Are you tapping into the power of email for planned giving?

By John Egan

If you’ve ever for a moment doubted the potency of planned giving, consider this: Charitable bequests to U.S. nonprofits totaled nearly $31.8 billion in 2015, according to Giving USA. That represents a roughly 2 percent increase from 2014.

By some accounts, charitable bequests make up at least 90 percent of planned giving.

“A planned gift is one of the most thoughtful gifts an individual can make,” says Wes Gordon, director of planned giving for Mississippi State University’s foundation.

Yet how do nonprofits get that message across and generate planned-giving leads? The answer could be a carefully crafted email-marketing program that focuses more on the donor and less on the nonprofit. During an Aug. 3 session called “Planned Giving Lead Generation Best Practices to Start Using Today,” email and other lead-generation methods will be discussed at the DMA Nonprofit Foundation’s 2016 New York Nonprofit Conference.

“Email is still the most efficient and cost-effective way to reach your planned-giving donors,” according to a study by Crescendo Interactive, which specializes in technology and services for planned giving.

The Crescendo study found that from July 2014 through June 2015, its clients sent 46.2 million planned-giving emails, with nearly 90 percent of those being e-newsletters targeted at donors. The study shows the top-performing emails put the emphasis on the donor, rather than on the organization’s mission. Crescendo says this type of email messaging achieves a higher response rate than other types of email messaging.

“The messages that resonate most with donors often include the words ‘you’ or ‘your’ and focus on how their support makes a difference. Some of the best examples of donor-centered messaging come from nonprofit holiday emails,” the Crescendo study says.

Case in point: a holiday email sent by the planned-giving office at the University of California, Irvine, to members of its legacy society. The email — featuring the subject line “Happy Holidays” — garnered an open rate of nearly 47 percent, according to the Crescendo study.

The holiday email UC Irvine included “another element evident in emails that receive high responses — a thank-you message,” the Crescendo study says. “One of the best messages you can send to your donors is a message of gratitude, expecting nothing in return.”

Crescendo says that strategy espouses “service over solicitation.”

“The most effective emails don’t ask for money. They focus on the donor, express gratitude and provide resources that can assist a supporter in making some of life’s most important decisions,” the study says.

Keep in mind, though, that it takes more than email communication to capitalize on a planned-giving lead. The personal touch still matters. Once a donor expresses interest in planned giving, a planned-giving officer must quickly reach out to a prospect to answer questions, provide more information and set up an in-person chat, says Dean Regenovich, assistant vice president for development at the University of South Florida Foundation.

“Many planned gifts are completed as a result of the organization’s ability to build a personal relationship with the donor and identify ways to involve the donor with the organization,” Regenovich says.

Emails, phone calls and letters, he adds, “are not substitutes for personal visits but should be used in addition to the visits.”

This article is brought to you by the DMA Nonprofit Federation. Click here to register for the 2016 New York Nonprofit Conference.