Planned-Giving Donors Need Love Too
We all know how important recognition is — it’s an opportunity to acknowledge, thank and celebrate donors for their trust in, and commitment to, your organization’s mission. But recognition of planned-giving donors often won’t happen through conventional donor-recognition channels. That is where a heritage society comes in.
Why a heritage society?
Including planned-giving donors in outright giving clubs raises difficult issues regarding how to value and credit planned gifts. A commonly adopted option is to establish a special society known, generically, as a heritage society.
A heritage society helps ensure that planned-giving donors receive recognition and are thanked systematically. Their decisions to make deferred gifts (which are, after all, revocable in many instances) are reinforced by being part of a group and by connecting them with other far-thinking individuals. In addition, a heritage society can be a very helpful way to initiate conversations with prospects about their legacy planning and possible future gifts.
Who can join?
Since one of the underlying purposes behind the society is to strengthen relationships with your organization, it’s to your advantage to be generously inclusive. In that spirit, all donors who make future financial provisions for the organization should qualify. This means any donors who establish life income arrangements (charitable trusts, gift annuities), arrange for retained life estates or donate life insurance policies (all irrevocable), as well as those providing for bequests or naming your organization as a beneficiary of their retirement plans or life insurance policies (revocable). The common theme of these donors is their belief that providing for the future of the organization is important.
Two things follow from this inclusiveness. First, required “proof” of a gift should be minimal. Any written or verbal indication of a commitment should be sufficient; more formal documentation could follow, but it doesn’t really matter whether it does or not. Very rarely will donors tell you they have made these types of gifts when they haven’t. Second, there should not be a minimum required gift size. By their very nature, bequest gifts are difficult to “value” and to “credit” and might even vary over a donor’s lifetime (for example, a gift of a stated percent of the donor’s residual estate). No purpose is achieved by excluding a deferred gift donor.
How to get started
Consider a charter membership period as a way to encourage donors who already included your organization in their estate plans to reveal their gift intentions, draw attention to your new program, add a bit of urgency by publishing a deadline and give special recognition to those who are committed, “early” investors.
Publish an announcement of your new program in your newsletter, send a mailing to all or a targeted portion of your constituency, and consider a special event to which you invite not only those who already have informed you of their deferred gifts, but also prospects. Indicate when you plan to make the first public announcement of the charter membership.
Once established, look for ways to grant public recognition to members of your society — articles for your organization’s newsletter, annual report and Web site; announcements at public events or ceremonies; donor lists in print or physically presented on a donor wall.
Include society members in organization events. Often this takes the form of an annual gathering, such as a luncheon. The main purpose is to recognize and thank donors and allow them an opportunity to meet like-minded supporters. Indicate the importance of their gifts by having the trustees/directors and executive staff attend.
But don’t limit the activities of your society here. Consider these individuals major donors and look for opportunities to include them in other important events such as annual meetings, building openings, receptions for new leaders, award ceremonies and such. Look for ways to identify them as society members at these events.
Mementos or token gifts can serve to remind a donor of your organization and as evidence to others that he or she supports you. Small gifts can provide you with an opportunity to meet and visit with your donor and begin to develop a relationship. Also consider a certificate of membership and/or a society pin for the donor to wear.
Send an “Insider’s Report” once or twice a year that gives your members the “inside scoop” or perhaps a personal perspective on something happening at the organization. These should be from someone high in the organization and could be sent on society letterhead to reinforce the feeling of belonging to a community of special donors.
And, of course, don’t forget that the very best recognition often is regular personal contact — to the extent time permits and donors allow — with your society members through letters, visits and phone calls.
When a donor makes a deferred gift to your organization, it often is the single largest, most thoughtful charitable gift in his or her lifetime. When you are remembered in his or her will, a donor has, in some respects, elevated your cause to the status of family. A fitting response by your organization is to honor the donor and express continued appreciation for his or her support. A heritage society is a great way to accomplish this. FS
Alison O’Carroll is an associate at Planned Giving Services, a
division of PG Calc, a gifts-administration consultancy based in Cambridge, Mass.