Is it nice and hot and sunny where you are? Chances are pretty good that your donors are also enjoying the summer weather and not giving too much thought to charitable bequest planning right now.

As with many things, I found that gift planning had high and low seasons through the year with mid-July to the end of August and mid-November to January being the two times when bequests just weren't top of mind for people.

This being said, two of the best times of the year to talk about bequest planning are September and January. Making a will can often fall into that category of "New Year's Resolution" and both of these times are a "new" time of year when people are feeling re-energized and interested in tackling administrative projects.

If you are a development professional, this is a great time to organize some strategies that will put your charity top-of-mind when the high-season returns in the fall. This is also a good time to start thinking about program strategies for January as well.

Why not try:
  • Gathering your list of individuals who have expressed an interest in some way from the past 12 months. Put the list by your phone and resolve to spend at least one hour per day in September on the phone. By providing a reminder and forwarding any further information that they may require right at the start of September, there will be lots of time for them to get in touch with the rest of their advisory team and complete their gift before the hectic holiday season gets started
  • Writing a short direct mail piece about bequest giving to arrive around the first week of September. No need to send it to your full mailing list, you can limit it to a small handful of loyal donors. Mention in the letter that you will be following up by phone and be sure to make the calls
  • Choose a date toward the end of September and set aside a block of time to meet face-to-face with donors to discuss gift planning - can be either local, travel or an event. By planning this now, you will have a chance to send out a letter or invitation card early in the season. After a busy summer of travel and with kids returning to school, people tend to stay closer to home around this time of year and often aren't as tied up with social events as they will be come November and December
  • Design and send out a small note sheet with a to-do list for the new year. Include consulting with your estate planner and leave the rest of the lines blank for the person to fill in themselves. Print some information about your charity and estate planning tips including charitable giving on the back
What if you don't have a dedicated gift planning person on your team? Any of these strategies can be sized up or sized down to fit into a work flow. If you wear all of the "hats" in your organization, you might limit yourself to focusing on your top 5 most interested potential donors. If your time is 100% dedicated to gift planning, you might want to think of creating a larger appeal for January based on the "New Year's Resolution" theme.

Anything else that you would suggest? Any estate planners out there willing to share when their high and low seasons fall?

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?

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. 

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.

I was recently invited by the dynamic fundraiser, writer, speaker and blogger Mazarine Treyz at Wild Woman Fundraising in Austin, TX to come over as a guest blogger and share some of my insights about planned giving.

My starting point for writing was Steven R. Covey's principal that we must first seek to understand, then to be understood. For me, this has become a guiding star'

In my professional practice, I find myself advising individuals about the incredible possibilities that are available for philanthropists to help create a better life and world for others. In order to be able to assist others in this process, I have always felt it important to be an active participant in philanthropy myself and to experience what it is to support the missions of charities that are meaningful to me before offering guidance.

For my guest post, I decided to focus on the experience I had as a gift planner who created a legacy gift. The process took over a year and it taught me some incredibly valuable lessons about how it feels to create a bequest gift. I know that it has created a new understanding for me when I help others who are contemplating this type of gift and I hope my insights might inspire other fundraisers and advisors who haven't joined the legacy gift circle yet themselves to take the leap!

Check out my article at Wild Woman Fundraising!

A special thanks to Mazarine for a fantastic opportunity to share my thoughts with her readers! Her website is full of information about building a fundraising program, online marketing and career managment
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the need for transparency and accountability between charities and their supporters. Last week, I came across a tip sheet on Best Practices in Charity Annual Reporting that I thought would be worth sharing and discussing. In it are some good ways of assessing annual reports both for charities and for donors.

Ask Better
At the core of my work is the principle of helping charities to become excellent in the art of asking for support. So vital to attracting donors to a charitable mission is the act of reporting on business activities and how the dollars raised were used in the charity's operations. The Best Practices paper reported that few Canadians feel that the charities they support do an excellent job of providing information about how donated funds were used for programs. 

Today's philanthropists think about their donations as an investment - is it time for Canadian charities to take more of a business mind-set? Think of each fundraising campaign as an "IPO" and your annual report as a sales brochure showing the potential value of each investment. Is your charities' report up to the standard set by these best practices? 

Give Smarter
I had also had some wonderful opportunities to speak last week with three advisors about teaching their clients the art of becoming philanthropists. When you step back for a moment, it's a wonderful feeling to know that we live in a place where so many are able to help others either thanks to a family legacy or from their own accumulated wealth.

The problem for so many individuals and families is the challenge of determining which charities' missions match best with their beliefs and which ones can deliver the best value for their donations. Evaluating charities based simply on the percentage of dollar raised spent on administration of programs is often too superficial to really measure efficiency and effectiveness. Giving smarter is about looking for those annual reports, choosing to give to organizations who do provide comprehensive information and challenging the ones that you already support to go deeper and address your questions if their reporting isn't meeting the best practices described in the paper.

Personally, this line of questioning has led me to radically change my own giving habits and re-direct my annual donation dollars to the organizations that have the time to tell me more about the role my support plays in their day-to-day operations! It is also a good reminder of the importance of sharing this same story on behalf of the charities that I assist professionally.

