. They want more top-tier prospects. These are prospective planned giving donors who are identified as more likely to consider making a deferred gift to your organization and would be open to a conversation or other engagement to move them closer to making the deferred gift.


A good planned giving marketing campaign is an authentic, natural extension of your stewardship. Way too often, nonprofits send donors planned giving information that seems completely disconnected from the usual donor communications. The donor is left wondering, “Why is the Springfield Animal Rescue sending me a brochure about something called a “unitrust?”


So...what does work? Here’s one thing that works:


Reaching and engaging your donor with a compelling offer.


Check out this great example of how PGM recently helped one organization identify more planned donors and top-tier prospects...


In February, 2,500 personalized mailings arrived in donors mailboxes. These donors were a select segment identified by our client organization. It featured a Valentine’s Day theme and two very important and very simple words--




The personalized postcard was, first and foremost a stewardship piece. Time and time again the research tells us donors don't feel that they're thanked enough-- or in the right way.


Because we utilized a personalized strategy, the card thanked the donor by name and then did something quite extraordinary. It asked the donor for...nothing. That's right -- nothing. It didn't ask the donor if the org is in his estate plans, or to consider a planned gift, and it didn't ask the donor if she'd like an estate planning guide or more information.


Instead, this card OFFERED a free gift to the donor, simply for being a supporter of the organization. All the recipient had to do to receive their gift was to visit their personalized landing page (also known as a PURL or Personalized URL).


There's much more to say about this mailing, like the creative concept, back end logistics, the personalized landing page content and the strategic questions posed to respondents. But you'd probably rather get right to the good stuff and see the results. After all, you want to hear about a planned giving marketing strategy that works, right?!


Here are the results:


2,524 donors around the country received this personalized mailing. Within one week, we'd heard from 127 donors. One week later, all the "non-responders" received a follow-up email. That very same day, another 153 donors responded. Within two weeks, an additional 221 donors responded.


Now, here's the good stuff:

A whopping 33.8% of the 2,524 prospects visited their personalized landing page. 

Right away, this organization learned of TWENTY new planned gifts. 

Right away, this organization had 120 top-tier leads. These were donors who, once they arrived at their personalized landing page, indicated they were interested in a specific planned gift and/or an information kit.


The key "What works" takeaways:

A good planned giving marketing campaign is about PROSPECTING. How can you get highly-involved donors to engage a bit more? Some are calling this "engagement marketing", but shouldn't ALL marketing be engaging? We think so and we have the outcome to prove it – and the ROI the client was looking for.


Would you like to see exactly what PGM did for this client?  Contact PGM President Jeff Stein at jeff@pgmarketing or 484-680-7600 and he'll tell you more.


Thank you!

Love of Radio + Estate Planning = Scholarship

by: Claire Meyerhoff on

It's a wonderful equation that adds up to an important concept for fundraisers in education about channeling a donor's passion into scholarship naming opportunities -- particularly for your planned giving prospects.

Two people in Arkansas who were passionate about broadcasting, and radio in particular, used some smart estate planning to create scholarships for Mass Communications students (with an emphasis on radio) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Dan and Jonnie Winn included a $1.4 million bequest in their trust, which passed to the University after Jonnie Winn died at age 100.  Jonnie was the first licensed woman amateur radio operator in Arkansas. Her husband, the late Dan Winn, was a radio pioneer and a respected industry leader until his death at 86 in 1998. You can read more about them here.

If you're a school development person, scholarships are a specific, tangible way to direct a prospective donor's passion.  Donors may be interested in creating a scholarship of their own, but for the most part, schools don't "advertise" the "cost" of the scholarship.  Many colleges, universities and independent schools have endowed scholarships and other nameable funds starting at $10,000 to $25,000, which is very doable for many donors when that amount is stretched out over five years or even better -- as a planned gift that costs nothing today.

Take Away for you to steal:

In your next alumni magazine article about a new scholarship, like the one honoring the Winn's, include a sidebar "ask" like this. Ask the graphic designer to make sure it stands out:

What will your scholarship be called?
If Faber College is in your will or other estate plans for $25,000 or more, you may be able to name a scholarship after anyone you choose. Please contact Eric Stratton in the Office of Planned Giving, 212-555-1212 or EStratton@FaberCollege.com

Just by including this simple language, you'll be sharing a lot of valuable news with your donors. That's right -- news. Because most graduates and supporters of your school have no idea that they can start an endowed scholarship. They also have no idea that they could do so by leaving that amount in their will. Keep the language simple, tie it to a story and you may get a response!

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Play up your Pin!

by: Claire Meyerhoff on

In a perfect fundraising world, all "legacy society" members would proudly wear their pin -- every day -- telling admirers "this means I've put Faber College in my will! Do you have Faber College in your estate plans?"

If your org has a pin for PG donors, here are some Pintastic tips: 

  1. The PIN is perfect for a photo op! You KNOW you need to do more "public relations" for planned giving, so start with a great photo of a donor receiving their pin. Put it on Facebook, Twitter, your website and in a newsletter with a nice little story about WHO is receiving the pin, WHY they're receiving the pin and who is pinning on the pin.
  2. You need extras!  Order extra pins and have them on hand for alumni and other events. True, you did encourage your donors to WEAR their pin, but they're human and they forgot.
  3. The PIN looks great with a special ribbon!  At many alumni and other events, development staff add ribbons of different colors to name tags, denoting donor status.  You can have a special color ribbon AND the PIN, making for a bit of extra zing. Remember, you'll have extra pins on hand : )

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Are you on Twitter?

by: Claire Meyerhoff on

Follow us @PGMarketingBuzz

See some great stories about wonderful people who make bequests and charities receiving planned gifts. Also, learn marketing tips, trends and more.

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