Planned Giving Marketing – What Works and What Doesn’t

If you’re not sure, maybe it’s time to forget Conventional Marketing Wisdom (CMW) and start thinking strategically.  

When you market planned gifts, you are trying to persuade people to do something that most of them don’t even want to think about – permanently transfer assets away from their control and that of their families. Even your simplest promotion (“Remember us in your will”) bogs them down in thoughts of mortality.  

The CMW answer?  

“More of the same! Wear them down until they get the message!” More newsletters, more mass emails, more deluxe four-color brochures, libraries of tax articles on your website’s “reading rooms”. Simply put, more Overkill Marketing that tunes out your prospects.  

The strategic answer? (Read this twice)  

A balanced blend of print and electronic messages, all benefits-driven, short and to the point. Why? Because your prospect is inundated with over 3000 marketing messages a day.  

Note that we say “benefits-driven” and not “features-driven.” Features mention death. Benefits promote immortality. Features slow down your sales process. Benefits sell the sizzle. And the sizzle keeps your prospect’s mind focused on your mission, vision, and on making the gift. It’s that simple.  

Also, it is important that the medium through which you communicate with your prospects is mixed. For example, don’t always use emails. Use cards, letters, display ads, and (geez, oh-no) the old-fashioned phone. If you stick to one single medium, your prospects will “tune you out.” This is a simple sales and marketing strategy used by experts. Oh yes, don’t forget the face-to-face visits.  

A simple plan that works.  

  • Develop a visually-based planned giving website that engages your readers, and then actively leads them to you for follow-up. Make sure the website is not a passive reading room. Reading rooms are not read.
  • Mail a personalized letter highlighting creative ways to give. Include your phone, email and website URL. Mail this same letter twice or three times a year. Why? Because chances are only 10-20% of your letters will get read, and less than 5% of those who read it will remember your pitch 4 months later. Besides, you must have as many “touches” in one year as possible.
  • Data-mine for your best prospects, and make sure not to use wealth and age as your primary predictors.
  • In place of a traditional planned giving newsletter, mail a series of compelling postcards. Newsletters are simply getting a weaker and weaker response.
  • Develop a series of display ads. These can be very effective.

What Does Not Work.  

  • Electronic cards (“e-cards” – okay for birthday greetings, but not for planned giving) and e-mail mass marketing (the recipients know that the message is impersonal and generic, and so do the spam-blockers on their computers).
  • Websites with superfluous links (jokes), deep home pages, too much text, and updated libraries with “exciting” (really!?) planned giving news in special reading rooms.
  • Screening prospects based on just wealth and age (many still market only to seniors – bad idea).
  • Traditional planned giving newsletters (they are getting a much weaker response).
  • A single mailing. “One-step, one-hit marketing is stupid. If you are going to mail one mailer and stop, stop before you mail the one mailer.” [Dan Kennedy, a direct-mail response marketing guru.] Repetition is absolutely required to make your program successful, or even to get satisfactory results.

Find the marketing approach that will work for your unique organization:  

  • Developing a website? Convey the benefits of creative giving (that’s the science of leading people around in “shopping areas” – Web or physical – to make sure that they don’t get lost, and that they wind up at a point of sale).
  • Are you mailing to too many prospects or not enough? Use permutations based on donor loyalty, a much more accurate predictor than age or wealth.
  • Discovered that your planned giving newsletters aren’t working? Design compelling postcards that get read. And whose message is retained even if the card is thrown away.
  • Know the best months to send your prospects mail, and the months not to mail.

And have you thought about where planned giving marketing will go in the future? Radio and TV ads? Closed-circuit spots in retirement homes? That might be something worth considering.  

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