Posted May 1st, 1997

A Word About Planned Giving Seminars

We are often asked about the mechanics and advisability of conducting planned giving seminars for donors, professional advisors, and staff and board members. Many reasons exist for holding such seminars:

  • To inform prospects and current donors about the variety of gift plans
  • To let professional advisors know you accept various kinds of gifts
  • To increase an organization’s staff and board educational level about the process and results of a planned giving program.

Seminars for donors

When considering a donor seminar, select the members of your planned giving society, those who have given frequently over a number of years, and if you have it, use your demographic information to segment those who are age 65 and older.

As a courtesy, you will want to include the members of your board, senior staff, and perhaps, some of your older, long-term volunteers. You could further segment this into a “for-women-only” seminar. Women, as statistics substantiate, outlive their male counterparts and make up the majority of older donor lists in many cases.

Seminars for financial advisors

If you are considering a seminar for professional advisors in your community, remember two things:

1. Financial advisors have been trained primarily to preserve their client’s assets — not to encourage making charitable gifts or other distribution of assets.

2. Donors don’t rely on their advisors for advice on giving as much as some like to think.In fact, the National Committee on Planned Giving’s survey indicated that when asked why they made a planned gift, donors listed “the encouragement of legal or financial advisors” as 25% of the time for life income gifts; 18.4% of the time for non-cash gifts; and 6,2% of the time for bequests.

There are exceptions, however, If you have a constituency with a donor profile averaging age 70 and above, in the $170,000 and above income range, who are college-educated, you may want to consider asking a prominent board member to host a seminar with outside experts for the financial/legal advisors of your donors titled, possibly, “Balancing Asset Preservation and Charitable Goals.”

Seminars for staff and board

If a seminar for staff and board members fits into your plans, enlist the aid of a planned giving expert to address both groups. Presentations from outside “experts” who may actually know little more than you about planned giving are, for some reason, better received than those made by internal staff experts.

The main reason for holding seminars for staff is to help them understand the variety of gifts that can be made to your organization. The seminar affords you an opportunity to remind them that they are vital keys to helping the development office find, cultivate, and steward planned giving prospects and donors. Board members attending seminars are reminded of the long- and short-term benefits of encouraging planned giving that will likely solidify their personal support of your endeavors.

What are some techniques that will help assure you host a successful seminar?

1. Target your audience properly.

2. Create the right topic for the audience. For women, it might be understanding their role as the primary distributors of family assets.

3. Select the right site. If you have a beautiful campus, such as a university or an art museum, or have an interesting program to showcase, consider having the seminar at your institution. If your facilities don’t fit into any of those categories, consider a country club or private corporate dining room.

4. Choose the right time of day. Many older people are reluctant to travel at night. A seminar held at lunch time or mid-afternoon generally is better attended by older persons. Financial or legal experts tend to prefer early morning breakfast presentations.

5. Always serve food. Offer a light luncheon, afternoon tea, or desserts to help break the ice and establish a comfortable atmosphere.

6. Decide how invitations will be extended. While a personal letter over the signature of a recognition society member may work best for some, others may find formal printed invitations elicit more positive responses.

7. Follow up. Select up to 50 people on your list to personally call to encourage attendance. Immediately following the seminar, send a thank you note to attendees that includes any information promised.

8. Bring the right materials to your seminar. Provide information about your institution, your donor recognition society, and ways gifts can be made. If available, you will want to distribute an outline of the speaker’s presentation.

9. Plan the agenda. Ask a senior staff member or chairman of your board to welcome participants. Invite them to enjoy the refreshments before the program begins.

Introduce your expert speaker who then makes a 20 to 40-minute presentation. Following the presentation, arrange for the chair of your recognition society (or another prominent person known to donors) to conduct a question and answer period. Thank all the attendees and presenters for their time and contributions.

How many attendees? Like any other special event, success in terms of number of attendees depends on how many people were invited.

Generally, an audience that numbers anywhere between 15 and 50 indicates marketing has been effective.

Not every participant will eventually make a planned gift to your organization. Some attend out of simple curiosity, while others are more comfortable in a group setting and require more time before making final decisions about future gifts. By holding seminars once or twice a year, you’ll uncover new prospects, be able to thank current donors, and enhance the perception of your organization as “service oriented.”

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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