Posted April 1st, 2005

Are You ‘Missing’ Your Best Donor?

Over the past decade many services have come on the scene that offer a variety of wealth, age, and other demographic enhancements for donor and prospective donor files. Nonprofit organizations and institutions of all shapes and sizes have found that electronic enhancement of their records helps form the basis for effective planning of marketing and communication efforts or round out information that has been accumulated over the years from other sources.

After acquiring information regarding age, wealth, and other indicators of the capability and inclination to make various types of gifts, selection criteria for mailings, seminar invitations, and other communications can be devised that are tailored to the type of gift involved. The nature of gift annuities would, for example, indicate a different selection criteria than a selection for persons who might be interested in completing a charitable lead trust.

Many types of planned gifts including bequests via will and charitable gift annuities typically come from older, childless persons. Research shows that upwards of 70% of such gifts are made by women. For this reason, gift planners often seek to create selection criteria that help assure that they are including as many older, childless persons as possible in gift planning communications efforts.

Age and gender can be readily determined in the case of many organizations. Where age is not available, it can often be inferred from number of years on fi le, graduation year, and other criteria that may be available. Whether or not a donor has children is a different story. Only if persons have volunteered this information or it has been otherwise obtained through research can one be certain a donor has no children. Some services purport to identify childless persons, but in many cases that information is simply the fact that no children are known to live in the household at that time. While this is a start, it is certainly not definitive.

Don’t “Miss” the point

Fortunately there is one way to discover at least a portion of the older, childless women on your file. It is safe to say that in nearly all cases women who use the salutation “Miss” are childless. Due to sociological changes in recent decades, it is very rare for younger women to use the “Miss” salutation.

In our experience, persons with the salutation “Miss” are many times more likely to include charitable interests in their wills and enter into charitable gift annuities and other planned gifts.

Implications for marketing

For the reasons mentioned above, when selecting groups of persons for marketing initiatives involving bequests, gift annuities, and similar gifts, it is usually a good idea to make sure to add all persons with a “Miss” salutation whether or not there is age information on file. It may be a good idea to have a longevity factor of two years or more as well because sometimes there will be isolated gifts from children who are sometimes addressed as “Miss.” Resist the temptation to eliminate persons with a history of small gifts, as older, childless persons are often very frugal and may remember when $5 bought a week’s supply of groceries or a night in a fine hotel.

When deciding on donor testimonials, cover letters, and other opportunities to use volunteers in communication efforts, remember to periodically feature childless persons and include the “Miss” with the name of the donor in the caption. People who use this salutation are often very concerned with proper etiquette. For this reason it can be a very serious mistake to replace a “Miss” or “Mrs.” salutation with “Ms.” As with so many other elements of fund development, it is critical that one know one’s market when making policies regarding such matters.

Another group to include if possible in many types of gift planning communications are women who use the “Mrs.” salutation whether followed by their name or that of their husband. Experience shows that women who use this type of salutation are often older widows who may soon be making decisions regarding the distribution of the assets accumulated over a lifetime by them and their deceased husband.

Success in planned gift development, as in so many other endeavors, depends in large part on attention to details. Those who fail to pay close attention to salutations when planning marketing initiatives may inadvertently “Miss” out on a large share of the great American wealth transfer!

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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