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I'm working on a presentation for early June to a mix of fundraisers and stewardship folks about Planned Giving.

It led me to reflect a bit on what holds many people back from even initiating a conversation about bequests with their donors.

I realized that when many of us think of talking to someone about whether their money might go to the cause we represent when they die, this (photo on right) is what we think we have to break through.

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Good news is that more often than not, once the question has been asked, "I'd like to speak to you about your thoughts around considering a charitable bequest to (name of organization), would you be open to that?"

This image is usually more like what we run into once the door is open.

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Richard Radcliffe
 often speaks about how asking for a planned gift is most like a marriage proposal. It's personal, it's relational, it's between people who know each other and it's life-giving for both parties involved.

The "legacy gift" conversation is not about death, hellfire and taxes...it's more like a marriage proposal: an entrance into a life-giving partnership.

Ask Better? Give Smarter?

Don't abandon hope! Look for opportunities to open the conversation about charitable bequests. Approaching people who already have a close relationship with your cause are likely going to be open to the conversation.

As a donor, look for charities that are respectful and personal in their communications with you. Feel free to open the conversation yourself if you haven't been approached. Never give if you feel pressured and always check in with your lawyer and family first. Good professional fundraisers will not create an uncomfortable situation if you decide after exploration that the idea is not for you or if your plans change in future for any reason.
 
 
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Have you ever had a friend who worked as a professional fundraiser who approached you about a (major) gift for an organization that you don't normally support? 

Since this hasn't happened to me yet, I'm not sure how it feels - was it uncomfortable? completely welcome?







What I have seen before are charities who ask about a fundraiser's personal connections in the donor community. "Did you work with donor X in previous role and would you be able to approach them and others on behalf of new charity?" To me, that question is a huge red-flag for me as a professional.

To be honest, I'm not sure what others have experienced and whether my position is the correct one, but I want to share my own thoughts on this - with the strong caveat that what I'm talking about here is a very small number of charities and fundraisers/consultants and I'm mainly focused on significant donations.

ASK BETTER

It's not easy to find the right fundraiser or consultant. You are looking to hire someone who is not only professionally competent (in a profession that is not always well-understood by the general public) but who can represent a cause-based brand in a compelling way. 

I would suggest to organizations that they should be looking for a fundraiser who is extremely well-connected. BUT, the key here is in which circle.

Fundraisers with lots of personal friends are not as valuable for your organization as fundraisers with lots of professional connections in the non-profit sector. LinkedIn is a good place to glimpse at this network, but don't forget to dig deeper and look at relevance of contacts vs. sheer number. My development contacts on the site are more important in this case than my mortgage broker.

A strong professional network means that the person can grab legal information, a second opinion on a strategy or a form/template/document in minutes. This helps me to do my work better, faster and cheaper and to understand how I can keep the organization I represent operating within the standards set by the non-profit industry nationally.

Personal friends, and even powerful or wealthy ones, might give for a time to causes I ask them to support, but ultimately, they are giving to support me rather than the organization. How many times have we seen organizations that were 'on a roll' with their programs until that 'great fundraiser who knew everyone' moved on along with his/her rolodex?

Charities should be looking for individuals who will take a look at the donors, volunteers and advocates that they already have and the new friends they might want to make and be able to identify, sort, initiate, build and manage those friendships. When I see a list of existing donors that have not been engaged at a high level, what I offer the organization is the ability to prioritize and develop those relationships. My practice is to act as a matchmaker and build long-term connections in the community that don't rely on my personal relationships.


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GIVE SMARTER

Let's face it, we're more likely to be interested in learning about something because a friend approaches us about it and tells us why it's important to them. 

But, there's a boundary here that needs to be drawn.


When a board member or volunteer who you know makes an intro to you about a charity or campaign and then passes you into the hands of the fundraiser to make the case and ask for support, there is a chance to step away from your personal relationship with the board member. It allows the decision to become donor-centered and based on the fit with the cause. You can say "no" and not lose face. You can hold the fundraiser accountable and not your friend for the use of your gift.

