Written by: Kathleen Sanger, Director of Development, Home of the Sparrow
Small, front-line service organizations like Home of the Sparrow focus as many resources as possible on the client. Of our 10 full-time employees, five are solely dedicated to delivering the mission – programs and trauma-informed case management to help women and children in Chester County, PA, avoid homelessness. Our only source of income, minus some program fees, is fundraising – all $1.3M of it. With no endowment, we wake every July 1st to a “zero” in balance sheet.
We know that building our planned giving programs is vital; it comes up all the time at meetings, amongst peers and from marketing emails that tell us we’d better get on the ball. Well, here’s what I know about the “ball” when you are in a small shop: You must put things into perspective.
First, you must accept that you are a department of one (or two if you’re lucky) who is responsible for writing grants, the annual appeal, events, fulfilling contracts for local government funding, stewarding donors, managing gift entry and acknowledgements, cleaning the bathroom (if it’s your Friday to do so), taking out the trash (every Friday) and answering the phone or door if no one else is available. You can only do so much and that is okay; let yourself off the hook and stop having nightmares.
Second, get everyone around you to stop having nightmares and panicking. My heart breaks for those of us (staff and volunteers) who were convinced that not only is planned giving REALLY complicated, you most certainly cannot begin until you have a brochure (don’t get me started on the brochure). This leads to months and months of writing and designing by committee (yikes) during which, the whole point is missed.
Isn’t planned giving just part of the natural course of building a relationship with a donor? It’s okay to be in a conversation with a donor and, because you sense it is the right thing to say, you ponder aloud, “Your love for our mission is extraordinary. I wonder if you have considered leaving Home of the Sparrow in your estate plans?” Last time I checked it was legal to utter these words even if you don’t have a brochure. At smaller shops, we need a new PG mantra: “It’s not rocket science – anyone can do it!” Run a query of all donors with 10, 15 or even 25 years of consecutive giving. Take 10 who gave in the last six months and send them a note or call them to get a relationship started or to deepen it.
Third, forgive ourselves for not being experts in estate planning. If a donor asks a how a CRT works and we’re not sure, reply: “I can help you achieve your philanthropic dreams with us, but when it comes to what planned giving vehicles are right for you, it’s best to chat with an expert.”
I’ve worked at large institutions where there was a staff attorney who could do it all – introduce the idea, help donors dream, and introduce the gift planning products that would create a win-win. In an ideal world, we’d all have an expert on staff. Since that’s not plausible, we take baby steps like adding language to our webpages and on pledge cards. We form a committee of those closest to us who may not be experts but want to ensure the future of our work. They create a name for the giving society and begin promoting the concept strategically. If a brochure emerges, well that’s just serendipity.
If you’d like to share your insight and experience with “small shop” planned giving in a future issue of our newsletter, please contact Megan Cantalupo at firstname.lastname@example.org.