BY VIKEN MIKAELIAN & DR. SCOTT JANNEY, CFRE
There’s a debate in philanthropy that’s almost as old as the hills:
Should major gifts officers understand the basics of planned giving?
I’m going to set the record straight once and for all with a simple, straightforward answer: Yes, they should.
If you agree, fantastic! You needn’t read any further — you understand what’s at stake, and know your time will be better spent stewarding donors. Go make a few phone calls, or write a thank-you note to a donor.
But if you disagree, you’d better read on. This explanation will help both you and your nonprofit.
‘It’s Not My Job’
Probably the most common excuse we hear is, “I’m a major gifts officer— planned giving isn’t my job.”
So, let’s examine what the statement “not my job” really means in this context.
At a lunch meeting with a longtime annual donor, you learn they’re making plans to retire and sell their successful business. They’re not interested in making a major gift. They want to ensure their heirs are well taken care of and get their estate in order so they can enjoy retirement worry-free; if there’s anything left over, perhaps they’ll make a gift.
But, because you don’t understand a thing about planned giving, you don’t response by saying, “We can help you make a gift that costs you nothing now and will pay you and your heirs income for life!” Because you’re focused only on major gifts, you say “good luck” instead; thank them for their annual gifts; finish lunch; and move on to the next prospect without a second thought.
Meanwhile, your annual donor gets a lunch request from another nonprofit they support. At this meeting, the savvy gifts officer explains how an annuity could help the prospect meet their long-term retirement goals, create a legacy, and help support the nonprofit. The prospect sees the light and makes a $1.5 million planned gift to XYZ organization.
Later, when your boss hears about that transformational gift to the other nonprofit, and says “Hey, wasn’t Mr. Smith one of our longtime annual donors? What happened at your meeting with him?” you can explain that it’s not your job to sell planned gifts … even if they ultimately help keep the lights on at the organization that employs you.
“It’s Too Complicated”
The other excuse we frequently hear is that planned giving is “too complicated” and that legacy gifts “take too long to realize.” Major gifts officers are, after all, concerned with the here and now; not the future massive influx of cash. They don’t want to wait 10 years for a bequest — even if it’s for a game-changing $800,000.
But the fact of the matter is, even planned giving officers don’t need to know everything about planned gifts! An understanding of the basics is enough to start a conversation and gather information to create a proposal.
Most donors will want to consult with their financial advisor to make the gift anyway — and they can work out the fine print and all the details. In this role, the gifts officer is simply taking notes, making general suggestions and setting the gears in motion.
And if that’s too complicated, how do you expect to successfully set up a major gift?
“Those Aren’t My Donors”
Just like the “That’s not my job” excuse, this is a cop-out — and if you read between the lines, what it really means is, “I’m not committed to the success of my organization” and “I don’t care about our donors.”
If you work for a nonprofit, ANY donor is your donor — period. Donations keep the lights on, help achieve the mission, and ultimately pay for a nonprofit’s employees. It doesn’t matter if you work in annual gifts, planned gifts, or major gifts: If you don’t know enough to get a prospective donor on the right path, you’re failing your organization AND the donor.
The prospective donor just wants to help. And they expect the people working at their favorite organization to facilitate that help.
Yet too often, ego gets in the way. While gifts officers squabble over who gets credit, or who does what job, the donor gets stuck in the middle. Instead of exploring ways to help your organization and build their legacy, they’re forced to watch as so-called professionals squabble like vultures over a carcass. If that’s not a turn-off from your organization, I don’t know what is.
It’s everyone’s job at your organization to support the donors, from the janitor to the CEO.
Most Planned Gifts Are Major Gifts …
… and all major gifts are planned.
That’s right. Planned and major gifts are in the same silo.
While we call planned giving “philanthropy for the rest of us,” the simple fact is that most planned gifts work out to be major gifts. That’s because donors are giving things that grow over time and don’t affect their day-to-day cash flow, like investment assets, retirement plans, life insurance, real estate and more.
A prospect who’s interested in making a planned gift of their vacation home on the Outer Banks is, by definition, giving a major gift. And if a prospect wants to make an immediate gift of $500,000, along with a deferred gift of a million dollars, that’s going to take some planning — thereby making it a planned gift.
The Bottom Line
Given the amount of overlap needed to secure planned and major gifts, having even a basic understanding of planned giving is a no-brainer. And it can only help your career (and your organization).
Set aside your ego, your fear, your excuses … get rid of whatever it is that’s holding you back from gaining a basic understanding of planned giving, and dive in with both feet.
You’ll be helping your organization reach greater heights. You’ll be helping your donors realize their dreams. And you’ll be putting yourself on the fast track to success.
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