Planned Giving In A Pandemic

April 16, 2020

Watch the Planned Giving in a Pandemic webinar here!

Many, if not most, of us are still trying to figure out how the world has changed, how donors have changed and how our work will change as the result of COVID-19. My fellow Good Workers and I have been feeling the same way too.

When the pandemic started, my colleagues and I were confident that our clients should continue with their direct mail and digital fundraising programs (albeit with pivots and adjustments). Legacy giving, however, gave us pause to wonder how to move forward. We questioned whether talking to donors about mortality during a life-threatening crisis would be appropriate – and if it was, how do we actually go about it?

It became evident very quickly that the legacy giving question was being answered by donors themselves. Clients, lawyers and financial planners that we knew all began telling us that there was a boom in will-making and will-updating going on. At this point, the question changed from WHETHER to continue planned giving programs to HOW to best communicate legacy giving to our clients’ audiences.

How to Communicate About Gifts in Wills during COVID-19

My business partner Holly Wagg had the brilliant idea of reaching out to a couple of brilliant minds in the allied professions – and to do a joint webinar on the subject of Planned Giving in a Pandemic. So, last week, financial planner Ryan Fraser (from Quiet Legacy – author of Driven by Purpose) and lawyer Brenda McEachern (from RBC Wealth Management Financial Services) joined Holly and me on a webinar that was attended by some 500 people around the world.

That conversation yielded some very useful takeaways that I want to share with you. They’re a really useful roadmap for you if you’re wondering what you should be doing about planned giving in the weeks and months to come. Here are some highlights of our conversation

Will Making Has Increased in Canada

The rush is indeed on. Will-making and will-updating activity has accelerated bigtime. And, our early survey research indicates that a significant amount of activity is happening with audiences that are somewhat younger than our usual suspects aged 60+. Our best take is that people aged 45-60 are having their first serious thoughts about their own mortality and taking action.

Can Donors Make or Update Wills Where You Live

The technology of wills is changing to keep pace. Many lawyers and other allied professionals are using videoconferencing technology to meet with clients and observe distancing protocols. But the requirement for live signatures and live witnesses can be difficult to satisfy.

Some provinces have changed their signing protocols during this state of emergency, while others have more flexible rules generally. It would be smart for you to check to see what your own province or territory has done, or is about to do.

How the Brain of Your Donors Are Being Re-Shaped

In terms of how donors are changing, we had two broad conclusions:

  1. We are thinking about our own mortality – and the mortality of those we love – in a way we’ve never done before. We are asking the existential questions like Why am I here? What matters most in my life? and How do I want to be remembered when I’m gone? Even our language of expressing love has changed. Ryan Fraser noted in our webinar that we now conclude conversations with the words ‘stay safe’ out of our primal concern for the survival of others.
  2. There appears to be a growing desire on the part of many to respond to the crisis – and to be helpful. Many of us are choosing not to simply fear becoming victims, but are rising to the occasion and asking ourselves How can I best help others stay safe from this threat? People are looking for avenues of usefulness – and that provides you with a wonderful opportunity to provide one.

Reflective Versus Reactive Will Making

Brenda McEachern had an insightful observation that will underlie planned giving in the months to come. She divided the planned giving marketplace into two segments – REFLECTIVE and REACTIVE testators.

We typically think of planned giving as being a thoughtful process of reflection and proactive planning for an oft-distant future. This would be the path of the REFLECTIVE will-maker and legacy donor.

We all agreed that in today’s environment, almost everyone is in REACTIVE mode. People are feeling a sudden urgency to get their affairs in order in case of an untimely end. We all think that the professional’s (be it lawyer, financial planner or fundraiser) conversation with the donor needs to be different depending on whether that donor is in a REFLECTIVE or REACTIVE mindset. Holly and I will write another blog exclusively on this topic in the days to come – so stay tuned.

How You Need to Shift Your Legacy Messaging

Our last major conclusion is that this is absolutely a legitimate time to be talking to your donors and supporters about making legacy gifts. Having said that, there are some basic rules to follow:

  1. Your messaging must be situated within the context of the pandemic. You must acknowledge its existence, speak to how people’s views have changed and how your mission is still critical in these threatening times.
  2. You would do best to use voices of people from outside your leadership – like donors, volunteers, and program recipients – who have nothing to gain from your potential revenue growth. Directly quoting from leaders or staff in your organization could appear as opportunistic and self-serving in these times.
  3. Your language and messages must be direct, unadorned, humble and authentic. This is not the time to brag about how you’re best-in-class at what you do. This is the time to talk about how important your mission is right now and how the donor can advance that mission with a gift.

We’ll have more in the days and weeks to come, but hopefully, this will give you a compass so that you can begin to navigate your way forward during these unprecedented and unpredictable times. Good luck!

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Fraser Green

Fraser Green

Former political campaigner and current fundraising strategist with a knack for understanding how audiences will react to messages.