Endowing the Annual Gift

Planned Giving is often considered highly technical. People who make planned gift often
do (or did) so for the tax benefits. And sometimes that nears creating sophisticated vehicles and creating programs or plans that will meet their donor’s needs.

But many planned gifts are pretty straightforward—a bequest left in a will promising an amount of money, a percent of the estate, what’s left after loved ones get theirs.
Finding purpose for these bequests often gives development officers pause.

Some organizations have gotten around that by asking their donors to help them build a substantial endowment, or to provide ongoing support for a program.

One way I found was to ask my donors to endow their annual gift.

The gift they gave each and every year was so important to the mission of the organization, I thought they would want to ensure that their support continued in perpetuity. So a donor who regularly gave $1,000 a year could endow that for a deferred gift of around $22,500. Thinking about inflation, I would then ask my donor to round up—to $30,000 or more.
You might note that I did say donor as opposed to prospect. That’s because someone who will endow their annual gift must not only be a donor but also be a very committed, regular donor.

It’s a great ask at the beginning of the new year. Develop a list of loyal annual donors and reach out to start the conversation about making their most important gift—the one they provide year after year—and ongoing gift long after they are gone.

It starts, as does most giving, with gratitude. “Clare, thank you for all the support you have given us over the years. Each year we know we can count on you for an annual gift of $2,500 and this means so much to our organization and our clients. I know it also means a lot to you.”

Be quiet now and let your donor talk—and hopefully tell you how much they love the work you do, the impact you have, and the fact that they get to be a part of that.

When your donors say such things it makes a perfect segue into the real purpose of your call or meeting. Or call to set up a meeting!

“That is exactly what I want to talk to you about.”

Now you can either ask to set up a meeting to discuss an idea you have or you can begin to talk about endowing his or her annual gift.

“As I mentioned, the fact that we can count on you every year is really important to our work. And for that reason, we hope that you will consider endowing your gift so it will continue even after you can no longer make a current gift.”

Because I always want donor buy-in, I’m not a big fan of a pitch. That means that I like to be quiet once I make a statement and let my donor add her thoughts, ideas, questions. But you must calibrate when to use silence and when to fill it. There are moments in a cultivation or an ask when silence becomes unnecessarily fraught. This could be such a time.

If your donor doesn’t say anything after a minute or so (and believe me, a minute can seem very long indeed), then continue and get more specific about what you are hoping for.
While your goal is excited about and willing to endow his or her annual gift, you also want to ensure that during their lifetime, they will continue making that important annual gift. By showing them how important what they do is today and tomorrow, you are helping to convince them that there annual support is a very big deal indeed.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and build stronger boards. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation and see how we could help your organization go from mired to inspired.

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On the Brink

Today, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy  a report on a study by GuideStar, Oliver Wyman and SeaChange Capital Partners called “the Financial Health of the United States Nonprofit Sector pointed out that half of US charities are on the financial brink.

Wish I say this was a surprise.  But anyone who works in the sector, particularly as I often do, with small nonprofits, knows that the brink might be an improvement for where many are.

Why is that?

Most people agree that nonprofits serve important roles in our society.  Many are doing truly terrific work.  And yet, there seems to be a disconnect between the value of what these organizations are doing and what people are willing to pay to ensure the work can be done and done well.

I see, with too many of my clients—not all of whom are small—the challenge of doing good with few resources.  And I argue with too many boards that their job is, in large part, to ensure that the organization has the wherewithal to do the work.  And no, that doesn’t mean that you—the board—keeps things very lean.

Fundraising is certainly part of the solution.  But for small nonprofits,  it can only be a very small part.  Too many focus their fundraising efforts—and the efforts of any development staff they may have—on getting grants and running events.

Grants can be an important part of your fundraising program.  But less than 14% of all charitable giving comes from private foundations.  And getting money from them takes time, effort, and a lot of luck.

As with any supporter, you must first identify those who might fund your work; and then you need to get them to know you.  More importantly, however, is the fact that many funders want to prescribe what will be funded.  And then they want you to quantify, evaluate, report on the outcomes of your work.  Of course, they won’t pay for that—it’s just part of the hoops you have to jump through.

As bad as that is, the other issue that most funders won’t give you a grant that is more than 25% of your operating budget.  Indeed, most won’t even give you that much.  Typically, you are looking at grants of $5,000 or less.  While that is not anything to sneeze at, often you cannot effectively do the project and evaluate it for that amount of money.

Events can be even more fraught.  They are great for engaging your board, getting PR, making everyone feel good, but often the amount of work takes too much away from other things that would be more cost effective.

Figuring out what would be most cost effective is critical for success.  But so many nonprofits—teetering on the edge—don’t have the time or often the know-how to do the kind of planning and research that requires.

One thing a board can do is to make staff development a priority.  Insist that development staff get out of the office—to meet with donors, yes, but also with peers, to take trainings, to talk with others who have been where they are.

Another really useful thing can be to pay for coaching.  Just as it is in the sports world, fundraising, outreach, marketing skills can be improved.  And those improvements can—and will—lead to a championship.  Or at the least, a firmer financial footing .

Janet Levine Consulting helps nonprofits to go from mired to inspired–thus no longer being on the brink.  Learn more at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation.  

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Ask if you are going to ask

The other day, an email appeared in my inbox, telling me all about a new hoopla. It told me why I was chosen (good), what it would give me (okay, but I would have preferred an impact or why it matters statement), and that they hoped to “see me there.”
WHERE? What is it they are asking from me?

If I looked and read and reread this email enough, I might be able to intuit what they actually hoped I would do, but, frankly, I’m not about to do that. Mainly I just shrugged and then deleted the email.

