Take a close look at this slide from an assessment I recently worked on. Notice that this University went from $19.7 million/185 bequests in FY09 to $3.1 million/34 bequests in FY16. And, the previous planned giving director (who left a few years ago and wasn’t replaced) told me that prior to 2009, they typically saw between $12 and $20 million in planned giving revenue annually (from early 2000s to 2009).
The question is: How did a top planned giving program like this ($20 million a year is a TOP planned giving program in almost any circle) drop off so badly, and so quickly?!
Here are my takes:
- Financial shakiness – 2008-09 hit a lot of places very hard but this one sustained enough negative PR that dragged on and on, even to this day! It’s hard to sell eternity when people are wondering if you will be around much longer. It may just be perceptions but perceptions mean quite a bit to those planning their estates.
- De-staffing – The planned giving director first went part-time (At the time, I couldn’t understand how such a big PG program could do that), then left and wasn’t replaced! 4 or 5 years without a full time PG director for such a program is tantamount to closing it down!
- Divestment – the unnamed university stopped investing (particularly without a PG director to fight for funds for marketing).
- Short-term thinking – Finally, when finances get tough, the accountants often take over. And, accountants are generally not trained to think beyond columns adding up. Planned giving – an investment that may or may not pay off in a distant future – clearly doesn’t appeal to the accountants of this world.
Lastly, this is just another example of how at the moment of pressure and financial stress, nonprofit fundraising drops planned giving. I see it all the time. They love me, they hire me, they say they want to get planned giving moving, but end up spending their time and money on the “here and now” and leave the lonely planned giving consultant in the corner wondering what to do.