Campaining for Planned Gifts | Sharpe Group
Posted August 1st, 2009

Campaining for Planned Gifts

Katrina Bowers is Director of Development at the College of Family and Consumer Services at the University of Georgia. Inspired by the success of the university’s campaign, Ms. Bowers initiated a specialized campaign with an ambitious goal—to obtain 100 new planned gift commitments benefiting her college in just two years. Here she shares with Give & Take how, working with only one part-time assistant, she not only met but exceeded her goal.

Give & Take: What led you to a career in development?

Bowers: After graduating from the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Services, I earned a graduate degree in interior design. Later, while doing design work for a former professor of the college, I learned that the college was looking for a new Director of Development. I was encouraged to apply for the job, and thirteen years later I’m still here.

Fund raising here has unique challenges. The University of Georgia was primarily state funded much longer than most state universities, so private giving to public institutions is a newer concept in our state than in many others. It’s really been only in the last 15 years that we have put a large amount of effort into communicating to our alumni that private giving is essential to a public institution.

As a result, I am only the second development director in the history of our college. My predecessor was hired three years before me and laid the groundwork that I’ve since built upon.

G&T: Tell us about the College of Family and Consumer Services.

Bowers: FACS is one of 16 schools and colleges within the University of Georgia and offers programs ranging from early childhood education to nutrition science to furnishings and interiors. Our students and alumni are predominately female, particularly those who are in the typical planned giving age range.

Our alumni have traditionally given to the college with their time rather than their funds. In speaking with them, I found that many were not comfortable with the idea of giving major outright gifts. That’s when I decided to focus on planned giving. The same women who did not think they could make a cash gift today did not find it threatening to discuss a planned gift. They were happy to learn they could thoughtfully plan for heirs while supporting an institution they love.

G&T: I see your need to come up with ways for your alumni to feel comfortable making a gift that does not impact their lifestyle. Is that what inspired your “100 Legacies in the Making” initiative?

Bowers: It is. About eight years before I started the campaign, I was familiar with a similar effort at another university. That campaign reached its goal of $10 million. I thought if it was possible for that university, it was possible for FACS too.

When the University of Georgia entered into its Archway to Excellence Campaign, our college very quickly surpassed its goal for current gifts and pledges thanks to our very organized and enthusiastic committee. In fact, we almost tripled our college’s goal by the end of the campaign.

That’s when I decided to launch “100 Legacies in the Making.” The basic idea is simple—to acquire 100 new planned gift commitments in two years. All of the necessary components were there to get started. We had some discretionary dollars to work with as a result of the university-wide campaign, we had a very involved committee, and we were able to take advantage of the momentum developed during the larger campaign. We were fortunate that the time was right.

G&T: How did you get started?

Bowers: I recruited a chair who was a member of the larger committee from the university campaign. She and her husband decided to co-chair this effort. They, along with the Dean and I, appointed a committee. We were very specific about the committee’s duties over
the two-year period, including meetings, conference calls, identifying prospective donors, and perhaps engaging in personal contact in some cases. We also asked them to be one of our “100 Legacies” by personally making a planned gift to the college.

I am the only full-time staff person in the development office. But I have a half-time assistant, and she devoted about 10 to12 hours a week to the campaign. Her job was to handle program materials and other support issues, and my job was to work with the donors. I could not have led a successful campaign without the help of this development professional.

G&T: How did you publicize “100 Legacies”?

Bowers: We got the word out through a combination of mailings and announcements at alumni events. When our alumni director held events, I made plans to attend and speak for a few moments about our “100 Legacies” campaign. It was important to communicate to our alumni that making a planned gift doesn’t require a lot of time or money—it’s something anyone can do.

Also, our campaign logo helped to communicate our progress. The words “100 Legacies in the Making” were surrounded by a group of 100 paisleys, which we colored red as news of new commitments arrived. Our donors really seemed to respond to that visual showing the progress of the campaign.

G&T: How did you structure your communications?

Bowers: We sent out four mailings a year over the two-year period. We planned them all out at the beginning so we knew from the start exactly what message we wanted to send out with each mailing. Our goal was to try to feature familiar faces—for instance, not just any faculty member but a popular faculty member who had taught many of the college’s alumni. Each mailing included a reply card to request more information or to ask to be removed from the mailing list.

G&T: How did your alumni respond to the campaign?

Bowers: Traditionally many bequest donors choose to remain private about gifts they have planned for the college, so I was pleased to learn that a number of donors to our “100 Legacies” effort liked receiving recognition—but only if framed appropriately. Too much or too little recognition would be seen as distasteful. One of the most popular—as well as simplest and most inexpensive—forms of recognition that we used were red ribbons that hung from nametags and read, “I’m a 100 FACS Legacy.” Every time we had alumni functions, those ribbons were added to the nametags of those who had contributed to the campaign.

It was eye opening to see that something like a little red ribbon that costs ¼ of a penny could have that much power! But it was important to those donors that they “stand up” with their peers and be seen as leaders in the campaign.

G&T: Did any donors to your campaign wish to remain anonymous?

Bowers: Some did at first, but most changed their minds after I was able to convince them that I needed their name to influence others. In the end, I had only one anonymous donor.

This campaign was very successful in finding those who were interested in being recognized for their future gifts. There are undoubtedly others who chose not to participate in the campaign because they prefer to keep their intentions private.

G&T: Did you reach your goal of 100?

Bowers: We had 106 by the end of the two-year campaign. When I wrote thank-you notes to our donors during the campaign, I included a line like, “You are number 61 in the ‘100 Legacies’ campaign.” People enjoyed knowing which number they were. I did nothing with the numbers other than put them in the letter, but by the end I had people who would have been number 98 postponing their gift so they could be number 100! If I did the campaign again, I probably would play up the numbers a bit more. The number became catchy without my even trying.

G&T: Did your campaign generate any outright gifts?

Bowers: This campaign got people thinking about what they would like to do for the college. There were more than 10 cases in which people made a planned gift and then, when they really thought about the impact of their gift, ended up making it happen in today’s dollars.

G&T: What is your favorite part of your job?

Bowers: The relationships with the donors. They are very meaningful. I found out just this morning that one of our “100 Legacies” has passed away. While I’m glad the legacy campaign prompted her to take action that she otherwise may not have, I’m sad to have lost a friend. But I smile at the fact that she did what we asked everyone to do—to get her estate in order—and that we were one of the philanthropic priorities at the end of her life.

I feel confident that this is the beginning of solidifying the future of a college like ours.

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