Unplanning Planned Giving

April 27, 2020

If you stop and think about it for a minute, you can break pretty much all kinds of charitable giving into two simple categories: REACTIVE and REFLECTIVE. Let’s look at each briefly in turn:

  1. REACTIVE giving occurs in response to something that happens to you. It could be seeing a story in the news, a friend telling you of her experience, or being approached by a fundraiser. Reactive giving usually happens in the now. It often has a more emotional than rational impulse behind it. And, more often than not, these gifts are asked for directly.
  2. REFLECTIVE giving is a different process altogether. This gift is the result of deliberate thought and calculation. It doesn’t usually happen in the moment – it can take weeks, months, or even years to culminate. While there could well be some emotional underlay to this gift, it’s really driven by the brain moreso than the heart.

Most giving is responsive

When you think about all the types of charitable revenue streams out there, most of them are responsive. The vast majority of gifts come from direct mail, tele-fundraising, e-appeals, social media, special events, product sales, crowdfunding, DRTV, and various forms of direct intercept (like door-to-door and street canvassing). When we give in response to these stimuli, our decision and transaction can take minutes – or even seconds – to complete.

Some giving is reflective

There is a more limited number of revenue streams that would fall into the REFLECTIVE category. Corporate gifts and sponsorships, foundation grants, and most major gifts are well thought through – and don’t happen overnight.

The final member of this group, of course, is planned giving. As gift planners know, it can take years for a prospect to take the necessary steps from the first inclination to consider a bequest to signing the paperwork at the lawyer’s office.

The name says it all

The simple inclusion of the word ‘plan’ in planned giving states the obvious. These gifts are typically carefully considered. Options are weighed before decisions are finalized. Advice from various quarters might be sought. Even the structure of the gift is often thought through in the greatest detail.

And, when we refer to ourselves as ‘gift planners,’ we’re embracing this entire set of ideas. We often see ourselves more as guides than solicitors. We’re more our donors’ trusted friends than salespeople for our organizations.

Enter the pandemic

Everything was pretty clearly laid out. These different types of giving were all in their proper place. Until the second half of March – not all that long ago! On March 1, 2020, there were 598 known cases of COVID-19 in Canada. Just two weeks later, that number had exploded to more than 11,000.

And, the rush began…

The lawyers and allied professionals that we’ve talked to have affirmed that both will-making and will-updating activity had mushroomed more than at any time in living memory. Many, many people – suddenly faced with their own mortality – decided that they couldn’t delay getting their estates in order.

Just in case…

About face

So now we find ourselves in a new place.

Planned giving – long the poster child for REFLECTIVE giving – is now in the REACTIVE camp. For the foreseeable future at least.

How should gift planners respond?

In today’s world, a successful communications strategy always begins with thinking carefully about the audience. Today’s audience is in a hurry – and their prime consideration is providing for loved ones.

If you’re going to become a part of that situation, you need to make estate gifts easy, simple, and fast. Now is not the time for a carefully thought-out cultivation strategy. The key right now is to strike while the iron’s hot.

Here are 4 suggestions for some quick and simple tactics for gifts in wills that are in sync with the Pandemic Age:

  1. Make sure that your website has the straightforward information that donors and allied professionals are looking for to enable them to include that gift in their will – your legal charitable name and charitable registration number. You should also list a real contact name, phone number, and email for donors to get in touch with. And, since so many people are updating their wills, sample codicil information is also of value.
  2. It would absolutely make sense to reach out to any allied professionals (lawyers, financial advisors, accountants) who are within your reach. This way, when they have these conversations with their clients, they’re encouraged to ask them if they’d like to leave a charitable bequest.
  3. Rather than getting into the complexities of planned giving, we’d suggest that you talk about how simple it is to leave a percentage gift or the residual of the estate. Both of these concepts are easy to grasp and could be resolved by the donor in moments. Given that COVID-19 has been further complicated by a plunge in the stock market, this is a much better option for most as opposed to a gift of a fixed amount.
  4. Use whatever means you have at your disposal (email, direct mail inserts, web content, newsletter articles) to keep talking to your donors about planned giving. Just remember to talk in the context of the pandemic – and it’s better if you use voices who aren’t leaders or staff in your organizations. Now is a great time for testimonial stories from donors, volunteers, program recipients, and loved ones.

Be proactive – but be thoughtful!

If you’re like a lot of fundraisers we know, your first instinct might be that this is not the time to engage your donors with planned giving communications. We encourage you to keep the legacy conversation going – but to do so in a sensitive, thoughtful, and timely way.

Good luck!

NOTE: I want to give full credit where credit is due. I first heard the words ‘reactive’ and ‘reflective’ used during a conversation with Brenda McEachern prior to a webinar we were both a part of on April 8 of this year speaking about What Now? Planned Giving During the Pandemic of our Lifetime. Brenda’s analysis of the planned giving shift from reflection to reaction is the essential thinking that underlies this blog. Thank you for sharing your perceptive mind with me, Brenda.

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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.