Fund for Animals Plans for Risk and Wins
In 1989, I was fortunate enough to attend a very intense management-training program that, in hindsight, virtually changed my way of thinking about business and management. The four-day program was called “Skunk Camp,” and it was operated by the Tom Peters Group.
(Peters co-authored the books “In Search of Excellence” and “Passion for Excellence.”)
One of the main themes addressed during the program was “rewarding failure.” The concept seemed out of the blue and contrary to what many of us had learned from other management-training programs and life experiences. But after a full day of listening and working on group assignments, we finally saw the light and understood what Peters really meant.
Essentially, with an approach that rewards failure comes an inherent view from management that it must foster an environment where employees are willing to take risks — in our case, rewarding failure in fundraising as it applies to testing and “pushing the envelope.”
We all have ideas we regret not testing. When it came time to actually invest, for some reason or another, we backed off and compromised, only to learn of a similar idea being tested by someone else. As fundraisers, we must endorse an attitude of risk taking and not just following what has worked in the past. As budgets are set at the beginning of a new year, a risk-testing line item should be instituted to allow for testing new approaches.
When I think of risk taking and rewarding failure, I think of the following case study where the organization was willing to see if a new approach would work in a segment of its program.
Organization: The Fund for Animals, a national leader in the animal-protection movement that furthers its mission through education, legislation and hands-on care, including sheltering more than 1,100 animals at Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas.
Objective: To develop a planned giving program by using direct mail as the premier vehicle; educate self-selected and targeted planned giving prospects about additional giving opportunities, e.g., gift annuities and bequests; and emphasize the vital importance of making a planned gift to secure the future of FFA.
Situation Analysis: In 2002, FFA had a healthy and growing direct marketing program, which included three acquisition campaigns, a four-part membership-renewal series and additional special appeals. The donor base had grown steadily and, through direct marketing, FFA had established a predictable and bankable revenue stream.
However, like most nonprofits, FFA realized the need to diversify its fundraising portfolio and, based on demographic data on file, believed that planned giving would be the most effective new marketing channel to enter (versus special events, etc.).
Obstacles: Although FFA’s number of contributing donors has steadily increased through its direct marketing program over the last few years, the offer itself appeals to a relatively small niche of prospects. As such, the overall number of potential qualifying donors to be targeted with a planned-gift effort was relatively small.
In addition, at the onset of building the planned giving program, FFA did not have the full infrastructure needed to support the program, (e.g., staff to follow up on leads), including back-end fulfillment of information requests and/or follow-up calls and in-person solicitations.
Until recently, FFA Chair Marian Probst handled the majority of contacts. In 2004, FFA hired a major-gifts officer to support the planned giving program.
Strategy: Provide concrete information on the benefits of giving a gift annuity and/or a bequest, as well as explain the intricacies of each giving opportunity. For example, headlines used within a brochure on gift annuities included the following:
- “There are Two Different Types of Gift Annuities.” This explained the difference between single-life and two-life (or joint-gift) annuities.
- “How Much Income Can I Expect?” This included a table with ages and rates.
- “Why Should I Consider The Fund For Animals’ Charitable Gift Annuity?” This detailed the benefits of a gift annuity for both the donor and FFA.
The bequest brochure highlighted the value in making this type of contribution by emphasizing that a donor’s gift “gives you peace of mind today and gives animals in need the promise of hope for a loving, secure future.”
Mailings targeted two different groups, including age- and loyalty-appropriate donors, e.g., donors 65 and older who had contributed multiple gifts to FFA and self-identified donors who had checked off a box on the renewal program’s reply slips requesting additional information on planned giving.
Implementation: The latest iteration of FFA’s bequest mailing included the following components:
- Executive-sized, closed-faced carrier with corner-card logo/address;
- Offset letter signed by Probst, evoking the memory of FFA’s founder, Cleveland Amory, and stating the value of including the organization in one’s will;
- Brochure branded with FFA’s “look,” including more detailed benefits of leaving a bequest, as well as contact information;
- 8-inch-by-11-inch reply slip, capturing name and address, phone number, best time to contact the donor, additional information about the donor, and confirmation that the donor has already made a provision for a bequest in his or her estate plan; and
- Reply envelope addressed to Probst’s attention.
The gift annuity has similar components. It should be noted that, in 2004, the bequest and gift annuity offers were separate campaigns rather than a bundling of all the options in the campaign. This was to better distinguish the difference between offers and benefits.
Results: Over the past three years, FFA has received more than $10 million in bequests from a relatively small group of donors. By taking a risk within the direct marketing program, FFA has developed an additional revenue channel to support its mission.
Lynn Edmonds is president of L.W. Robbins, a Holliston, Mass.-based direct-response fundraising agency. She also is a member of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.