By Aviva Shiff Boedecker, Sharpe Group Senior Consultant
A big question on the minds of development officers during this Pandemic Pause is whether to go ahead with scheduled planned giving mailings. Their concerns fall into two categories:
- Would the mailing be in good taste?
- Is it safe; can germs be transmitted on paper?
I will leave the safety question to the scientists.
Those who are wondering whether to proceed with planned giving mailings generally have the following concerns:
- At a time when people are concerned about a serious illness, it may be considered ghoulish to communicate about plans that usually go into effect as a result of someone’s death.
- People are concerned about the steep decline in the stock market and the possibility of recession, and some are experiencing financial difficulties due to loss of income. It would be insensitive to ask for money now.
- It may be better to “get out of the way” of efforts to raise funds for immediate needs and emergency relief funds.
I encourage people to think about how and why we do planned giving marketing, and who we are communicating with. The most effective planned giving marketing is directed at an organization’s most loyal donors and intended to strengthen the organization’s relationship with them. It is about legacy gift in the long term, not persuading donors to make an immediate gift.
In most cases I would encourage planned giving officers to proceed with their scheduled mailings (although some language, such as “the markets are at an all-time high” should of course be modified) for the following reasons:
- A time of anxiety is an opportune time to build a bond with those who are interested in your organization.
- Organizations that have built an endowment or raised long-range funds are now finding themselves in a more secure financial position. A good message to give donors is “this is why our long-range funds are so important,” “we are grateful to those who have made our stability possible” and “we are continuing to encourage long-term giving for this reason.”
- People are at home and are likely to spend more time reviewing their mail. If they are sufficiently interested in your organization to be included in your PG mailing list, they may welcome news about it, as well as information that may be helpful to them.
- People tend to update their estate plans when something in their life changes or when they have specific plans (such as travel) or specific concerns (such as an illness). Some attorneys and advisors have reported that they have been inundated with requests to prepare wills, trusts and other estate planning documents on an emergency basis for clients who are nervous or ill. Organizations that maintain their planned giving mailings may have an advantage of being top-of-mind at this time.
- Some donors may be anxious about the stock market and its potential impact on their financial security. They may find a charitable gift annuity, that offers fixed income, a very attractive option now.
- Donors who find themselves unable to make their usual outright gift may be more receptive than usual to ideas for contributing to an organization that is still important to them, but in a way that will not strain their current financial situation.
- Organizations that are on the front lines of dealing with the situation should be expanding efforts to raise all types of funds now—both for the current crisis (especially Qualified Charitable Distributions from retirement plans) and to be prepared for the future.
While this may feel like an awkward time to be communicating about planned giving, the reality is that your donors are part of your community—and that has not changed.
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