Discovering the Secret Giver
In my role as executive director of development for the Indiana Division of The Salvation Army, I have been pleasantly surprised during the past year. On three occasions, The Salvation Army received bequests totaling $500,000 from individuals who did not inform us of their intentions during life.
One individual made 27 small gifts, and the two others made fewer than five small gifts combined. While they received information through the mail, they did not personally engage with any staff member. I was extremely happy about the much-needed donations but wonder if we could have built personal relationships with these donors over time.
I truly believe in engaging prospects and donors on a personal basis whenever possible. I want individuals to have faith and trust in the organization that receives their investments. I love to educate, communicate and have donors view fundraising priorities at work. It's important that my staff has the same philosophical viewpoints that I possess. We are committed to building a long-term relationship with everyone we engage. The key is having our investors believe in the institution long-term because that transcends any specific staff or volunteer engagement. Development directors, staff and volunteers come and go, but the mission of the organization needs to always be front and center.
I constantly follow important research in development. I especially enjoyed reviewing groundbreaking research on the behavior of bequest givers in America. The Stelter Co. and Selzer & Co. combined forces by undertaking a national survey on bequest donors titled "Discovering the Secret Giver: Groundbreaking Research on the Behavior of Bequest Givers in America." Their major study of bequest giving revealed that 7 percent of Americans aged 40 and older have named nonprofits in their wills. Two out of three U.S. residents aged 40 and older already have wills.
They also noted that the majority of decisions regarding bequests are happening at a younger age than historically believed (younger than 50 years old). Once a nonprofit is included in a will, it is rarely dropped. Donors and potential donors strongly prefer to first learn about the charity through the mail. Five percent of Americans who do not have wills say they will probably make a bequest to a charity when they have a document in place. Americans aged 70 and older with wills in place are the least likely of any age group to add a nonprofit at some point in the future. So, we need to focus on a younger target market than typically believed.
Of the research compiled by the Stelter and Selzer companies, I was particularly interested in the secret bequest giver based on the experiences I have had in the past in bequest giving. Only a minority of those surveyed in the study have alerted any nonprofit about their giving intentions. They do not want to tell nonprofits about their bequests and do not intend to share information with them in the future.
These secret givers say the details of their wills are their own business and no one else needs to know. They worry that if they disclose bequest information they will be pestered with mailings, phone calls and pressure if they change their minds. Many also feel that they might begin to get special treatment and that would make them feel uncomfortable. Others feel the organization would sell their information to other charities.
What charities need to know is the main reason donors and prospects make bequests to charities relates to feeling good about giving, not the benefits or recognition that accompany the gift. Most of these bequests are not large in nature. The Salvation Army also received one bequest that totaled $1.24 this year!
Isn't it interesting that on one hand donors want to leave a legacy to the institution based upon trust in the future but not with the public knowledge of their bequest intentions based possibly on lack of current trust? What this means is we have to work harder to gain faith, hope and love with our prospect and donor bases. We never know who might leave a bequest to us and should always treat any prospect and/or donor with correct information, ethics and respect.
I wish I could uncover every "secret giver" and let each one see the power of philanthropy for him- or herself!
Duke Haddad, Ed.D., CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis. He also serves as president of Duke Haddad and Associates LLC and is a freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO since 2008.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration plus a dissertation on donor characteristics. He received a master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis on public administration plus a thesis on annual fund analysis. He secured a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) with an emphasis on marketing/management. He has done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
Duke has received the Fundraising Executive of the Year Award, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Indiana Chapter. He also was given the Outstanding West Virginian Award, Kentucky Colonel Award and Sagamore of the Wabash Award from the governors of West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, for his many career contributions in the field of philanthropy. He has maintained a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation for three decades.