The 1 Mistake (You Can Avoid) That Can Kill a Planned Gift Prospect

Recently, I read a Q&A with Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, in Delta’s Sky magazine. (Work travels.) Something he said stuck with me.

When asked how he keeps his company culture alive, Glenn said:

“The fundamental trait of this company is humility. Part of who we are is just an acknowledgement that every company is … a collection of dingbats. A group of flawed human beings … who are trying to figure something out. It goes forward and then back, but hopefully more often forward than back.”

Dingbats? Eh, I like to think we’re smarter than that. Flawed? Absolutely.

Glenn’s words—his concept of company culture—made him instantly likeable. Relatable, compassionate, a humble yet charismatic leader, someone you’d like to do business with because he’s not arrogant and stands for more than profit. He also stands for people.

What does this have to do with our profession and nurturing planned giving prospects? Everything.

It reminds us to get back to the essence of our “business,” of the need to work together, as one flawed human being to another, connecting and nurturing and helping others bring to fruition a charitable dream they’ve long had.

What we do is more than planned giving. It’s planning a personal legacy, in fact, at last week’s CGP National Conference in New Orleans, opening night keynote speaker, Alex Banayan, put it best – We are the conduits of the dreams and accomplishments of one generation being passed on to another generation – I couldn’t have said it any better.

Which brings me to this point: How do we, in all our flawed state of humanness as planned giving “professionals,” sometimes dampen prospect relationships?

Essentially, what’s the 1 thing we do that sometimes ruins a planned gift?

Rushing it. It’s not about us, it’s about our donors.

Not giving them what they need in terms of patience, space to digest and think—sometimes years to digest and think—and time to get to know you and the organization itself.

In time, as you build donor relationships—over coffee, at donor events, meeting family—you evolve into the face of the organization. You’re also the gatekeeper, exposing them by way of personal invitations and other outreach to your nonprofit’s special activities, dinners, meets and greets and more.

As the face, we must have heart.

Stelter research shows that donors’ number-one reason for making a planned gift is affinity to the cause. Specifically, a whopping 83% of current planned givers and prospects said their natural affinity to a nonprofit was part of their decision to put a planned gift in place.

Along the way, if these prospects catch a whiff of insincerity or feel like they’re wanted only for their money (or to meet your internal annual goal), they could, for good reason, retreat. If your efforts aren’t from the heart, or a genuine desire to work in the best interests of both donor and nonprofit, it’s much easier for prospects to see through your efforts.

Staying sincere after the gift.

Once donors make the decision to give, most (53%*) act quickly with less than a year passing between decision and gift finalization. As donors and invested parties work to put the pieces in place, interact and invest in their families too.

Consider finding non-obtrusive ways to bring family into the fold. A Family Day for donors and families, perhaps, with a picnic on the grounds, games, music and facility tours interspersed with live testimonials might be the conduit to larger awareness and kinship. Or regularly organize smaller tours and a luncheon for donors and their families. Reach out and let them know you’re offering this special event only to a small group of families—a select opportunity to see firsthand the impact of their gift.

Staying connected after the gift.

Your relationship with donors doesn’t end with the gift, a year, five or a decade out after it was made. Although a planned gift is often viewed as a donor’s culminating gift, it’s not over; relationship building must continue.

Why? Friends, family, work, church, softball leagues or even walking the dog—we all talk about life’s big plans while living in the small everyday spaces. Affinity for your nonprofit may come into play during these informal conversations, and we all know that goodwill—and good words—from donors and other invested supporters carry significant weight.

Continue sending special invitations to events and follow up with a personal call. Meet for lunch to provide details about upcoming renovations or expansions or other success stories. Consider a meet and greet between donors and recipients who have been positively impacted by donors’ generosity.

Social in everyday connections.

Like a drop-in visit or quick phone call, social media provides a quick connection with donors. It also drops your name, building brand recognition, in front of prospects.

“Here we are. Here’s what we’re up to.”

Simple tips to authentically connect with people on Facebook:

  • Use informal but respectful language—post like you’re talking personally to a group of people. Stay away from industry jargon.
  • Use first names, if applicable, when talking about people or sharing stories.
  • Show your behind the scenes—what your staff does to keep the mission moving, like hauling boxes to set up for an event or collaborating in front of the computer to update a database. Create a sense of we’re all in this together and working hard every day.

Want more tips? Take a look at our “5 Tips to Maximize Your Facebook Outreach.”

All in all, I go back to Glenn’s words. We’re dingbats only in the silliest sense. Flawed, yes. But if there’s one truth I know it is this: As planned giving professionals, we care deeply about connection, and strive to authentically invest our time and talents into the mission and the donors who make that work possible. It’s who we are. And naturally what we do.

Tell us how you connect with donors in ways that feel true to you and the organization. Be honest, has there been a time when you felt like you were rushing a gift? How did you slow it down to better accommodate a donor’s needs?

*2012 Stelter Donor Insight Report, “What Makes Them Give”

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