Posted July 5th, 2016

Three Interesting Things I’ve Learned From Writing Donor Stories

ThinkstockPhotos-452377765-smby Ashley McHugh

A Sharpe Group writer and editor shares some of what she’s learned over nearly two decades of interviewing donors and writing their stories.

Over the course of my 19-year career as a writer and editor for Sharpe Group, I’ve had the honor and privilege to interview hundreds of planned giving donors and write stories about them for our clients.

Thinking back to some of my interviews, there are a few highlights I want to share, as well as a few “big picture” takeaways from what I’ve learned. In doing so, it may inspire you to find ways to enhance your planned giving marketing and strengthen your relationships with donors.

1. Donors are doing their research.

A donor recently recounted to me how his late wife spent hours researching charities before she visited her attorney to make what ended up being her final will. She visited the charities’ websites and reviewed their financial reports and other information available online to gather information on the charitable entities she intended to include in her estate plans. Although she had a personal connection to the charities, she wanted to make sure they were good stewards of gifts entrusted to them.

Takeaway: The key issue is your credibility to donors, so identifying or citing your charity’s points of trustworthiness and fiscal responsibility in your marketing materials is important. If you do not already do so, consider making your financial statements and other relevant information available on your website.

2. Consistency and timing for your gift planning newsletter is important.

A few years ago I was interviewing a planned giving donor who had funded a gift annuity with our client. As I always do, I asked her if there was something that prompted the timing of her decision. She told me she had received the charity’s newsletter on the subject the year before. Though she didn’t personally know the donor who was featured in the newsletter, their circumstances were very similar. For this donor, the newsletter and its message came at the right time. She was thrilled to find a way to make a gift and, in her case, at the same time enjoy tax and financial benefits.

Takeaway: Keeping planned giving messages out there and your marketing efforts on schedule can be challenging, but as we have seen time and time again, the results speak for themselves.

3. Family members, advisors and friends can be a wonderful resource for a donor story.

As anyone with experience working in the gift planning field knows, for every planned gift you know about, there are many more you don’t know about. Your first notification of a gift may come from the attorney or executor settling an estate. I’ve done a number of interviews over the years with loved ones and friends (and even a few advisors) of deceased donors. One interviewee was actually a donor’s neighbor. I later learned the neighbor had become a donor herself because she was so impressed with the charity and its desire to honor her late friend.

Though family members and others don’t always know the donor’s motivation for the gift, they know the donor. These stories become a wonderful way to pay tribute to your donor, strengthen your relationship with the donor’s loved ones and express your thanks.

Takeaway: Maintaining a relationship with your donor’s circle of family and friends even after the donor is gone can result in a new generation of committed supporters.

As we see time and again with our clients, the key to a planned giving program’s success is creating, building and sustaining long-term relationships and keeping the planned giving message top of mind for donors. I hope one (or all) of these takeaways will be helpful to you as you consider the importance of sharing your donors’ stories both now and in the future.

Sharpe Group’s creative services can include donor interviews and assistance in writing donor stories. For more information, click here. Or contact us at 901.680.5300 or info@SHARPEnet.com.

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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