5 Things Successful Planned Giving Campaigns Have in Common

No doubt some of you read that title and thought ‘oh great, another vendor pontificating on why I need to hire a capital campaign consultant or how I’m ill-prepared for my next campaign’…not quite! In fact, the focus of this blog is not only to confirm ‘best practices’ as it relates to planned giving inclusion in campaigns, but also expand your thinking around how campaigns can enhance your planned giving outreach.

First off, a “campaign”, as it relates to planned giving, can mean different things to different people and organizations. It can also look different, meaning planned giving-specific vs. planned giving integrated into a larger comprehensive campaign.

Typically, we see planned giving play a role in campaigns in three different ways:

1.  As a component of a larger, organizationally-driven capital campaign. Typically, these are larger in dollar size and organizational involvement. They often stretch multiple-years, have a predetermined timeframe for execution (although, hit your goal too early and the board will likely increase the dollar goal) and accept a variety of gifts, like outright cash and bonds, as well as planned gifts. They can run in conjunction with milestone anniversaries or events or promote significant needs like buildings or infrastructure.

Where planned gifts fit in: Historically, planned gifts were either ignored, or even discouraged when a charity embarked on a capital campaign, as it wasn’t ‘current cash’ and fundraisers struggled with how to ‘count’ the gift. Thankfully there has been clarity provided by CGP and CASE, as both have standards around gift counting.

Today’s campaigns are typically more comprehensive in nature and planned gifts are a subset of these broader campaigns, tied to the endowment aspect, as the gifts have a longer maturation time frame until the cash is realized. A nonprofit’s planned giving goal, for example, could typically be 25% to 33% of the campaign total.

2. As an endowment campaign. This is a fundraising campaign that raises money for an organization to invest rather than spend now. Most endowment campaigns are tied very closely to planned giving given the long-term nature of both. Multi-year as well, these campaigns aren’t always solely focused on just planned gifts; they’ll accept cash and pledges too. Again, the focus is on donors creating a legacy and securing the future—future scholarships, research opportunities and service growth.

3. As a targeted marketing campaign. These campaigns are smaller, focused sprints with specific goals (i.e., a predetermined number of gift intentions to uncover). They can be tightly connected with a time frame, or window of opportunity in which a compelling organizational event, anniversary or retirement urges donors to give.

Using targeted campaigns for planned giving outreach is important given that planned giving marketing is a delicate balance of providing education (i.e., air cover, planting seeds about giving outside of the checkbook and sharing stories of impact or legacy) and converting interested prospects to qualified leads for cultivation. The latter is where we can use campaigns to motivate donors to take action.

As planned giving decisions tend to be made in private and on a donor’s time table (not ours), focusing planned giving campaigns around SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound) can provide a sense of urgency to donors. This has worked well with Stelter clients in generating more responses or hand-raisers committing to a planned gift.

Targeted campaigns are tied to milestones, either organizationally or for those who’ve received services or benefited from your group. They include:

  • Honor or tribute—a retiring teacher or president, or the birthday of a revered person at your organization. See how the San Francisco Symphony did this.
  • Anniversary—a decade of service, a 100-year anniversary
  • Reunion—50th class reunion, reunion of cardiac care patients at a hospital
  • Legacy challenge—organization or donor pledges a certain amount of money for a certain time period, giving outright cash to nonprofit for every secured planned gift
  • “Tough nut” internal campaign—unique, focused campaigns on hard-to-engage prospects; for example, a survey to real estate prospects that the fundraising team has been unable to meet with.

So, what do successful targeted planned giving campaigns have in common?

They started with a SMART goal.

1. Set a Specific Goal. Targeted campaigns work so well because they are focused on one specific ask. This takes away the clutter that can paralyze a decision and allows us to share one idea. For example, perhaps it’s as simple as identifying a set number of new planned giving society members in the next 12 months.

2. Have a Clear Understanding Of How Success Will Be Measured. Peter Drucker was one of the first people in business that I followed, and he has many great quotes around business, but his “What Gets Measured, Gets Improved” quote is one I often recite. When building your campaign, ensure all of your stakeholders understand how success will be measured.

3. Be Realistic on What You Can Achieve. It’s critical that you set a realistic goal for achievement. For example, if it’s your 50-year anniversary and you want to identify ‘50 Planned Gifts for 50 Years’ in the next year, make sure that’s achievable. If you’ve only identified 5 gifts in the previous 50 years, that’s likely unrealistic. However, if you’re currently averaging 40 new intentions a year, 50 seems attainable.

4. Make Sure It’s Relevant to Your Audience. Targeted campaigns only work if they’re relevant to your audience. The San Francisco Symphony “70 @ 70” campaign made sense because Michael Tilson Thomas was a revered staple of that community. Using the same campaign for the 70th birthday of a CEO that’s only been with your organization for 2 years likely isn’t nearly as relevant.

5. Agree Upon a Timeframe for Execution. I’m a firm believer that one of the biggest reasons targeted planned giving campaigns are successful is because they’re time-bound. It’s no surprise that planned giving decisions are largely driven by a donor’s timeline and not ours. Thus, creating a sense of urgency to act by putting a deadline on a campaign can be a way to get some of those donors that have been sitting on the fence to take action.

Share Your Thoughts

Any pieces of success we’ve left out? How have you found success in launching a planned giving campaign, either as a targeted campaign or within a larger organizational drive?

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