Evaluating "friendraising" as a donor is another good indicator of whether you should be investing in a particular cause. Has the charity hired your friend to drum up business from his/her personal contacts as their main activity? If so, then consider carefully whether this is a sign for you that this organization's mission can stand on its own or whether it rests on your friend's reputation? What happens when you're friend moves on? Will you continue to receive donor reports and contacts? What are they doing to invest themselves in building direct relationships that will be lasting and sustainable? How does that reflect on how the rest of the organization is being built and managed?

What do you think? How do you draw the lines between friendships and fundraising/giving (especially when it comes to major gifts)?
 
 
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Skip the huge print-out with powerpoint slides, how about a postcard? Destination? More Information!

Today, I presented as part of an exceptional panel of professional advisors in philanthropy at the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, South Saskatchewan chapter in Regina. ("Exceptional" here categorizes my colleagues!)

We looked at Financial Planning, Estate Planning, Investment Management and Gift Planning in light of the current turbulent economic situation.

The take-aways? 

Donors are getting smarter as investors in the social-profit industry. They want their advisors to be knowledgeable about the topic and to discuss giving with them. 

The giving discussion, whether it be with the estate planner or the development officer has to be values-based and put the donor-client at the centre. The economic climate means that fewer Canadians are giving, though the ones that are engaged are giving larger sums - this is the time to start providing them with greater opportunities to become partners in charitable missions rather than expecting they participate as checking accounts for non-profit  projects

Everyone involved in the process of managing and distributing wealth is responsible for ensuring that the right questions are being asked - both when it comes to the client's needs and when it comes to understanding what it means to invest for oneself, to invest for others and to invest in others.

None of this is particularly novel. It's been said in CAGP and AFP circles in Canada for years; it's the thrust of so many advisory practices and blogs and it's what drives so many of the top third-sector professionals. 

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What has changed, in my view, is that the timing to adjust how we market as fundraisers and re-align our values has become more urgent. 





To summarize one comment from the audience: How do we advise clients when charities seem to proliferate so quickly, with so little regulation from CRA, and with insufficient information provided to help the public understand what differentiates one from another?

The third-sector is a free-market economy - there is no reason that the charity that exists today will necessarily exist tomorrow. These aren't permanent government programs or ministries. 

In a tighter giving market, the organizations who rise to the occasion and differentiate themselves by meeting the public's demands for transparency, accountability and a vision for a better future will thrive and those who do not respond to the challenge, will not. 

This is a good thing. 

As they say in Latin, O Felix Culpa! that the economic downturn has brought about an opportunity for Canadian charities to begin innovating how they reach out to the public for support - I see amazing examples of organizations who get it right each day and it inspires me to keep working to help charities ask better and donors give smarter!

If you are looking for more information about the state of giving in North America, Gift Planning and the new culture of philanthropy, check out my new web-resource page created specifically for this event here.


If you were at the talk (or even if you weren't present) your comments here are quite welcome and I hope you'll consider continuing the conversation on this space!

 
 
I'm not much of a newspaper person. 

BUT I have to admit that I'm regretting not having a subscription to the Globe and Mail this weekend as they are providing some in-depth coverage on the state of charities and philanthropy. As with most news these days, I heard about this via Twitter

The Globe and Mail has created, in addition to a number of excellent articles, a great interactive information resource showing giving by the numbers. The coverage does an excellent job of addressing the need for charities to ask better in a tougher Canadian market and for the public to give smarter by evaluating fit and impact when they give.

I loved this Donation Action Plan chart:
Looking at the various graphs, there are a few key seismic shifts in the Canadian landscape:

1. Those who give are predominantly older individuals with a significant drop in donation dollars coming from those aged 35-44.

2. There is a huge pressure on corporations to use their donation dollars in a more strategic fashion and on the overall, there has been a large drop in corporate charitable contributions.

3. Canada still provides strong support for social services with roughly 43% of charity revenue coming from taxpayer's dollars. Donation dollars from individuals have decreased in recent years and the number of those giving has dropped dramatically.

