Planned Giving Lesson of the Week – To Start (or Keep) a CGA Program or Not?

I struggle often about gift annuities (“CGA”) – are they all they are cracked up to be (for nonprofits)?

Even before the market crash last year, various state regulatory struggles have made it more and more difficult to operate widespread, multi-state or national gift annuity programs.

Throw in market volatility and other investment uncertainty, and if you start to understand how pension investment/risk management should be handled, you really have to wonder whether it is worthwhile for charities to start new CGA programs or for smaller ones to continue stagnant ones?

This is coming from a guy who is paid to setup/run/oversee CGA programs and has done the licensing in New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and lots of other places for multiple jobs and clients.

At the past planned giving group meeting in NYC this week, I was the moderator for a panel on CGAs with 2 panelists being from large established CGA programs and one being from a large investment/administration provider.

The panelists were terrific, exposed the audience to some of the higher levels of planned giving experiences out there. But, my question did not get directly addressed.

The answer to my ongoing question of whether CGA programs are worth it or not for many charities actually started to come to me during the networking, drinking stale diet coke session before the luncheon.

It was a conversation with an old friend, who is at a charity which myself and my firm had lost out to on a bid to provide planned giving consulting. Two years after we lost the bid, and they were already bringing in $1 million plus in CGAs a year. What were they doing? Two direct mail letters a year to an approx. 100,000 database of potential planned giving prospects (this is a well established national emergency aid charity that had just never gone heavily into planned giving but was already receiving a significant percentage of bequest revenue).

Then the panel started. The biggest institution represented was mailing 1.8 million CGA “solicitation” pieces a year. The other institution was marketing CGAs consistently to 137,000 members – no age overlay but likely that most were age appropriate.

I hope you are getting the message. Building a successful CGA program is numbers game. In the scheme of things, as great as your PGCalc/Crescendo illustrations look, most potential planned giving prospects will overwhelmingly not commit to irrevocable gift arrangements – people just don’t part easily with their money.

But, if you have the numbers, I mean really large numbers of prospects and you commit to marketing intelligently to those prospects, you will close gifts and more than justify this “pain in the ass” CGA program.

Is there a magic number? No. And, of course it costs plenty of money to market to a 100,000 plus database. You better think about whether this database of prospects are really prospects.

And, what if you are raising a lot of money from a small amount of donors? Let’s say a few thousand (like I hear in conversations all the time). Is a CGA program for your institution? Probably not, or at least not until you build large numbers of annual/direct mail donors into your database.

To be continued. Have a great weekend.

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