Improving Acknowledgement Efforts, Educating Donors in One Step

You have a list of current donors to your institution. You want to thank them appropriately for their gifts and, because their donative intent is clear, you also would like to inform them about other ways of giving, especially planned giving.

How do you achieve both goals at once?

Robert Cummins, director of planned giving at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, faced this question last year. He had a list of those who had made current gifts to the College. He wanted to thank these donors for their gifts in an effective way. And, by virtue of their interest in his institution, Mr. Cummins considered these donors to be excellent prospects for bequests and other planned gifts.

Dual-purpose publication

“When someone made a current gift, we would send out a gift receipt with a form letter,” Mr. Cummins said. “Not a lot of stewardship was involved.”

Mr. Cummins decided to begin providing his donors with “Thanks for Giving,” a special brochure produced by Robert F. Sharpe and Company. The brochure copy thanks donors for their current gifts, then suggests ways they may want to consider making gifts in the future through long-range financial plans.

Their “Thanks for Giving” brochure features a personalized response device that allows donors to request more information from the College and/or inform the institution about whether or not it is included in their estate plans. “In a low-key way, the brochure lets people know how they can contact me for further information,” said Mr. Cummins.

How it is working

Mr. Cummins believes adding the brochure to his acknowledgment program is bolstering a key element of his development work—establishing relationships. “I see my job as one of relationship building,” said Mr. Cummins. “I think that relationship must be based on some level of confidence and integrity—especially for planned gifts. So my being visible and accessible is an integral part of that relationship-building process.”

When a donor contacts him after receiving the brochure, Mr. Cummins responds immediately by phone. “That is the beginning of a new relationship for me,” he said.

Today’s donors, tomorrow’s planned givers

Donors who have made current gifts have expressed an interest in your mission today. They deserve to be thanked appropriately for their gifts. They also deserve to know about alternative ways to make their gifts that they may not have considered before.

As in Mr. Cummins’ case, using a method that allows you to thank and educate your donors simultaneously may help you build a bridge between current and deferred gifts. “Timing becomes critical, because you never know when someone will be ready to make a planned gift,” said Mr. Cummins. “So by acknowledging their annual fund gift of $150 with ‘Thanks for Giving,’ hopefully the brochure will end up on someone’s kitchen table when the timing is right.”

In recent years many development programs have become more sophisticated in their ability to target market planned giving information, having found it impractical and/or cost prohibitive to send planned giving communications to an entire constituency. “Thanks for Giving” helps discover those persons that may fall outside target marketing initiatives in a low-key, cost effective manner.

Mr. Cummins is still using the brochure and has recommended it to other develop-ment professionals as a key aspect of a well-rounded acknowledgment effort. According to Mr. Cummins, in addition to more targeted efforts, providing donors with this type of publication “is a subtle, non-threatening, almost elegant way to acknowledge and educate your donors at the same time.”

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