Applying the Art & Science of Direct Marketing to Planned Giving

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1 Applying the Art & Science of Direct Marketing to Planned Giving Published in The Journal of the Direct Marketing Association Non-Profit Federation One of the silver linings of the recent economic downturn and its corresponding impact on fundraising has been renewed organizational focus on planned gifts as a reliable source of income. Death, as we all know, occurs whether the stock market is at 10,000 or 8,000. The realization that mature planned giving programs continue to produce dependable revenue no matter the economy has prompted more organizations to launch planned giving programs and has motivated others to increase or renew their investment in such programs. However, many of these same organizations are failing to leverage their direct marketing know-how in support of their planned giving program, resulting in a failure to optimize revenue potential. Obstacles to Creating DM/PG Synergy There are many factors contributing to the lack of direct marketing expertise being applied to gift planning marketing. Among the most common are: Organizational Silos. The Achilles heel of integrated fundraising, organizational silos, are no less a factor in planned giving. Even though in most cases direct marketing talent resides just down the hall, planned giving staff rarely take advantage of the expertise resident in their own organizations. Message Snobbery. Like major gift staff, planned giving staff often believe that a different style of communication and package treatment is warranted for planned giving prospects. They are resistant to direct marketing help because they wrongly see typical DM-style communication as inappropriate for their audience. This is especially ironic given that like major donors their planned giving prospects were most likely acquired, renewed, and upgraded using direct marketing best practices. Content Mystification. For decades, planned giving marketing materials have been provided by a handful of companies dominated by lawyers and financial planners seemingly intent on mystifying what, in the end, is a very basic conversation between an organization and a donor about leaving a legacy.

2 Reading most planned giving marketing pieces one could believe that successful planned giving marketing requires technical expertise when, in fact, a passion for the cause and a passion for helping donors achieve their heartfelt goals is really what s required. The best planned giving communications are about donor aspirations and leaving a legacy. Testing Difficulty. As direct marketers, we rely heavily on testing to identify winning approaches that, over time, lift results and improve revenue. In planned giving, overall volumes are so low and response rates are even lower, making statistically valid testing a near impossibility for most organizations. Without empirical evidence, it s difficult to know what is working and not working and having learned that testing is the path to success, we may be reluctant to go forward in the absence of data. Long & Subjective ROI. As direct marketers we are also accustomed to an immediate return on investment and measuring success fairly immediately after the mailing. In planned giving, measuring success can be subjective (e.g., determining whether a lead is qualified or not) and can take considerable time. Planned giving marketing is essentially a lead qualification activity a two-step process. Evaluating results in planned giving is analogous to looking at acquisition list performance. For an acquisition list, we review the results 120 or so days following the drop but we also re-consider list performance twelve and eighteen months later to measure conversion of newly acquired donors to second gift status. The same holds in planned giving. While we measure the number of outright gifts to a mailing, the number of leads, and the number of qualified leads, all of which can be measured in a typical 120-day window, closed gifts must often await a long period of cultivation and close prior to being measurable. Leveraging Direct Marketing Expertise Leveraging direct mail expertise is one of the best ways to overcome or at least minimize the obstacles. The surest way to quiet critics is to show results and applying direct mail best practices to gift planning can often accomplish that. If the art and science of direct marketing were consistently applied to planned giving marketing (with

3 a few notable exceptions) organizations would see a significant improvement in results and downstream revenue. Here are some tips, based on our experience and actual testing: Audience Selection When we first started in planned giving, the simple and intuitive seemed to reign. We marketed to older donors who had shown loyalty through repeated years of annual giving. And emphasis was placed on some of the oldest, long-time donors in an effort to ensure that at the time of the creation of the last will, your organization would be remembered. Things are more complicated now. Recent research has revealed new factors that influence the likelihood of making a bequest and thus raise questions about optimum audience selection for planned giving marketing. These studies reveal factors that influence likelihood to make a bequest that are difficult if not impossible to select on, such as donors with no children or grandchildren. However, there are categories of donors that generally represent best bequest prospects (the vast majority of gift planning revenue comes from bequests): donors who give above average annual gifts; a donor who volunteers and also give; donors with long loyalty; donors who are evangelists, that is, who have given and taken action, especially those who utilize peer-to-peer fundraising tools. The biggest conundrum is around age. Recent research shows that donors as young as 40 are good prospects. At the same time, other research shows that donors are making changes to their wills and creating last wills just a few short years prior to death. The difficulty is that with limited marketing dollars most organizations don t have the budget to mail across this spectrum of ages, especially when the return on investment in a 40-year-old may be years in the future. The best approach: market as broadly as your budget permits. One way to more carefully target younger donors is to select them if they meet one of the other criteria noted above. Creative

4 With a few notable exceptions, what works in direct marketing also works in planned giving. For example, start with a plan. It s surprising how many planned giving marketing programs don t. Don t forget that planned giving prospects are major donor prospects and that Legacy Society members are major-donors-in waiting. Treat them as such with some of the same specialized package treatment you would use in a mid-level program. And, similar to a mid-level program, this audience deserves the personal touch, too. Using the phone for follow-up, stewardship and cultivation is a reasonable substitute for an army of planned giving officers knocking on doors. As it is in direct marketing, it s important in planned giving marketing to show em that you know em. By that we mean using versions to acknowledge donor status, whether that status is prospect, Legacy Society member, monthly giver, or Board member. All too often planned giving marketing uses a one-size-fits-all approach. Design with this audience in mind. Large type, cleanly laid out formats, no reversing white type out of color, inclusion of calls-to-action these are all direct marketing best practices that are even truer in planned giving. And, as noted before, omit technical terms and jargon. Speak plain English. In fact, while we may use the term planned giving to describe this aspect of fundraising, research shows that most donors have no idea what the term means. Make sure a planned giving newsletter is part of the communication mix. With an audience at a wide variety of ages, life stages and points in the estate planning process, a newsletter offers the best option of communicating something for everyone. With the expansive real estate only a newsletter can offer, a variety of articles is likely to ensure that any reader will find something that s relevant to his or her situation. Just make sure your newsletter arrives with a personalized cover letter and reply card. Exceptions to the Rule Although direct marketing best practices work in gift planning nine times out of ten, there are exceptions. Two of note are: Don t use Enclosed is my gift language on the reply form. You will get gifts but you will suppress qualified planned giving leads, which after all is the goal. You ll also risk engendering the resentment of the direct mail team since this language runs a high risk of cannibalizing direct mail revenue.

5 Don t laser the donor s name and address on the reply card. Perhaps it s because the extra effort required to fill in a name and address means the donor is more serious or maybe it s because having been raised on direct mail, donors habitually send back reply slips when they look like what we ve trained them to respond to but the best gift planning leads come from reply slips without a prefilled name/address. A final piece of advice. When testing isn t possible, trust your direct marketer s gut. More than likely you ll be right. Phyllis Freedman is President of SmartGiving, a consultancy that specializes in the intersection between gift planning and direct marketing. She blogs about planned giving at Kathy Ward is Senior Vice President at the American Institute for Cancer Research and a recognized authority on planned giving.

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