By Amy Gregg, Senior Associate at Langley Innovations
Is this the best we can do? I ask myself this as I review data sets submitted by higher education clients. As I scan lists of promising prospects, looking for how often and how recently they have been contacted, I see way too many planned giving donors who have not been personally visited to be thanked since making their commitments. Nor are these important donors being asked for advice or being offered opportunities to be more involved in the life of the institution. Many of these donors’ commitments are revocable so I wonder why institutions are taking them for granted. And, even when the commitments are irrevocable, I wonder why the institution doesn’t have an engagement plan for each one because:
- It’s the right thing to do.
- A engaged planned giving might give even more than they have already given
- Positive word-of-mouth generated by satisfied donors greatly enhances an institutions ability to generate more gifts
If the rationale for engaging planned giving donors is so strong, the only question is, how to best go about it. Let’s begin by reflecting on what engagement really means. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says to “engage” is to:
- to hold the attention of: engross
- to provide occupation for: involve
- and to induce to participate
Use these three descriptions to develop specific strategies for your planned giving donors.
1. Hold the attention of: engross. Engagement is not about entertaining or speaking at them, but instead about connecting and listening. When was the last time you asked them what they most like or admire about your institution? What do they hope will never change or what they would like to change as soon as possible? Do you know what their priorities or most deeply held values are? Do you know what they want to know more about? Are they interested in quantitative or qualitative analysis? Do you know what might cause them to revoke their planned gift? Exploring these issues through a thoughtful, considerate and well-constructed interview will make them feel valued and respected. This approach demonstrates reciprocity, a powerful element in a philanthropic compact. No one wants to be in a one-sided relationship where they only receive information about your organization, but never are asked about their own passions or concerns. Once we know a donor’s passions, we can design effective, personalized stewardship strategies. We can, for instance, contact them when we see an article that might be of interest to them that has nothing to do with our institution? And, because these donors are seeking to extend the impact of the institution, beyond their lives, we should share stories and facts about the impact your institution has had, and will have on the community and/or society?
2. Provide occupation for: involve. Are you taking the time to ask your constituents for their advice? Are you asking them for their assistance in how to assess the most pressing problems of the institution? Is there a particular area where their knowledge would be beneficial to your organization? Working with the donor on a plan and way that they would like to be involved shows them it is more about their financial gift, but also about their skillset and knowledge.
3. Arrange to induce to participate. This is very dear to my heart because finding ways to truly involve volunteers in the life of the institution and to apply skills that we might not otherwise be able to afford is invaluable to both the non-profit and the volunteer. The institution can advance its mission in a highly cost-effective way and the volunteers are left feeling that they have made the highest and best use of their expertise and experience. Yet, this requires us to seek out the skillsets of these donors and figure out the best way to apply them. It is not shameful for an organization to be transparent and acknowledge that it does not have all the answers and to allow these donors to be of true service.
Remember a planned gift by a donor it is a well-thought out special commitment that they are awarding the institution. Don’t ignore these constituents, but instead engage them in your organizational work. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it will help to change revocable gifts into irrevocable and irrevocable gifts into even greater donor support.Amy Gregg Senior Associate Langley Innovations