Making the ask, Part 6

By Todd Cohen

Raising the possibility of a planned gift can be an effective way to respond to donors who cite concerns about their ability to make a major gift, or to show them they can make an even bigger gift than they might be considering and also generate income for themselves or their families, experts say.

“A lot of planned gifts start with conversations where donors express concerns about their financial wherewithal over time, and then the fundraiser can broach the idea of planned giving by talking about how to protect the donor over time while protecting the institution,” says Tim Seiler, director of public service and The Fund Raising School at Indiana University.

Tom Smith, senior philanthropic adviser at the Vermont Community Foundation in Middlebury, says asking for a major gift in a capital campaign can result in asking for a planned gift.

If a donor balks at a request for a major gift, for example, and says the money is needed for income, the charity might offer the option of making a planned gift that would provide the donor both with a steady income stream and tax advantages.

Planned gifts also can flow seamlessly, even without an actual ask, from the patient cultivation of a donor, or from simply taking the time to meet and get to know donors, and share information about planned giving.

When she was director of planned giving for the New York City office of the American Red Cross, says Michelle Mulia-Howell, she was studying donor records and found that a donor in his mid-70s had been making small gifts for several years totaling roughly $200 a year.

So she phoned him, thanked him for his giving over the years, and asked why giving to the Red Cross was important to him.

When he told her, she asked if he had received a Red Cross mailing about charitable gift annuities, saying she thought it was a strategy that might interest him.

With his permission, she sent him more information, and then followed up with a visit.

“When I got there, he had a check for me,” says Mulia-Howell, now assistant vice president for planned giving at the American Lung Association in New York City. “With planned giving, sometimes you don’t have to ask.”

After Roger Ellison concluded that the woman in her 70s he was visiting for the first time had given him permission to tell her more about his work, he asked if she ever had considered or might consider including the Rehabilitation Center in her plans.

“She looked at me, and stared straight through me, and said, ‘This has been very nice,’” says Ellison, vice president for planned giving at the West Texas Rehabilitation Center Foundation in San Angelo, Tex. “I thought I blew it.”

But the next time he visited her, he says, she told him she had included the center in her will, planning to leave it some art objects worth roughly $1,000.

He visited her yet again, and this time she told him she was considering selling her home and wanted to put the cash from the sale into what she called “one of those CD things,” he says.

She had received a foundation mailing about life-income vehicles that let donors use a certificate of deposit or other asset to make a gift that generates income for the donor.

Based on still more follow-up visits, the woman made four annuity gifts to the foundation totaling $140,000.

“I didn’t ask her for a gift,” Ellison says. “I planted an idea, and the idea germinated.”

Shari Fox, director of gift planning at the University of Cincinnati Foundation, says she began working with an alumna who had requested information after receiving a mailing about gift annuities.

Fox phoned the woman, a single professional in her late 50s living in Boston, and learned she wanted to make sure she would have a steady income stream after she retired in her mid-to-late 60s.

Further conversations by phone and email resulted in Fox’ suggestion that the donor consider a gift annuity that would defer payment of the income to the donor until she retired.

“First we spoke in concepts,” Fox says. “Then I asked if she had a particular dollar amount she was thinking of.”

Based on the amount the donor then cited, Fox ran some calculations and emailed them to the donor, and then followed up with a visit.

The result was a deferred-payment gift annuity and, seven to eight months later, a second one.

“I don’t really think of asking for a planned gift as a solicitation,” Fox said. “It’s really a process. It is a little different with every donor.”

Other stories in the series:

Part 1: Timing, trust key in asking for planned gifts
Part 2: Laying the groundwork critical before approaching donors

Part 3: Planned-giving program can begin with simple steps
Part 4: Nonprofits study giving patterns to identify planned-giving prospects
Part 5: Strategies vary for timing requests for planned gifts

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