4. The use of donation tax-shelter schemes (the majority of which are under heavy scrutiny by the CRA) has been wide-spread enough to actually skew the overall statistics.

Is the system in trouble?

Perhaps.


Ask Better

Charities need to be serious about marketing to a new breed of Canadian that is looking for accountability, transparency and impact. The new breed of philanthropists want to see themselves as investors and partners, not ATMs. It's also time to put serious effort into engaging younger generations and building relationships with new sets of donors - how else can the system be sustainable as the bulk of those participating in giving ages?


Give Smarter

No one wants to lose the good work done for our society by the thousands of agencies that make life better for Canadians every day. There is clearly interest in giving when it comes with very generous tax concessions (as the popularity of donation tax-shelter schemes has demonstrated). What can we be doing to increase and promote the idea of investing in Canada's charitable sector in a fair and legislated way? Are you, as a donor, seeking out advice about the various (legitimate) ways to give on a tax-reduced basis? Do you regularly evaluate the service and satisfaction that you receive from the charities that you are supporting?

I applaud the Globe and Mail for opening and exploring this topic so intelligently and in such great depth. The third sector remains a bit of a mystery in the public consciousness, but it plays such a vital role in Canadian society.

I'd also like to thank Paul @UinvitedU for his coverage of the feature via Twitter.

*Update*

Today, Malcolm Burrows at All About Estates weighed in on the "Strategic Giving" coverage in the Globe and Mail and I wanted to share his insights as part of this discussion.
 
 

One of the most challenging problems that comes up for many fundraising campaigns is just how to approach board members about their own financial support of the charity. Looking at it from another perspective, there can also be feelings of frustration for board members who want to contribute, but because of their birds-eye view of the charity, they're not always sure of how or when to help.

As part of my weekly research, I subscribe to a free service calledMovie Mondays and receive a 5-10 minute video on some aspect of fundraising - often there are great tips and ideas on working with boards both from volunteer members and fundraisers. 

Yesterday, I received a video featuring a board member speaking about what motivated her to become a major gift donor and create a legacy gift for the charity that she volunteers with. 

The key points? She was treated like a major gift prospect - a very personal approach was taken by representatives from the charity and it helped her and her spouse to better understand specifically how they could help. Their satisfaction with their experience as philanthropists and partners was a strong driving factor in their consideration of a legacy gift for the charity. Her own commitments helped her develop as an advocate in encouraging others to follow suit.

Interestingly, while this donor is aware of potential tax savings that come into play with giving, her testimonial is a great reminder about how it's passion and connection that are the main drivers, not technical tax planning! 

(I know, I know, this seems obvious, but 90% of the gift planning marketing material I see is still mostly about rattling off a list of tax incentives!)


Listen carefully to what this donor has to say right around minute 2:45 about the transformational power of her gift - it's what we all hope to experience as donors and hear as fundraisers...




Ask Better?
By recognizing that the "ask" cannot happen at the board meetings or by "osmosis" alone and instead, by creating an opportunity to treat this board member like a major gift prospect and make a targeted and personal ask, the charity was able to secure a much larger commitment than they might have expected.

Don't assume that a volunteer necessarily understands where their contributions can have the greatest impact!

Give Smarter?
If you are on a board and feel driven to do more through your giving, invite representatives from the charity to consider making a proposal and presenting it to you privately. Challenge them to look for an opportunity that matches your interests with an integral part of their mission. 

Thank you to Christopher Davenport at Movie Mondays for permission to share this video! For more, head on over to his site and sign up for your free subscription.
 
 
Head on over to Marc A. Pitman's great site The Fundraising Coach for some great resources for fundraisers AND to see my guest blog post!

The post highlights my Top 5 Travel Tips for Fundraisers.  

You've probably got a few great ideas to share - so please, join in on the conversation and comment on the post! I'd love to learn more from your experiences.

Happy trails!

PS. The Fundraising Coach was named one of the Top 20 Blogs in Philanthropy this week! Congratulations, Marc!
 