If you want me to do something—ask me to do it. Straightforwardly and, preferably, with clear instructions on how to do it. And if it is going to cost money—whether a gift, a registration, a purchase—please, could you not be coy and make me click through several pages to find out how much? Honestly, you are not endearing me to you. And more than probably, I have clicked OUT of your site and you have been banished from my memory.

If you can’t figure out what this has to do with fundraising, you may be in the wrong job. Fundraising is all about asking, not just for money but asking people to get more involved with your organization than they already are.

And, just as I would recommend to the author of the aforementioned email, your asks should be specific and clear.

Janet Levine Consulting works to move nonprofits from mired to inspired.  Learn how at http://janelevineconsulting.com  While at the site, sign up for our free newsletter and do contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.


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Good Days/Bad Days

Most mornings I go to the gym.  I work out with weights, do cardio.  Some days I get lost inmy workout—it’s wonderful.  Somedays it is just hard.  Some days I don’t really want to be there.  But I am because it is important to me for my well-being.

It’s like fundraising.  Somedays it is fun to review your donor portfolio, think of new and interesting ways to connect, write a phone thank you notes or make some thank you calls.  Other days…..not so much.

What makes a good fundraiser is that even on those not so much days, she’s plugging along, doing what is needed to raise funds for the organization.

On my good work out days, I stretch myself.  I lift heavier weights, do more reps, am more intentional in what I am doing.  On the not-so-good days my workout may not be so good.  But I try.  And I find that on those days, what makes it better is to have a clear plan of what I am going to do.  While I do have an overall fitness plan, on good days I can go with the flow—what machines are available, what space is open.  But bad ones?  If I’m going to do work out that matters, I have to be clear—today I am….and work it out before I even walk onto the gym floor.

Ditto with fundraising.  The less I want to do my work, the more intentional I must be.  And I cannot be intentional unless I have clarity about what I need to accomplish, both in the long run and what I have to do now, today, to get there.

At the gym, I know that to meet my goal of staying fit, I have regularly work on upper and lower body as well as keep my core strong.  On a bad day, I think about what I did yesterday, and focus on another part of my body.

In fundraising, I need to consider my longer-term goals and make sure that I regularly doing what needs to be done to get there.  Yes, even on bad days when I may just have to bite that bullet and call (and call and call…) trying to get appointments with prospects for larger gifts.  Or perhaps this is the day when I must qualify my next major donor prospects from the pool I created too many months ago.

It’s tempting on bad days to just not do it, whatever it is.  But when you give into that impulse what happens is that you just feel worse, and then tomorrow doing what you have to do is even harder.

When, in response to a cheery “how are you?” I make a face or admit “not so good,” my gym buddies invariably respond, “well, at least you are here.”  And then they push me to get out on the floor and start working out.

On those not so good fundraising days, just force yourself to take the next needed step.  And then celebrate your successes, starting with the fact that , well, at least you are here.


Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, boards and fundraising professionals, helping them to move from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can inspire you at http://janetlevingconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for our newsletter and do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation.  Bad days won’t be so bad any more!

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More Giving Online. So What?

“Online Giving Up Over Previous Years” the headline read.  As if that means anything.  Thirty years ago, when I started my fundraising career, headlines could have read “Credit Card Giving Up Over Previous Years” and it would have had the same implication.  Not, mind you, that fundraising is up—it is still around 2% of the GDP.  Just that the way people give is changing, mainly because the way organizations are asking donors to give is changing.

Think about it.  A scant three years ago, less than a quarter of my clients had online giving capabilities.  Now, they all do. And yes, it does make giving easier.  But only giving at the lower ends.

Major donors—those who give at the higher end—typically will make them in more traditional way:  Stocks.  Checks.  Bank transfers.  From their own accounts, their donor-advised funds, their family foundations or businesses.

This is not to say that online giving is unimportant.  You should provide your donors with opportunities to give online.  And your landing page—the place they end up to make that gift—is critical.

For years, those who raise annual gifts have obsessed over the annual letter.  I have had development directors tell me that they go through so many edits, so much time is spent on telling the right story.  But truth to tell, the letter is less important than the reply device.  That’s where you can move a donor who has decided to give to give more.

OK, you could argue that it is the letter than pushed the reader to become a donor.  And I would dearly like to believe that.  But I think that is true in only a few cases.  Most of the time, the people who give to mail appeals are those who are committed, and those who have previously decided they would like to be committed.  That’s why even very successful direct mail have effective rates of less than 8%, often far, far less.

Since online giving is growing and is the way most annual gifts will be made, do invest in creating a great experience for your donors.  Tempting as it is, don’t ask for too much information.  I have to really want something to supply my address, , phone number, other phone number, email address, employment, job title.  I’m waiting for someone to ask for the name of my first-born child.  Often when that much is asked me of, I simply click off.  I am not unique.

So make it simple, and easy for me to make a one-time OR a monthly commitment.  Suggest amounts—but make them important.  That means asking me for a bit more than your average annual gift and then options for even more.  If there is a place where I scroll to find my amount, don’t have it default to zero or $1.  I’m repeating myself, but a few years ago, I was going to make decent sized gift in honor of a friend.  I had to scroll from zero and, frankly, by the time I got to 25, I felt like my intended amount was excessive.

Beyond easy giving, d do make sure that you can measure what pushed your donor to the website.  You really do want to know what works, what didn’t.

And then, if raising money really is what you want to do, you want to focus on building relationships with your donors.  Relationships where you learn about them—who they are, what they care about, what they want their philanthropy to impact so you can offer them opportunities to support something that will make a difference for you, for them, and for the clients and/or cause you serve.

Janet Levine Consulting works with nonprofits, moving them from mired to inspired.  Learn how we can help increase your fundraising capacity and help to create more committed board members at www.janetlevineconsulting.com.  While there, sign up for our newsletter and do contact us for a free, 30-minute consultation.

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