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Three Steps to Effective Gift Planning Conversations

Tuesday, June 25, 2019 1:19 PM | Anna Matheson (Administrator)

Written by: R. Daniel Shephard, CFRE, Principal, Frontline Fundraiser Training and Consulting

The work of charitable gift planning can be quick when the donor calls to request information on a certain way to make a gift.  Far more often you will need to work to discover that a certain gift strategy/asset might appeal to someone with whom you’re working.  That makes it important, once you decide to introduce a specific way to give, that you maximize your chances for success.

Your challenge is to do that in a way that’s intellectually accessible and emotionally appealing – to the donor.  A too-early transition from a conversational approach to legal/technical language is counter-productive to your goal. 

I learned this approach during a failed attempt at introducing a Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) to the perfect prospect.  She was 82 and in good health, she had assets in her retirement portfolio producing a low income stream, and she needed to increase income.  I suggested that I tell her about a Charitable Gift Annuity.  She replied, “An annuity?  Isn’t that like insurance?  Oh, I’m not interested in that.”  That was the entire conversation.

Consider these three steps when you’re ready to introduce your thoughtfully-chosen gift idea.

1. ANNOUNCE Your Agenda

“I want to talk with you about a gift plan that provides you several benefits.”  Name them; get your donor’s attention and emotional buy-in.  Let’s pick a Charitable Gift Annity for this example:

  • “It’s a gift plan that will increase your income.”  
  • “It will provide a charitable income tax deduction for part of the gift.”
  • “Your income payment will always stay the same.”  
  •  “AND it allows you to make the gift we have been discussing”

Ask – “May I explain how this works for you?”

2. DESCRIBE the gift plan.

Now you can explain, still using conversational language, how the plan works.  Stay focused on how it benefits the donor.  Resist the inclination to name the gift plan too soon. Once you say, “Let me tell you how a charitable gift annuity works,” you’re at risk of the donor honing in on the word “annuity” and drawing conclusions before you have the chance to explain how this gift strategy works.

Instead, reiterate the donor benefits while pointing to pertinent parts of your printed materials.  Let’s use our CGA illustration example to connect benefits for your donor to details of how the gift works.  Work through the gift illustration you brought to the meeting as you plan how to go through its pages in conversational language.  Referring to the donor benefits mentioned above:

  • “It’s a gift plan that will increase your income.”  Now guide your donor through the pertinent page in your printed illustration to show how this works.
  • “Your income payment will always stay the same.”  Now guide your donor through the pertinent page in your printed illustration.
  • “It will provide a charitable income tax deduction for part of the gift.”  Now guide your donor through the pertinent page in your printed illustration.
  • “AND it allows you to make the gift we have been discussing.”  Now guide your donor through the pertinent page in your printed illustration.

3. INVITE questions & discussion

Once you have gotten your donor’s attention s/he will be more inclined to learn the details. In fact, you should look at Step 3 as a through-line.  Invite questions and discussion throughout the conversation.

Short summation: emotionally appealing and intellectually accessible – to the donor.


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