 

Have you heard of Michael Chatman? While we hear from so many brilliant fellow fundraisers, what's unique about Michael's voice is that he speaks from the perspective of a philanthropist. His mission is to celebrate the joy of giving and he shares the stories of his own and other individual's philanthropy. His main medium is a radio program called the Giving Show, which is available online. 

Today, Michael posted a list of his Top 20 Blogs in Philanthropy, culled from a list of over 350 candidates.

It really highlights the best-of-the-best and also introduced me to a couple of blogs that I hadn't been tuned in to yet.

If you're looking to sharpen your fundraising game this fall, or your giving game, for that matter (!), add a few of these URLs to your morning news reading list.

Thank you to Michael Chatman for creating this great resource!

Happy reading...

PS. Stay tuned - I'll be making guest blogger appearances on two of the top 20 blogs listed in the coming weeks.
 
 
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A very popular topic in fundraising circles these days has been the infamous "Millennial Generation" or "Gen Y" and how they are changing the donation game. 

I recently attended a Millennial Donor Summit which was presented as a fully virtual conference. Delegates could interact live with one another and with presenters through video and chat functions. 

Today, AFP dedicated a full newsletter to addressing this very issue.

But, why does it matter and what does it all mean?


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There seem to be some unspoken fears about this new generation of donors that the conversation is trying to address:
  • How can/should charities reach out through social media - a tool most of us still don't understand?
  • Will those seemingly detached hoards who float about all day connected to an iPod ever become engaged in their communities?
  • What will happen to us all if they are not as philanthropic as other generations?


What is emerging from this huge conversation is that though millennials like to communicate via online media and that while Google might be the first point of interaction with a non-profit or charity, there is little that differentiates them from donors belonging to an older demographic. 

Millennials also like to be connected with in a personal way, to be engaged and to be given a chance to become passionate, to be involved, to be asked for gifts and to be offered information about the impact of their participation.

From my perspective, now is the right time to be reaching out to members of this new generation of donors and offering opportunities for meaningful involvement and exceptional stewardship. My guest blog post yesterday at The Fundraising Coach website makes the suggestion that we need to start re-thinking the old rule of measuring engagement by donation-dollar values. 


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What will this look like when it arrives via text message!













Our most engaged younger donors often fall below the "stewardship radar" because the dollar value of their support can be lower than our wealthiest donors. However, it makes sense to begin investing now in these individuals who are thought-leaders for their own generation if we hope to build a philanthropic culture for the future. 

Nothing new, just a need to take the time to offer a personal touch, to step out from behind your website and say "thanks" or offer an invitation to visit, volunteer, join the board...



 
 
Though I've worked for many years with large universities, I have also gotten to know a lot of small charities and non-profits, which is the most common agency size in Canada.

Sometimes, as donors, rather than fundraisers, we get the opportunity to support a small operation that is exceptional. For me, this year, that group is the St. Vincent de Paul Society of Kingston, more generally known as "Vinnie's."

The story is that last December, I realized that the entire giving season had gone by without having made the time to support a food program in my community. I suspected that some of these organizations would be in need of cash donations rather than goods in order to purchase essential items that rarely get donated. I decided (fairly randomly) to call up Vinnie's for the first time and make a gift.

What was probably not atypical of a small operation is that Vinnie's only employs 1.5 staff members. One person runs the warehouse, food pantry and all the administration and the other half-time person cooks the lunches and manages the kitchen. There really isn't a website, there aren't a lot of fancy things like online giving or twitter and the location is in the wrong part of town.

So, where's the magic?

In early January, a thank you letter arrived. It was hand-addressed, it included my daughter's name, it had a personalized message, it was hand-signed, it was four pages long and the most recent newsletter was enclosed. Moreover, it contained an invite to come by for a visit any time.

