I’ve got a very simple question for you…

As a planned giving fundraiser, would you rather make it rain? Or would you rather report the fact that it’s already raining? Would you rather make something actually happen? Or would you prefer to talk about something that’s happened already?

I’ll start with a simple assumption: fundraisers raise funds (with the emphasis on the active verb RAISE). Yet, it seems that many of us have been caught up in a process of counting, tabulating and census-taking rather than going about the business of generating new revenue. I must confess that this drives me more than a little nuts.

Let me share a little story that illustrates where this rant is coming from…

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with a senior fundraiser at a name-brand Canadian health charity. He had called to see if my colleagues and I were interested in helping with a new campaign the charity was undertaking as part of an ‘ambitious revenue growth initiative’.

He went on to say that the charity’s new CEO had mandated him to double the number of expectancies on file within the coming year. He was looking for a firm to manage a phone campaign – the objective of which was to record enough expectancies to double the number of those already on the database.

At first blush, this sounds okay – doesn’t it?

But, stop and think about it for a minute. This planned campaign is, for the most part, going to identify donors who have already made their gifts. It grow revenues. It won’t grow the donor constituency. This campaign won’t actually advance the cause, will it?
What this campaign will do (in my cranky opinion at least) is make the fundraising staff and board leadership look better on paper!

Now I guess I’m an old school guy when you get right down to it. One of my favourite tools in decision-making is the ‘donor sniff test’. The test goes like this: if the donor gets an honest look at how you’re spending your time and her money, would she approve? Frankly, I don’t think she’d approve of this charity’s campaign at all. In fact, my guess is that she could well go shopping for a charity that is way less goofy with donor dollars.
Many of you reading this already know that I’m a huge proponent of marketing charitable bequests to loyal, long-time donors. But – and it’s a huge but – I’m a believer in PERSUADING donors to make bequests in the first place. That’s where the fundraising really happens.

By our last measure, there are up to $50 billion in potential bequest gifts out there right now. This is the potential revenue available to us from donors who say they’re either ‘very likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to make a charitable bequest in the future.
There are tools we can use to persuade our donors to make bequests. In fact, my colleagues and I work with ’23 things to say and do’ and ’10 things to never do’ when we work with charities on their bequest programs.

So let’s go back to the donor sniff test. If I can tell the sniffing donor that every one of her dollars invested now is going to result in 20 to 50 dollars to spend on mission and program in the years to come, my guess is that she’ll stick with us. She might even think we’re smart!

My plea to you as a planned giving professional is this:
Are you spending your time and energies trying to raise funds? To grow your organization’s ability to deliver its program and mission? To make the world a better place in the years ahead?
Or, are you taking a money census that doesn’t actually raise one new red cent?

Let’s call a spade a spade.

And thanks for letting me get this off my chest. Over and out.