Thoughtful planning maximizes the impact of fund development communications.
Does it matter what time of year your communications on bequests and other planned gifts are sent? Should you have a regular schedule of periodic communications or is once in a while enough?
These and other questions related to timing are important and deserve close attention. As bequests are often the largest source of planned gift income, it may be helpful to focus special attention on this gift opportunity. Many of the same principles will apply to other gifts as well.
Reviewing the annual calendar
What time of year is best for communications on bequests and other topics that are closely tied to estate planning? While there is no right or wrong answer to this question, experience teaches that certain times may be better than others, if only through the process of elimination.
January: Many programs tend to avoid the early January time period. While it is a new year, information pertaining to estate planning may not be well received on the heels of holiday celebrations. This is also the time when many persons have just received a great deal of year-end fundraising mail and may need a bit of time to “rest.” Many have discovered, however, that the latter part of the month can be a good time to communicate on the subject of bequests. Depending on geography and climate, people may be spending more time indoors and have extra time to read during this time. Keep in mind, however, that older persons who live in colder climates may be wintering in warmer places.
February through May: The late winter and early spring are very popular times for communications on bequests and other planned gifts. As winter ends and new life appears in the spring, older persons may be more comfortable with estate planning issues. Early spring is also a time that can be especially suited to fundraising efforts built around a theme of giving in memory of family members and other loved ones. Remember, too, that late spring is a popular time for reviewing one’s estate plan prior to summer travel.
June and July: Some programs also try to avoid sending planned gift communications during mid-summer, especially on subjects that appeal to relatively younger people who may be traveling more this time of year and less receptive to gift planning communications. While older donors may not be traveling in the summer, they may have out-of-town visitors, spend more time engaging in outdoor activities and may generally be busier than at other times of the year. Some will take a contrarian view and mail during summer precisely because many others do not. The hope is to get noticed by virtue of less competition in the mailbox.
August: For planned gift communications, early August is similar to June and July. Late August, however, can be a better time. As summer winds down in northern climates and other regions experience the “dog days” of August, communications on various gift planning tools may be well received.
September and October: The early fall can be an excellent time for communications on bequests and other subjects that involve a consideration of mortality. As leaves begin to turn and cooler temperatures return, this time of change can also be a season of anticipation and planning. As the fall is traditionally a time for storing up for the winter, this may be one of the better times to talk about gift annuities, charitable trusts and other plans that involve making preparations for future economic well-being while making charitable gifts.
November and December: Traditionally, these months are among the busiest for fundraising programs. Because there is more focus on current gifts at year-end for many programs, we find that some will prefer not to focus attention on bequests and deferred gifts at this time of the year. An exception might be made for early November just before the heaviest emphasis on year-end gifts. For those programs in which different persons are responsible for current and deferred gift communications, it can be particularly important to coordinate communication efforts at this time of the year. The final two weeks of the year are a good time to send reminders of the importance of completing gifts of securities and other tax-sensitive gifts before the end of the year.
As we can see, an argument can be made that there are pros and cons to planned gift communications at just about any point in the year. If you are charged with planning a periodic program featuring quarterly communications, by process of elimination you might decide that February and May are two of the best months. To round out an annual schedule you might add late August and early November to arrive at a quarterly schedule that would minimize the risk of communicating at the least opportune times.
Does one time fit all?
Why not pick just one time a year to expose the whole constituency and “get it over with”? There are a number of reasons why this might not be wise.
First, there are different types of people within your constituency who need different messages. In the area of bequests, for example, some need to learn more about the importance of making a will in the first place. Those who may be more sophisticated in their planning need to be reminded of the importance of keeping relevant documents up to date. Still others have up-to-date plans but need more motivation to include charitable dispositions they may not have previously considered for any number of reasons. And some need practical guidelines about the basic steps to take in choosing and contacting an attorney and guidelines for starting to make their plans.
Second, all evidence indicates that people make or review estate plans according to their own schedules, based on events in their lives. As births, deaths and changes in marital status occur over time, people will naturally be receptive to estate and gift planning information at different times. Therefore, low-key but consistent messages targeted to a carefully selected group is preferable to a big splash once a year.
Third, with limited staff time, it may be wise to “spread out” communications. This gives maximum time to use available resources to follow up with those who are interested while maintaining relationships with existing donors and fulfilling other important duties.
Importance of continuity
Given a choice, therefore, between exposing an entire constituency of 20,000 persons once per year or reaching a group of 5,000 older, long-term donors quarterly, many experienced professionals will choose the latter course of action. Budgetary considerations are very similar, but regular communications have proven to be very effective over the years for those who are actively involved in gift planning efforts.
As stated at the outset, there is no right or wrong way to approach the subject of timing, but we trust the thoughts shared here will be useful as a starting point in your planning process.
The timing of planned gift communications is one of the topics covered in Sharpe gift planning seminars. Turn to Page 7 for details and upcoming dates.