What are your own charity's reporting best practices? Are you satisfied with the information that your charities provide you with as a donor?

Let's talk!
Stay tuned for an announcement about my first post as a guest blogger...
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!
I saw an article today addressing the issue of how a large percentage of professional fundraisers would like to take on leadership roles in the non-profit sector but that few executive positions are filled by people with that background. 

Here is the link to an interview with two fundraisers who were successful in making the upward transition:
Civil Society - Voices from the Other Side, Fundraisers who become Chief Executives

The argument that the two interviewees make centers around the broad range of high-level business, relational, and communication skills that are required of successful fundraisers and how well they translate into leadership roles. I agree that some of the most dynamic individuals I've met have been in the fundraising industry and that there is an ability among many of my colleagues to create and communicate a vision for the future with clarity and passion. In other words, there are excellent leaders hidden in the ranks!

From my perspective, there are two things that might help:

1. As a community, fundraisers need to articulate better for themselves and their peers what it is exactly that they do. What is required of them daily for success and what special talents do they bring to the table? I always think that the CMA does a great job of doing this in their television and print ads for their own constituency.


2. Fundraisers also need to develop personally as great leaders. They need to look for opportunities to learn from the best of the best and to understand what leadership means. Some of my colleagues have taken the step of enrolling in Leadership MBA programs. Others have looked to expanding their reading lists, networking with leaders and seeking out mentors both on and offline. 

One of my current favorite sources for information is Alan Kay who offers coaching in the Solutions Focus change model. In one respect, leading is about knowing how and when to create and facilitate change. I learn a lot from simply following his free webinars and blog posts. 

What else do you think we could be doing? If your aspirations include leadership, how are you moving in that direction?

Update: Excellent article on Fundraising and Leadership appeared via the AFP Resource centre. Here's the link: Association of Fundraising Professionals
This morning, I heard a radio ad for a local fundraising event. The spot promised a day of free virtual golf at a centre that normally charges for this type of activity. The entry fee was $30 and it was mentioned that each participant would receive a "tax-deductible" receipt for their full $30.

This made me go "hmmm..." for two reasons:

1. My understanding is that under Canadian tax law, the value of any advantage to the donor must be subtracted from the value of the charitable receipt.

Unless the ordinary market value of the activity can be deemed to be of minimal value with respect to the gift amount, I'm not 100% sure that this organization should be issuing a receipt for the full contribution! I also question whether they should be providing tax information in a radio ad?

2. This is the third or fourth time in the past month that I've seen the wording "tax-deductible donation" used in fundraising marketing.

It's a fine hair to split, but for Canadian individuals, charitable donations trigger a "tax-creditable donation receipt." The difference may seem small, but it is important! 


A tax credit means that regardless of your income, you will receive a standardized percentage of your gift back as a credit on your income tax return.

If it were a "charitable deduction," the rate of reimbursement would be tied to a tax-payers marginal rate for income tax, which in many cases, is lower than the marginal rates for charitable tax credits.

CRA offers this nifty calculator that provides a great illustration of how it all works. 

Recognizing this seemly minute technical difference is also a recognition of Canada's generous and unique encouragement of charitable donations from members of the public.

A Solution?

A great term that I learned at one of the universities I worked with was "tax-smart giving." It gets to the point in your fundraising marketing materials without getting into sticky details. 

(Caveat: I speak as a lay-woman and not a financial or legal professional. Please remember to consult with your own professional advisors.)
Last night, I was happily catching up on my favorite TV show via the internet and the phone rang. 

The call caught me by surprise. 

It turned out to be a live "virtual town hall" hosted by one of the local candidates and callers were invited to "press 3" to ask a question.

Maybe this is a technique that others are more familiar with, but it was new to me and it was engaging enough to win airtime for a candidate I wasn't planning on voting for.

The call pool managed to get 6,100 participants on the line all at once and keep their attention for nearly an hour (during prime time). In Kingston, that's a big number!

This experience got me thinking...

I came across this blog post today from GoodWorksCo. on what fundraisers can learn from election campaigns. 

I wonder, what could fundraisers learn from the virtual town hall approach? 

What if the Director of your international aid non-profit set up something similar to talk to supporters and community members about a natural disaster - think Japan? 

What if the President of your hospital or university could answer questions about the upcoming capital campaign or the desperate funding needs of the institution?

How about when things go wrong at your organization? Would there be more public forgiveness in bringing the leader out from behind the press releases and into a conversation with concerned supporters?

There is no script here, there are sticky questions, it's not easy to be on the line, but the human connection here can be incredible. It created the feeling that my opinion and vote both matter in this election and to this candidate. It brought the party platform onto my phone line; into an intimate space in my home.

What I would have done differently? 

No surprises. I would have loved to know the call was coming and to be somewhat prepared with a good question. 

Controlling the medium means you get a say in controlling the messages. Harness the power of social media. Send out a hashtag and post live tweets from the speaker's account. This didn't happen and people were online looking for that conversation.

I created my own hashtag and sent out live tweets on request for those who didn't pick up the phone on time - that means I got to filter the information. 

Do you think we can use this in fundraising / have you ever given it a try or does it only apply to an election scenario?

© 2011-2012 Christina Attard. All Rights Reserved