Posted April 1st, 2011

Four “Back–to–Basics” Tips for Success

Much may be gained by looking to the past as you consider plans for future fundraising efforts. Consider the following as you set priorities for the remainder of this year and beyond.

1. Recognize that non-tax motivations will continue to be prime motivators for making large gifts.

We need to be familiar with federal and state tax law and how it affects the overall giving climate and attractiveness of specific gift methods. But we also need to remember that tax changes come and go while people’s deeper motivations for making gifts remain the same.

From a practical standpoint, nonprofits that base their marketing on universal motivations will not risk having their strategy outdated with each session of Congress. The tax benefits are the icing, not the cake. People will consume cake without icing, but the reverse is a marketing challenge! Focus on the cake and let the ever-changing flavors of icing be an added attraction.

With greater realization of the primacy of donative intent, we will continue to see a shift from heavy emphasis on the tax benefits of plans to an orderly charitable gift planning approach where the emphasis is on how best to structure gifts for the maximum benefit of all concerned. This may be a subtle shift, but one we believe will be vital to continued success.

2. Call on others to supplement the skills of development executives.

While technical specialists will continue to be required in large shops where there are appropriate economies of scale, staff members working with donors considering larger current and deferred gifts will increasingly be focused on human relations/marketing skills rather than the ability to navigate all of the details of complex gift arrangements.

A fundraiser equipped with a basic understanding of various gift planning vehicles can begin the process of addressing donors’ estate and financial priorities in light of the needs of the charitable recipient. After the outlines of a plan are in place, in-house experts as well as the services of increasingly knowledgeable professionals in the fields of law, accounting, investments and other areas will be required.

This division of labor has two advantages. First, the development professional, skilled in communications necessary to help a donor explore his or her charitable wishes, may not be oriented toward technical details.

Second, the donor is usually better served by more than one advisor. Possible conflicts of interest are more likely to be recognized and eliminated when the financial development executive acts as facilitator of the gift planning process, not as the technician who completes documentation of the plan and advises on tax and other financial considerations.

3. Work toward integrating planned and major gift development efforts where appropriate.

Those who are assigned to work closely with major donors will increasingly need to know when to call on a colleague who may know more about a particular gift option. This will be especially true when working with an increasingly older wealthy constituency. In some instances, this interaction may not come easily. Where successful interaction regularly occurs, it begins with a change in perception by management and volunteer leadership of the way the development process works most effectively. Where the perspective of leadership on the process is out of date, change must come quickly if the organization is to fully serve the best interests of its donors in today’s complex environment.

4. Understand that bequests via wills, life insurance and retirement plans will increasingly be promising sources of growth in gift income.

Many planned giving programs will go “back to basics” as charitable bequests and similar testamentary gifts appeal to broad groups of donors who will be updating their wills and other estate plans in light of tax changes enacted in December of last year. Bequest income continues to grow each year for many nonprofits. This important source of income increasingly comes from persons who are making final estate distribution decisions in their late 70s and early 80s before passing away a few years later. Those who are seeking bequests from donors in appropriate ways will continue to see growth in this area. Others may stagnate while waiting decades for results from efforts to encourage gifts from persons in their 50s and 60s with decades-long life expectancies.

Bequest marketing also can open a dialogue with charitably motivated people who may benefit from other giving arrangements discovered through the charitable estate planning process. These efforts can also be an excellent way to help discover the most motivated persons among donors of all ages.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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