11 Ways to Jump-Start Your Communications Program in 2017

As we close out a terrific 2016 and celebrate all that we’ve achieved this year, it’s hard not to already be looking forward to 2017!

While no doubt there are personal goals that we want to set for ourselves for the next year, I’ve found this is also the perfect time to sit down and take a look at your planned giving communications program. What’s working with your program? What could you change to improve your outreach? Are there any organizational things happening in the upcoming year that will impact your plan?

To help you with your planning, we’ve compiled 11 (because everyone does lists of 10) things to review for 2017:

  1. Put together a yearly calendar: For years, much of planned giving marketing has been ‘reactive’…typically driven by new legislation (“I need to get an IRA Rollover mailing out”) or because a gift was ‘realized’ and a board member took note (“We need more gifts like this, how do we get them?”). This is not an effective way to run a planned giving marketing program. I’m a firm believer in working from a 12-month calendar but always looking out 24 to 36-months (if it’s not on my Outlook calendar, it doesn’t get done). This allows you to have consistency in your outreach as well as accountability to your donors, development team and board.
  2. Look for opportunities to “piggyback”: It’s no surprise that ‘targeted’ planned giving marketing is the most effective outreach, but you never know when something has happened in a donor’s life to give them pause and push them to think about their planning. Thus the reason I’m a big fan of “piggybacking” on other organization publications. Whether it’s a buckslip in your gift receipts, a story in your foundation newsletter or a tagline on your letterhead or business card, every ‘touch’ helps!
  3. Don’t ‘set it and forget it’: Add a regular monthly appointment to your Outlook calendar to review your marketing plan. This will keep you on track and allow time to adjust your calendar as needed.
  4. Review current impact and donor stories: Have you identified a list of individuals (or ‘matured’ gifts) that will provide stories of commitment and impact on your mission? Do you have someone on staff who can work to develop good testimonials? Start early, as this is typically one of the biggest reasons that marketing efforts get sidetracked!
  5. Learn more about your donors: All you have to do is ask! Add a survey to your print and digital communications to help guide your marketing strategies and uncover gift intentions and interest. Read here to see how a local animal rescue organizational had success surveying their donors.
  6. 60% of an effective mailing is dictated by the audience identified: Have you done a recent National Change of Address clean-up? Is the email field in your records up-to-date? Have you created a ‘model’ of what a planned giving donor looks like? Avoid the ‘spray and pray’ approach and make cleaning up your database a priority.
  7. Put your best faces forward: Good, clear images that illustrate your mission or show recent impact of donor gifts go a long way to engage donor interest. If you’re using stock photos, make sure you use images of everyday people—donors relate best to people who look like them.
  8. Never assume: Coordinate your campaigns using print and digital communication channels to reach donors. It’s dangerous to assume that all of your donors have the same preference for how they like to be communicated with. The most successful programs are best served with a multi-channel marketing approach.
  9. Get social: We’ve all heard it: if you aren’t making the most of your social media channels, you are missing gift opportunities from every generation. Don’t make more work for yourself…partner with your communications team to make the most of your social channels. Check out our social media white paper for some helpful information and tips.
  10. Target your messaging: Outside of ‘childlessness,’ age is the next most defining characteristic for identifying and engaging planned giving prospects. Develop messaging that appeals to different age segments to establish and maintain a strong relationship with your brand and improve your chance for a gift. Identify ‘themes’ that apply to those generational cohorts (i.e. 40-54= Hope; 55-69= Control and 70+= Legacy).
  11. Test and test again: It’s not worth doing if you don’t track it! Make it a practice to test your donor marketing materials, whether fine-tuning messaging, comparing the pull of photo options or measuring alternative approaches, regular testing can improve your chances of connecting with different donor segments. See how Brown University recently tested their program and found great success.

What tips do you have for refreshing a planned giving communications program this coming year? Share in the comments below!

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