Written by: Tom Yates, Executive Director of Gift Planning, Temple University
I recently took the Amtrak from 30th Street Station to Washington, DC for the National Capital Gift Planning Council’s annual Planned Giving Day conference. Many NCGPC members come from large national cause organizations based in the nation’s capital, and these organizations have huge fundraising budgets and spend a lot on planned giving marketing.
Partially because of those big budgets, there was no shortage of marketing firms looking for new business at the conference. And that’s what also drew me – national organizations and the agencies that serve them tend to be innovative in their planned giving marketing approaches. What fuels that innovation is a willingness to try new things, which requires a willingness to spend money.
The Nature Conservancy is an example of this. Its devotion to planned giving program building goes back decades. It’s all paying off for the Nature Conservancy and then some now: it receives more than $100 million in realized estate gifts annually. Yes, that’s right, every year. That level of cash in the door each year can go a long way in helping to save the planet. Sure, it’s the Nature Conservancy, few non-profits in the world raise more money. It’s not even fair to compare any of our efforts with such a behemoth. And one could argue that since the Nature Conservancy has more than a million members it would have received $100 million plus in estate realized gifts every year anyway, regardless of all that planned giving marketing and program building over the years.
Maybe. I doubt it though. The Nature Conservancy’s ratio of realized estate dollars to number of solicitable donors in its database is several orders of magnitude larger than what almost all of our organizations can muster. It didn’t get there by accident. A lot of thought and work went into it. Investments were made.
But how could our organizations invest so much in planned giving? We have to keep our annual giving machine pumping out the mail appeals, we have our army of major gift officers to pay and train, we have to keep churning out and budgeting for the fundraising galas and 5K runs. We have to “hit goal” this year, right?
Don’t be fooled, this is not a false dilemma. Investments in our planned giving programs should be on par with those of our other fundraising programs. After all, look how well it’s worked out for the Nature Conservancy. Sadly, it’s rarely the case. Whether its organizational leaders, fundraising leaders, or both, not many want to approve spending increases that may only pay off for their successors years from now. But is that best for the organization?
So, let’s not allow the doubters deter us. Do your organization a huge favor and be like the Nature Conservancy: prioritize planned giving. Ask for a bigger planned giving marketing budget. And the next year ask for even more money. You just might save the world too.