Written by: Eric R. Almonte, JD, Associate Vice President of Major Gifts at Saint Joseph’s University
Asking donors questions and using data are important elements in successful fundraising. I once asked a consistent annual fund donor, who had given for over 25 years, if he considered leaving a gift to the university in his estate plans. He quickly responded, “No! In fact, if we do this right, my wife and I won’t leave anything for our children or you guys.” He said this firmly, and continued sipping his coffee.
This gentleman was an unwavering annual fund donor and typically gave $100. I would visit him once a year. I knew he was not a major gift prospect, but I thought he had potential to be a good planned giving prospect.
Fast forward a few years later, I was visiting him and his wife in Florida after they retired and had moved down there to enjoy the warm weather. During the visit, I thanked them both for their loyal support. I shared some updates and let them know that we would be having a Planned Giving Society event next year and that I would invite them to the luncheon. The luncheon was an opportunity for our Vice President of Planned Giving to provide an update on the university. They both attended the luncheon, connected with fellow alumni and had a lovely time. During the event there was never a hard sell on planned giving, rather resource sharing on ways to give. At the end of the luncheon, there was a table with information about our planned giving program.
A few weeks later, I got a call from the donor thanking me for inviting them to the event. He said he also called to talk about their estate and that they had some ideas. He proceeded to say they wanted to leave 5% of their estate to the university’s college of business and that they were also interested in learning more about charitable gift annuities (CGAs). After consulting and collaborating with my colleague in the Office of Planned Giving, we were able to secure a six-figure commitment from their estate and a six-figure CGA.
Ultimately, the reason we ask is to listen and cultivate, because we never know what our donor’s intentions are until we are able to have conversations about their philanthropy. Additionally, we never know what might inspire a donor to give. Looking back, when I first asked about estate planning, they weren’t ready to commit to a planned giving conversation. However, after more cultivation and better engagement, they were inclined to have a conversation about planned giving.
I enjoy sharing this story because it demonstrates the importance of not only asking whether we are in their estate plans or not, but also, among other things, the importance of using data to help us on visits. Knowing that they were consistent annual fund donors, enabled us to discuss the topic of planned giving. The challenge was understanding that they also needed more cultivation to close these gifts.