Posted November 1st, 2007

What’s Their Motivation?

Much has been written about how you may better serve donors’ needs throughout the gift planning process by determining the age and wealth level of constituents. With accurate age and wealth data at their disposal, fundraising professionals may be more successful at prescribing the right plan for the right individual at the right time in his or her life.

Another equally important aspect of successful gift planning, however, is determining the goals and motivations of donors and potential donors. While every constituency is different, as is each and every donor, most organizations and institutions have multiple groups of donors whose reasons for making charitable gifts must be examined in order that appropriate gift planning vehicles may be explored. By finding out what is on donors’ minds, what they hope to accomplish, and why they want to give, you will be in a better position to help them maximize their giving.

Tailoring to fit life circumstances

Whether meeting with donors one-on-one or planning a broader planned giving communication, a one-solicitation-fits-all approach isn’t likely to be effective. We must consider the donor’s perspective when it comes to making a charitable gift. For example, one donor may wish to provide for family in the future, while another donor may have no heirs. One donor may be married and still in the workforce, while another may be a retired widow. Understanding and addressing each donor’s differing needs and goals is critical if you want to help them make the best gift for their circumstances.

For example, let’s examine the common concerns of two groups of potential donors: mid-life, working couples and single donors with no children.

Mid-life, working couples

Middle-aged couples still in the workforce may be receiving the largest paychecks of their lives. However, they may also be facing a myriad of financial obligations. They may be worried about upcoming college expenses for their high school age children. Perhaps they are responsible for taking care of aging parents. They may also be starting to worry about outliving their own financial resources.

When you stop and consider the typical mid-life couples’ concerns, it is easy to imagine that, even if they would like to make gifts to your organization and “on paper” have the means to do so, they may naturally be reluctant to part with large amounts of cash or other assets to make major current gifts.

Giving ideas to consider

Here are some options to think about when working with these couples.

  •  A term-of-years charitable remainder trust designed to unlock generous payments from appreciated, low-yielding assets to them for the period of time they anticipate needing funds for educational expenses or other more temporary needs. This approach can provide donors with immediate capital gains and income tax savings, while funding a significant gift in the near term.
  • The charitable gift annuity could be another attractive giving option. Funding a gift annuity for an aging parent would provide the parent fixed payments for his or her lifetime, as well as a tax deduction for the couple when the gift annuity is funded. Or, if the couple has adequate income now but is worried about their future income during retirement, a deferred gift annuity making larger payments to them in future years may offer a solution.

Singles with no children

Whether never married, divorced, or widowed, single donors without children may be especially concerned about how their assets are eventually distributed. While they may want to provide bequests for nieces and nephews and other relatives and friends, these donors may be more keenly aware of their need to plan their estates.

While many parents consider their children to be their legacy to the future, singles without children may be asking themselves what legacy they will leave behind, and/or what impact they can make on the world before they pass on.

Many widows and widowers would also like to pay tribute to their late spouse in some significant way.

Giving ideas to consider

When assisting singles with no children, you may want to explore the following plans.

  • A bequest by will may be a fitting choice for those with no or few heirs, who also wish to make a difference through a worthy organization or institution.
  • Giving through other arrangements these donors already have in place, such as retirement plans and life insurance, may also be an appropriate option when no children or spouses are available to receive such assets.
  • Funding a tribute gift—whether in their own name or that of a deceased spouse—may be especially appealing to this group. The idea of having one’s name and influence live on in perpetuity is something of value that charitable organizations and institutions can offer these donors. In the same vein, honoring a beloved spouse by funding a program—or building or other capital need—in their name at an organization they cared deeply about allows these donors to make sure their loved ones are remembered and their values perpetuated.

Listen and learn

As a fundraising professional, it is important to listen to your donors and learn as much as possible about their giving motivations and concerns. Only then can you determine if and how a gift planning vehicle can best help them fulfill their goals. When you keep the donor’s best interests at the forefront, you can be their best advocate as they make what may be their ultimate gift of a lifetime.

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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