by John Jensen
There’s no doubt COVID-19 has had a major impact on nearly every facet of American life; not least of which has been the short- and long-term health of nonprofits. Some are predicting charitable giving will take a downturn in light of economic uncertainty, and many charitable organizations are searching for fundraising strategies that work in this environment and also are sensitive to ongoing donor concerns.
During this global pandemic, perhaps it’s not a surprise that there has been an increased awareness of estate planning and planned giving. See our recent blog post by Professor Chris Woehrle, “I Am Ready for My Closeup, Mr. DeMille: Planned Giving’s ‘Moment.’” According to recent surveys, some charities are seeing a large increase in bequest commitments, while overall interest in updating estate plans has risen significantly.
For seasoned gift planners, this is unsurprising. Americans, understandably, tend to review estate plans during major life events: marriage, divorce, birth of children, death of loved ones, serious illness, etc. Pandemics, though rare, certainly qualify as major life events.
In light of current events, the question, then, isn’t whether to consider planned giving strategies, but how to increase gift planning activity while maintaining sensitivity in donor communications?
Because of this need for an overall assessment and strategic plan, this may be the perfect time for a planned giving program audit.
What is a planned giving program audit?
A planned giving program audit is a comprehensive review of an organization’s efforts in this area. It identifies strengths and weaknesses and looks closely at constituency marketing resulting in past gifts while benchmarking against national norms and groups with similar types of donors.
A program audit will lay out facts and create realistic expectations for leadership. Armed with solid facts based on an organization’s actual experience, strategic decisions become much easier for everyone.
Gold in your estate files
The starting point of any audit is to look at your donors by relevant factors. Knowing who the donors are—especially your best planned giving prospects—is key.
A vital source of marketing information can be found in past estate files. A thorough assessment will help you find information that works for you. The audit will help you learn:
- If you are asking the right questions and gathering the right data.
- Whether there is a difference between types of bequest gifts.
- Whether estates are being handled systematically and proactively.
There is so much more a planned giving program audit can tell you. Part two of this article, which will appear in the next issue of Give & Take, will explore how an audit can offer guidance on marketing, donor cultivation, communication and more.
In the meantime, now may be the perfect time to take a new look at your planned giving program and determine ways you can unearth the prospects whose support will provide stability to your organization for years to come. Contact us for more information. ■
John Jensen is a Sharpe Group Senior Vice President and Senior Consultant based in Washington DC. He has conducted planned giving program audits for numerous charities across the country.