“I Am Ready for My Closeup, Mr. DeMille”: Planned Giving’s “Moment”

As the country rides out the pandemic while contemplating the meaning of both social unrest and volatile financial markets, many of the nation’s most impactful charities are bracing for reduced philanthropic support. EAB, a higher education and technology consulting firm, surveyed 110 development executives about their predictions for COVID-19’s impact on fundraising. The survey also asked the executives to include their organizations’ responses to it.1 Fortunately, the generosity of prior generations of supporters will provide them a buffer to endure this decline.

However, now with so many individuals under home quarantine, it might be counterintuitively easier to connect with long-time donors and even those newer to an institution. The lockdowns remind us of how social we are.

The Zoom meeting or other videoconferencing platform gives fundraisers a safe medium to connect. While personal one-to-one visits will always be best for forming the deepest connections, virtual meetings have now proven to be another tool.

Of course, the other tried and proven means is through written communications, including newsletters and brochures, which continue to be vital. The June 3rd issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, “Planned Giving Is Having a Moment During the Pandemic” by Eden Stiffman highlights how some organizations have communicated to donors with tact and sensitivity as part of staying connected. And the outreach has been productive. The Southern Poverty Law Center received more than 50 new bequest commitments—a significant increase over a similar period from the prior year.

The Response to the Pandemic

The responses to the EAB survey contained three strategies of particular note:2

1. “Increasing planned giving training anticipating an increase in estate giving interest.”
2. “We have adjusted and increased our communications and virtual engagement opportunities … to ensure that we remain top of mind.“
3. “Emphasizing development communications, consistent messaging and attitude of gratefulness in external communication channels.”

We at Sharpe Group could not agree more and have been advising our clients to follow these strategies for decades!

Using Your Most Valuable Expertise

Since planned giving professionals are often the most experienced “experts” in the search for their institutions’ legacy supporters, the current environment is not the time to hide.

Social distancing has given all the opportunity to reflect deeply about the people and institutions that have meant and continue to mean the most. Though the lethality rates of COVID-19 are unknowable, it has inspired the thoughtful to ponder their legacy. And, for some, philanthropy is an important component of it. They can be part of the next generation of future support that enables their favorite charities to rebuild or build up the margin of error in order to endure.

By Professor Chris Woehrle, Chair & Professor of Tax & Estate Planning Department, College for Financial Planning, Centennial, Colorado
 

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1. The respondents are anticipating a notable decline. Over forty percent of the respondents anticipate a decline of 10% or more; twenty percent a decline of 20% or more. Million-dollar commitments are most at risk for being delayed or unfunded. Read more here.
2. The details of the EAB survey can be found here.

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