Since 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind has trained puppies to become highly qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals with vision loss in the United States and Canada. Guide Dogs provides all services free of charge. Sue Dishart (pictured, left), Planned Giving Officer at Guide Dogs for the Blind, spoke to Give & Take about how she has helped build the planned giving program since her arrival at the organization more than three years ago.
Give & Take: What have you done to grow your planned giving program?
Dishart: When I first started at Guide Dogs for the Blind, there was already a strong legacy program in place. My charge was to expand it, and we decided the best way to do that was by rebuilding our newsletter program. I reached out to Sharpe to help me get started, and together we designed a newsletter that fit within our budget and worked for our donor demographics.
One of the challenges with gift planning is making the case to the board and others that promoting planned gifts now is a smart use of time and funds, even though the benefits of those efforts may not be seen for years. My Sharpe consultant worked with us to develop a fundraising strategy that we could present to the Board of Directors. In particular, she helped us explain the value of planned giving in a world in which people are looking for immediate gratification. After our first year of the new marketing program, the board was so impressed with the connections we made through our marketing materials that they increased our planned giving budget by 30%.
Give & Take: What communications materials do you use besides the newsletter?
Dishart: While we were putting together the newsletter, I sat down with my Sharpe team to determine our overall fundraising approach during these turbulent times. For starters, we decided to promote IRA gifts, using Sharpe’s brochure on the topic. Since that mailing, we have seen a tenfold increase in IRA gifts. The funds we received from the IRA promotion alone basically covered all of our mailings for the entire year! Then, in anticipation of a gift annuity rate change, we prepared a special charitable gift annuities promotion. Our donors are already familiar with charitable gift annuities, so we created a self-mailer with less text than a regular brochure and with great visual impact. As soon as the new rates were announced, we mailed it out and have since gotten a great response.
All of this is in addition to our Legacy Society brochure, which summarizes the benefits of various types of planned gifts and invites people to notify us of their intentions, while reminding them of the value of our work with photos and carefully written text. We sent it to constituents in both the U.S. and Canada. Even though Canada is our close neighbor, their laws are quite different, so we had to revise our brochure to work for Canadian donors. Sharpe Group helped us ensure the Canadian brochures still had the look and feel of our organization but discussed gift planning in ways that we determined fit with Canadian laws and estate planning guidelines.
With multiple marketing pieces, it can be a challenge to create a cohesive look that is consistent with our branding. Our team of consultants, editors and designers did a great job coordinating all of our materials so their look and message work with our overall design and branding.
We finished our first year on budget with every single timeline met. The whole process was really seamless and so successful that it was easy to get the second year renewed and increase our budget.
I have confidence that no matter what we spend with Sharpe as our partner, it’s going to be a smart use of funds. I can rest assured knowing I can draw on Sharpe’s expert knowledge of tax laws and trends in the planned giving industry. Having the comfort of knowing our marketing materials will look great and be technically accurate is really what I count on Sharpe for the most. ■
Click here to read the companion Consultant’s Corner by Aviva Shiff Boedecker.