I took them up on the offer for a visit. I also realized about that time that I'd unwittingly reserved a book at the library called "A Year of Living Generously" that described the author, Larry Scanlan's, volunteer involvement there a year prior. The "50-cent" tour, as they described it was eye-opening, humbling, welcoming and world-changing. I became hooked and joined the fundraising volunteer committee.

The letter I received stood out for me among the many electronically signed, impersonal and even entirely absent thank you letters from other, much larger and better-staffed organizations I supported last year. This was the only one that did a great job of telling me specifically how my support made life better for others. It also got me through their door for the first time. What I saw that first day made me feel an incredible desire to do more. 

Sometimes seeing is believing and I know that when it comes to charities, believing is at the heart of giving.

Things are going well. Our capital campaign launch started out with an open house and support is coming in to help with badly needed building repairs. I think the success is based on the personal outreach to others via those that volunteer there. Thelma, who helps out in the kitchen each day, shared how Vinnie's is her family and how the experience has changed her personally. Most of the room was teary-eyed by the end.

For fundraisers: Does your thank you letter compel your donors to engage further via a personal invitation to look and even step inside your work? Does it help to make them feel that they are a part of your effort to create a better future in a tangible way? Are you telling a story that touches others?

For donors: Giving may not (always) be about receiving recognition, but thank you letters are about helping you to feel like a partner in the mission. It's important to consider the role you wish to play through your giving and whether the relationship being built with you by the agencies you support is the right fit for you.



 
 
So many good articles and posts have passed by on my desk today that I thought I would share some of the best ones.


Giving from the Heart

Sometimes, affordability is a big question we have to ask ourselves as donors when contemplating a gift to charity. The answer always seems to come from a place where we balance our human passions and our material needs in some magical dance to come up with a dollar figure that feels comfortable.

I saw this astounding article today about a homeless man who is supporting a single mother and her child after she experienced a job loss. For me, it was proof that when we decide to help others, the motivating factor has more to do with our hearts and our desire to help than our actual financial ability.

I criticize myself frequently because my giving is rarely a "stretch" for my family financially and this story is going to force me to ask more serious questions about whether I can do more to help others. As a fundraiser, it reminds me that reaching my supporters in a way that creates passion in their hearts is the number one priority.

Please and Thank You

I participated last week in a twitter conference called Small Non-Profit Chat (#smNPchat) on Donor Accountability. A good summary of the conversation appeared here. Transparency and accountability were strongly linked with the idea of stewardship; it is important to share information about the impact of each donor's investment in your organization and that engagement has to continue beyond simply asking and move toward creating a "stakeholder" role for supporters.

Today, Michael Rosen posted some great thoughts on stewardship in relation to legacy gifts that really reinforce the notion that even in lean financial times, charities and non-profits cannot afford to neglect that personal thank-you.

Fortune Telling for Fundraisers?

Sometimes in the rush to ensure that your charity can meet current operating needs, the idea of investing in a Gift Planning program to raise future gifts may seem foolhardy. The question about expected ROI is a natural one for any board member or director being asked to consider investing in this type of program.

In my view, the answer is sort of like reading into a crystal ball. If your organization has a pretty good track record of legacies coming in and a reasonably sized list of those who have committed gifts (I'm talking at least 15-20 names), then it might be possible to make some good guesses and assume that moving from a passive to an active program will improve the situation. Harder to do without data or  track record at all.

The better question, from my perspective, is not about ROI but on possible opportunity loss. Good Works Co. in Ottawa is a full-service charity consultancy that frequently conducts polls to assess interest and capacity among Canadians for making legacy gifts. Their 2010 Legacy Poll results are available here and here.

There has been much concern during the economic downturn about falling donation revenue across North America. What these studies show is a trend that mirrors the early 1940s where current giving revenue suffered, but legacy gifts continued to increase. More importantly, the studies illustrate that the time is right to talk to Canadians about charitable bequests and that the potential funds available for charities are staggering.

The good news here is that sometimes, simply learning how to broach the subject is all you need...

Look forward to giving more, becoming more thankful and offering new opportunities for others to help together with you!
 

© 2011-2012 Christina Attard. All Rights Reserved