Bob Stone, an early guru of direct marketing and author of Successful Direct Marketing Methods (now in its 8th edition), showed us how targeting the right audience can be counterintuitive.
“If you want to sell a Bible,” he wrote, “target someone who just bought one.”
What? Shouldn’t we target someone who doesn’t own a Bible? Or whose Bible is old and tattered?
Not necessarily. Stone understood that the propensity to buy—or to give—is not always what you assume it to be. The answers lie in your data.
So, what data points do you examine to uncover the propensity to give, particularly when it comes to planned giving? Here are the top 9.
1. A donor’s loyalty or affinity to your organization
Look at the number of years a person has donated or volunteered their time. We suggest starting with those who have done so for five years or more.
2. The number of gifts given over a donor’s lifetime
For most nonprofits, start with those who have given 15 or more gifts over their lifetime. For higher education organizations we recommend lowering that to five or more lifetime gifts.
3. When the most recent gift was given
Identify those constituents whose last gift was within the past three to five years.
The first three data points are core elements in determining a donor’s readiness for planned giving. The next three come from Russell James, J.D., Ph.D., CFP®, Professor of Charitable Financial Planning at Texas Tech University. Dr. James reviewed data from the Health and Retirement Study, a longitudinal study that surveyed more than 20,000 Americans over age 50 every two years for over 20 years. He examined the behavior of the participants when it came to charitable estate planning for his paper, American Charitable Bequest Demographics, and has the following advice:
4. Look for constituents who are older.
Dr. James found that most charitable bequest donors are aged 75 and older. In 1990, they made up 83% of this type of donor. Those under age 65 made up only 5% of this population. And those aged 80 and older contributed 77% of all charitable dollars in 1995.
5. Look for constituents who are wealthier.
Looking at the population of people who had a will in place, Dr. James found that wealthier individuals were more likely to have a will than those with a lower socio-economic status. He also found that those with a will with a charitable component had a higher socio-economic status than those with a will without a charitable gift.
6. Look for constituents who are childless.
In the study, even though under 10% of respondents were childless, they accounted for almost 52% of all charitable dollars. Dr. James also found that seniors who are childless are FIVE times more likely to include a gift in their will than their peers with grandchildren.
Finally, Giving USA’s Leaving a Legacy report, which surveys planned givers and prospects from a broad range of U.S. organizations, consistently finds that those already affiliated with a nonprofit – those who already have firsthand knowledge of its mission – often make the largest bequests. The study tells us to consider:
7. Events attended
As described in the report, “almost 80% of donors said they attend events hosted by the nonprofit.”
8. Hours volunteered
Get sophisticated in how you evaluate volunteers. Look at how long they’ve been volunteering, as mentioned above, and the number of hours they’ve volunteered. You may be cautious about approaching volunteers. They already do so much. But sharing information about planned giving may encourage volunteers to consider options they were unaware of.
9. Alumni, board members and staff
The Leaving a Legacy report tells us that planned giving donors are often very close to the organizations they support and might even be ‘frequent faces’ in the organization’s activities. So don’t overlook these key constituents: alumni, board members and staff.
Your main takeaway: your database manager needs to be your new best friend. Help them to understand your goals around planned giving. A good first step might be to ask them to help you develop an audience profile of constituents who have already made a legacy gift. What data points do they share? Then explore the rest of your database for others who match that profile. This step can provide a framework for identifying your prospects. Then test and track results from your different data segments and adjust accordingly.
Your planned giving audience is there waiting for you to find them. Let your data lead the way.