The 7 Disciplines of a Planned Giving Office
This article is adapted from a 2019 AHP Webinar Series event presented by Damon Tinnon, CSPG, Director of Planning, Queen of the Valley Medical Center Foundation.
A single gift officer can have a donor list as expansive as 150 prospects, each of which the officer is directly responsible for overseeing. On average, a gift officer can work between 8 and 10 hours each day, with face-to-face conversations being the most valuable way they’ll spend their time. On the other hand, an established gift office works with an entire database of potential and past donors, working around the clock and utilizing multiple strategies to make continual impacts on donors. By following the seven disciplines of a planned giving office, your shop — no matter how big or small — can promote expansive and effective donor communications, pushing your foundation to close big gifts in less time.
Recognizing your donors for their initial gift goes beyond a single “thank you” call or email. The time immediately after a donor makes a gift is when you will have the greatest opportunity to advance your donor’s participation in the organization. Ask yourself how the donor became a planned giver and with whom they made a motivating connection. If the gift came from a grateful patient, ask a physician to make a personal call to thank them. In doing so, you have taken their gift outside of the planned giving office and put it into a larger picture of the foundation’s development — all while thanking your donor for a second time.
An opportunity is also created for your donor to become an ambassador for the cause, allowing the donor to promote the goals of the foundation to their peers. You can also ask your donor for permission to share their story with the community. Taking a photo of the donor with a piece of equipment they helped finance humanizes their donation and has the potential to spark a donation from another community member. Recognizing your donors’ contributions in different ways over a lasting period inspires them to make more planned gifts while encouraging the community to do the same.
Maximizing the knowledge of gift officers can increase the office’s credibility to the public while making your donors feel heard and understood. Take time out of your schedule to research subjects that you may not use in your daily conversations with donors. Create a “study plan” to look into topics like noncharitable planning, charitable planning, taxation, IRAs, living trusts and estate execution. Being well-versed in what matters most to your donors will create another level of thoughtful communication, proving to your donors that you care about their contribution beyond its benefits to the foundation. While increasing your office’s competence on relevant donor concerns is important, focusing on the personal connections you build with donors should be the priority.
How you network with donors is dependent on the flexibility of your plan and approach. While some donors respond well to luncheons and coffee outings, others prefer mailing communications or phone calls. No matter how you connect with donors, your message should be consistent. Offer donors the opportunity to see the impacts of their gifts while listening for new areas of interest your donors may develop. Providing them with more avenues to participate in the foundation will demonstrate the office’s attentiveness and potentially increase giving. Successful engagement begins with finding common ground with your donors, encouraging them to open up to you with questions and ideas. Productive engagement will influence your communications and programs positively, combining the mission of the foundation with the goals of donors.
Any and all communications that leave the gift office fall under the “Publishing” discipline. Information, stories and statistics about giving should be reliable, consistent and clear. Strategic publishing can set your foundation apart from other organizations. Donors are not looking for a complicated and intricate message that is hard to understand. Direct, concise communications will tell your donors what the foundation needs and how they can help. Publishing is most effective when there is a gift office rather than a singular gift officer, preventing potential donors from falling through the cracks and missing out on your content and messaging.
By the time your communications are sent out, the gift office should be prepared to respond to any questions a donor may have. Having relevant information at the ready will build a seamless process between the initial outreach to a donor and their first inquiry into giving. A successful process can go beyond the response to communications, but also include the response to successful planned gifts. Building a donor survey can help to identify points where recognition and publishing are most effective and where they may be improved. These surveys can be specific to each donor, identifying several factors that may have influenced their decision to give. Keeping in mind a general timeline of the focal points in your process will aid in streamlining responses, keeping them quick, competent and in line with the foundation’s message.
Go out of your way to make connections with professionals who are personally philanthropic. Look for attorneys, CPAs and advisors who sit on a charitable board. There is no need for an expansive list of industry connections to achieve this — connecting your foundation with names that naturally surface around charitable ideas and gifts will promote a better internal understanding of what the gift office works to accomplish.
The ability to establish reputable public events like mixers, seminars or socials can better the reputation of your foundation but getting attendance numbers up and making the time and effort of planning worth the final outcome can take practice. Rework the idea of what you think a fundraising event should be. Encourage your gift office staff to come up with new ideas for the style of your events and the communications surrounding them. Promoting the goals of your organization to a large number of constituents several times a year can give the gift office the needed push to expand its list of donor prospects.
There is a healthy level of competition that exists between gift offices and the strategies they use to reach donors. Developing shops tend to focus on a single gift officer, while more established shops focus on building a multifaceted gift office. Taking note of the history and structure of developed offices while applying these seven disciplines can give smaller offices the edge in donor acquisition and encourage growth in a planned giving office.
Watch the full webinar to learn more.