Posted March 1st, 1998

Revamped Newsletter, Mailing List Improve Response

After two and a half years as national vice president, development division for the American Diabetes Association (ADA), Vaneeda Bennett is pleased with the results from their revamped planned and major gift development effort. When Ms. Bennett came to ADA, she initiated the plan to merge the planned giving functions of the national office with the major gift development efforts of ADA’s research foundation. “We decided to invest our financial resources in planned gift marketing out of the national office and in several staff persons in the field to secure major gifts,” Ms. Bennett said. “In other words, we centralized planned giving and decentralized major gift solicitation.”

Getting more out of the donor file

Working with Sharpe consultants, one of the first orders of business was to update the ADA mailing list by adding the ages of donors to the file. “When we did the age overlay, we found that our database was comprised to a large extent of older individuals, with an average age of 75,” Ms. Bennett told us. “Once we had that information, we realized the urgent need to better target our planned giving marketing efforts in ways designed to reach these people more effectively.”

Prior to finalizing a marketing strategy, Ms. Bennett commissioned a study of their past planned gift activity. It was determined that out of the 313 representative estates, the average bequest gift was $41,280. She also discovered that the average length of time between the final drafting of the will and the time of death was four and a half years. According to Ms. Bennett, “This study helped us realize that, because of our older donor base, we had a great window of opportunity that we needed to take advantage of, so we decided we must greatly expand our marketing efforts targeted at bequests, annuities, and other gift planning opportunities that appeal primarily to older persons.” With budget approval and strong support from CEO John Graham, ADA increased the segment of its donor base receiving planned giving information materials. The list increased from 50,000 persons who were selected in the past primarily on gift level to 150,000 long-term older donors selected based primarily on age and longevity of gift history.

Reader-friendly newsletter design

In light of the revised selection criteria, Ms. Bennett also directed a review of the format and design of ADA’s quarterly newsletter. As the new prospect pool consisted of older individuals, Ms. Bennett felt that the old newsletter design looked “too corporate.” She told us, “We wanted to make the print larger and easier to read, the colors softer and more inviting, use more photos, and incorporate donor testimonials on the front page.”

With the help of the Sharpe creative services team, Ms. Bennett updated the newsletter through the use of attractive pastel colors, easy-to-read type and layout, and non-technical writing that was understandable by older lay people. The front page of the first updated newsletter issue also contained a touching story of a particular donor’s gift along with the donor’s photograph.

Response from donors

The redesigned newsletter was then sent to the 150,000 donors who met the new selection criteria. How was the response? “We know our donors are reading this because our response rate on the first newsletter mailing was up by 300%, resulting in a significant increase in expectancies. In fact, the number of gift annuities doubled,” Ms. Bennett stated. “Gifts other than bequests have already been produced as well. This first mailing helped us discover a woman who wanted to set up a trust to benefit ADA. She has diabetes herself. After several phone conversations between this donor and national staff members, we arranged to visit with her and her legal counsel and help facilitate the process of setting up a $500,000 trust to support diabetes research.”

Other marketing efforts

In addition to updating ADA’s newsletter and mailing list, Ms. Bennett decided to incorporate planned giving marketing efforts into their national magazine, Diabetes Forecast, in the form of small bound-in response cards. Each card offers a different estate and gift planning informational booklet free to interested readers. The magazine’s readers have responded enthusiastically. “The very first card I included in the magazine offered a booklet on wills and bequests and we received an encouraging response,” Ms. Bennett replied. “Similar cards that offer information on wills and bequests have continued to generate that kind of response.”

Future plans

Now that the changes have been implemented and the planned giving program is realizing the benefits of those changes, Ms. Bennett says ADA will continue its marketing efforts full force. They may test planned gift marketing efforts to selected groups outside the 150,000 “core” group they have selected. In any event, they have no plans to reduce the primary target group, as they have determined that the responses are coming from a broad cross section of that group.

ADA also plans to increase the awareness level about planned gifts to those working the field. “Eventually we would like the field offices to include articles on planned giving and the program that we have available in their local newsletters,” Ms. Bennett told us. “We are also asking them to refer all of their prospects to this office so that we can maintain the integrity of the program and make sure that we are addressing all of our donors’ needs sufficiently.” Ms. Bennett recruited Ms. Dottie Coakley, an experienced gift planner, to head up the national planned gift support center at ADA headquarters. According to Ms. Bennett, “The key to our success has been the follow-through and management of the prospect pool by Dottie and Karen Brown, manager of personal giving.”

Ms. Bennett was quick to point out that ADA’s accomplishments regarding planned giving have also resulted from consistent support from the top leaders of the organization. “John Graham, our CEO, and our key volunteer leadership had the vision and commitment to make this program successful. The leadership of this organization is 150% behind the planned giving program and has committed the financial and other resources we need,” she said.

Ms. Bennett is pleased to say that the restructured planned giving program has met and surpassed its goals in recent years. “In our strategic plan that was written in 1995, the goal was to have in 1998 a total of $2.5 million from 120 agreements,” she said. “Last year alone we had 133 agreements totaling $8 million. And we received $17 million in matured bequest dollars in 1997. We expect with our strong marketing efforts to see over $30 million in bequests in four years.”

“I feel very proud of the program,” Ms. Bennett replied. “I can really say that I feel we have made some good decisions, one of which was getting involved with the Sharpe company.”

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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