When Gloria Zarifis, planned giving associate for the Society of the Little Flower, decided to try a new strategy for a gift annuity mailing last year, she had no idea that the simple appeal would result in over $100,000 worth of gift annuities for her organization. What was the idea and how did it work? Give & Take recently talked with Ms. Zarifis to find out more about this successful, simple, cost-effective concept.
New gift planner tries new idea
Ms. Zarifis made the move from real estate appraisal office manager in downtown Chicago to the Society of the Little Flower in 1995. She said her work in the for-profit world had become unsatisfying. “When I started in development at the Society, it was apparent to me that I was on the path to a new career. I was excited to see that people in the nonprofit sector show a genuine interest in each other, and treat them with respect,” Ms. Zarifis explained. “That’s how I treat people and that’s how I like to be treated.” Ms. Zarifis has been learning about development ever since and is now solely responsible for planned giving at the Society. The Society of the Little Flower spreads devotion to St. Therese and is the major fund-raising vehicle of the Carmelites, a religious order within the Roman Catholic Church. The funds are used to educate future Catholic priests and provide resources for missions that are not self-supporting.
While planning their 1997 gift annuity appeal, Ms. Zarifis and Dan Luessenhop, the Society’s treasurer, wanted to concentrate their efforts on reaching current gift annuitants. They decided to send all current annuitants a personalized letter and gift annuity application explaining the benefits of funding an additional gift annuity. For Ms. Zarifis, such a mailing would be easy to carry out even with her staff and time constraints. Plus, such an appeal would reach the best possible gift annuity prospects–those who have already completed gift annuities with the organization.
The makings of the mailing
“With the assistance of Dan Luessenhop and under the signature of Father Bob Colaresi [the Society’s director], I sent a total of 237 letters to current annuitants, thanking them for their previous generous support and informing them of the benefits of establishing another gift annuity prior to year-end,” Ms. Zarifis said. She personalized each cover letter to show the benefits of funding an additional $5,000 one- or two-life annuity based on the specific age(s) of the donor(s). “I also informed them of their enrollment in our major benefactor’s society, A Legacy of Roses, if the total of their annuities equaled $10,000 or more,” she explained. Enclosed with the letter were a gift annuity application and a self-addressed return envelope for the donor’s convenience.
Small investment–big rewards
Ms. Zarifis spent only $75, not including her time, on this targeted gift annuity appeal. What was the outcome? Out of the 237 letters mailed, 13 annuitants funded additional annuities totaling $158,000 within approximately 45 days. Most of the annuities funded were made at the $5,000 and $10,000 levels.
“We believe this is a very cost-effective way to establish additional gift annuities,” Ms. Zarifis stated. “Since the annuitants were already familiar with our program, our mission, and the reliability of their payments, we found this targeted mailing to be a great success.”
Faithful follow-up is key
The Society’s annuitants may have responded so well to this appeal because of the way they have been treated by the Society in the past. Ms. Zarifis takes the job of following up with annuitants very seriously. “Each time an annuitant funds an annuity, I call him or her on the day I receive the application,” she said. “Donors are just astounded because they say a lot of organizations don’t call.”
During their telephone conversations, Ms. Zarifis discusses with donors when they would like to receive their payments and how often. “They like the opportunity to decide when they might need the money the most, for Christmas or after the holidays for example,” she replied. “Then they know they can contact me if they have any questions or concerns.” This consistent, thorough, and thoughtful follow-up is important to Ms. Zarifis and is indicative of the general concern she has for her donors. As a matter of fact, Give & Take saw this concern firsthand the day our interview was originally scheduled. Ms. Zarifis apologetically postponed our interview, explaining that a donor needed to discuss a major gift with her at that particular time. We rescheduled, and the donor received the help he requested.
With Ms. Zarifis, donors come first. She puts it quite simply: “If you forget your donors, or you don’t talk about your mission to them, the possibility exists that they could forget you.” In conclusion, Ms. Zarifis stated that the benefits of this type of mailing can be maximized through developing long-term, personal relationships with your organization’s donors.