Woman raising hand while man thinks

Hand Raisers Versus Secret Keepers: Why You Need Both

Last week I had the pleasure of gathering with 500+ of our clients and friends during our most recent webinar “Earn Their Hearts and Their Support: A Donor-Centric Approach to Legacy Marketing.”  Our webinars are one of the highlights of my month because I get to (if not see the faces) spend an hour with passionate professionals in our industry.

Hearing where your head is at and what questions you have about our topic is really insightful. 

The top question we received last week was around conversion vs educational marketing, “I really liked the concept of 50/50 for education and conversion marketing. I need a pipeline and immediate ROI; this helps me focus on both.” So I thought I’d dig into this a bit more. If you didn’t attend (don’t worry, the recording and slides are available!), here’s what you missed:

Stelter’s 2008 national research study* showed that 34% (1/3rd) of legacy donors would communicate their intentions with the nonprofit and 66% (2/3rds) wouldn’t. This sample set was adults age 40 and over (not screened for current planned gifts).

More recently, Giving USA’s Special Report: Leaving a Legacy, Fall 2019 found that 52.4% of donors reported always telling organizations about their planned gifts, 38.7% sometimes informed the organizations and 8.9% said they never informed the organization. This group was made up of existing planned giving donors so the percentages likely skew high.

The takeaway overall?

You need a marketing strategy that’s part education and part conversion. The research suggests that some legacy giving donors (the hand raisers) will notify a nonprofit of their plans during their lifetime; while many (the secret keepers) will keep their decisions private. 

The hand raisers will excitedly follow up on your conversion efforts by calling you. The secret keepers won’t.

Engage the Hand Raisers, Educate the Secret Keepers

A few years ago, I was struck by two wildly different meetings. They demonstrate the difference between quick rewards and long-term engagement.

Meeting #1: A professional who was new to the planned giving field and was laser-focused on conversions, ratios, measurement and multiple ways of tracking results. He judged success by lead generation.

Meeting #2: A 16-year planned giving professional stressed ongoing stewardship and education targeted at “silent” prospects who wouldn’t let him know of their intention. He also nurtured warm leads but it wasn’t his sole focus.

It was the perfect demonstration of the planned giving intent principle and its importance: Some donors will communicate their plans and some won’t.

How to Market to Both

It is so easy to get sucked down the conversion-only path with never-ending pressure from boards and powers-that-be for ROI today. However, a conversion-only strategy will only get you short-term results and not build the critical pipeline that is imperative to long-term success.

You need two building blocks:

  1. Educational (“air cover”) marketing
  2. Conversion (“lead generation”) marketing

Educational marketing is directed to the secret keepers. With them, you’re offering a constant flow of ideas on how they can help themselves, their family and your organization through an estate gift. You’re consistently creating awareness, sharing stories of impact and engaging. This group should feel motivated by your nonprofit’s ability to solve the problems they care about.

Conversion marketing is directed to the smaller, critical group that may be inclined to share their intentions. With them, you’re providing timely and relevant offers to give these hand raisers a compelling reason to tell you about their plans.

The Payoff

Eventually, the gifts come from both efforts. Outreach eventually pays off, even if intent cannot be measured and documented immediately.

You’re building your pipeline with education and having meaningful conversations with conversion. Ultimately, you’re helping the most donors tie their legacy to your organization’s.

I’d love to know: What’s your education versus conversion marketing mix today? Did this information make you think differently?

*2008 Stelter Donor Insight Report, Discovering the Secret Giver

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