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Is Your Next Planned Gift Just a Phone Call Away?

Friday, December 10, 2021 11:48 AM | Anna Matheson (Administrator)


Written By:  Anthony R. Alonso, President, Catapult Fundraising, Inc.

Thirty years ago, when I began working on phone programs for annual fund and capital campaign programs, I always stumbled upon the same questions from nonprofits; Will calling our constituents really generate better results than direct mail? Will donors be put-off by a call? Can we use an outside vendor to call our loyal donors?

Since then, these questions have been emphatically answered. An annual fund phone program has become a major component in almost every non-profit’s arsenal. It generates revenue that otherwise would be unavailable and provides an opportunity to upgrade donors in a way that direct mail cannot. When done properly, such calls also engender goodwill and enhance the relationships between the donor and the nonprofit.

Now, the same questions are being asked once again, this time about planned-giving phone calls. Surely, we cannot call our loyal donors to ask them for a planned gift? The question I always ask in return has remained the same over the years; What’s the alternative? Ask your very best prospects and ignore the rest?

Chances are, you have hundreds of planned gifts that are just a phone call away, but your donors simply have not been asked. This is not surprising. Among U.S. residents over age 30, only 22 percent say they have been approached by a nonprofit organization to consider a planned gift, according to a national survey.

As with all appeals, the question is not Should I do it? Rather, it is about how to do it in a way that leaves your donors feeling good about your mission and reinvested in your cause.

As fundraisers, you are inherently taught that face-to-face solicitation is the best means of soliciting donors. So what do you do? You cannot reach everyone through a face-to-face solicitation for a planned gift any more than you can for an annual fund contribution.

As fundraising professionals, it is our job to look at every solicitation methodology with an eye toward personalization. How do you make a planned-gift phone solicitation mimic the basic principles of face-to-face solicitation? Here is one effective method:

STEP 1: Prospect identification. First, analyze your donor database and identify your best planned giving prospects based on loyalty. Look at how many consecutive years a donor has made a gift. Remove those already assigned to a major-gift officer or who should be assigned to one. Studies have shown your best planned-giving prospects are those with modest but consistent giving patterns. Also, look for other loyalty indicators such as volunteerism, attendance at special programs, such as estate-planning seminars, etc.

STEP 2: Pre-call introductory letter. Next, a pre-call introductory letter from a loyal volunteer should be sent to the selected donors a few days in advance of the calls. The letter should thank the recipients for their loyal support over the years. The letter should go on to tell a story of why the volunteer has chosen to make a planned gift and the resulting impact of that gift. Finally, the letter should indicate that the prospects can expect a call to discuss interest in learning more about making a planned gift to your foundation.

STEP 3: Prospect qualification calls. Then, a well-trained caller should phone and thank the donors for their loyal support over the years. In an informal yet structured conversation, the callers should explore and record the reasons for the donors’ loyal support and ask if they would like to explore ways in which they could include the foundation in their long-term plans.

STEP 4: Referral and follow-up. The trained callers should refer expressions of interest to specially designated gift-planning specialists for professional planned giving discussions and follow-up in accordance with your organization’s pre-approved criteria. The foundation should then confirm bequests and other revocable commitments by means of a confidential confirmation form.

Case Study

A private hospital located in southern New Jersey recently embarked on a planned-giving calling program, and the results exceeded their expectations.

Background: Due to the hospital’s high volume of loyal donors, the planned giving team needed assistance in cultivating relationships with those donors with the highest planned-giving potential.

The Goals: The planned giving calling program had four broad goals:

1.      Thoroughly thank the donors for their years of loyal support

2.      Determine interest in including the hospital in their estate plans

3.      Confirm and quantify gifts already completed and thank/recognize these donors

4.      Educate and assist donors about planned gift options

The Program: The hospital implemented a highly personalized planned giving telephone outreach program and selected 1,000 of their most loyal donors to contact. Donors were initially called by a Tier 1 caller who thanked prospects for their years of loyal support and determined each prospect’s interest in making a planned gift. Depending on the prospect’s level of interest, an additional phone call was made by a Tier 2 caller, a planned giving specialist with more than 20 years of planned giving experience. Tier 2 callers informed prospects of planned gift options, confirming, and when possible, quantifying planned-gift values.

Results and Outcomes: Of the 1,000 prospects called, 770 were reached. Of these, 30% expressed a current interest in planned giving or had already competed a planned gift.

Tier 2 callers followed up with each of these individuals to secure the gift. An additional 68 prospects expressed interest in exploring options for a planned gift in the future. The hospital will follow up with these prospects in years to come.

Tier 2 callers secured and received written/verbal confirmation of 18 planned gifts, totaling $1,023,000.

Going Forward: Based on the success of this program, and many others that have explored the calling option, either with their own paid/volunteer callers or with an outside vendor, it is clear that your next planned gift may just be a phone call away! 

Anthony Alonso, President of Catapult Fundraising, Inc., has over 30 years of experience in direct marketing. Anthony’s expertise has led his clients to successfully raise over $250 million within the last five years from the lower end of the donor pyramid. Anthony has had the honor of working with prestigious organizations including Cleveland Clinic, Anne Arundel Medical Center, NYU Winthrop Hospital, and Caron Treatment Centers.


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