fundraising careers

Face to Face Meetings or NOT

Thinking about planned giving as a career – particularly if you are already a fundraiser?  Here is a question that a colleague and I fleshed out recently that should give you a good idea about a very significant difference between your role as a planned giving fundraiser and that of a major gifts officer.

Does a planned giving director/officer need to be seeing x #’s of people a month like successful major gift fundraisers are expected to?

Well, quite often numbers of donor visits is an expectation that planned giving staff have to live with. That is true but is it needed?  Not necessarily.

In speaking with a friend in the field who had moved over from major gifts – we touched upon the challenge of getting face to face meetings with planned giving donors and prospects.  In fact, based on his prior major gifts background, he stated categorically that the different type of gift transaction (between major gift and planned gift) warranted a different approach.

Here were his observations, which I confirm from my own experiences:

Major gift donors expect, and deserve, in-person meetings for gift asks – it just goes hand in hand with major gift fundraising.  They are most likely responding to a particular organizational need or request – specified in a particular dollar amount – that is best done with an in person meeting, if at all possible.  That is what works and that is what your donors are expecting!

But, planned gifts and/or planned giving donors are quite different. The decision is usually one that takes place in the privacy of their own reflections on life and death (i.e. will drafting, estate planning and/or retirement planning).  Organizational time pressures are almost always never part of the equation unless you have a legacy challenge grant campaign or the planned gift ask is part of a larger campaign ask.

Do we want in-person meetings with planned giving donors? Of course, yes.  But, many of the in-person planned giving experiences come through annual recognition luncheons or seminars.  If your planned giving donor is willing to meet individually, by all means go ahead and get the meeting – even if it’s more like a social call (that is what we call stewardship!).  But, these gifts don’t involve the same type of momentum that a major gift ask involves.  And, your donors are generally happy being invited to a special event or two a year.  And, as prospects get older, visits become more difficult for them and are usually pushed off anyway for various health and other reasons.

This is one of the big nuance differences between major gifts fundraising and planned giving fundraising. Both are fundraising and quite often from the same donors but not on the same timetable or pressures.  And, those meetings with planned giving donors, if you get them, are more often just a friendly check-in.  Important but very different than what major gifts fundraisers are doing.

Next post: If securing planned giving donor/prospect meetings isn’t the top priority, so what should a planned giving director or officer be doing with his or her time?!

Careers in Planned Giving -Part 2

marketingCloudWhat is planned giving from a career perspective?

Let’s break this topic into a few areas of potential employment before tackling the subject:

  1. Full-time planned giving director or officer (100% of job is dedicated towards planned giving) – this post.
  2. Partial planned giving officer (someone working in a nonprofit fundraising position who also has planned giving responsibilities) – next post.
  3. Employment in positions (at for-profits) that work with planned giving programs (banks, planned giving marketing firms, some lawyer and investment advisors) – an even later post.

As you can see, there are many ways a career could intersect with planned giving, so what is planned giving?

Oh boy – I ask this questions to all of attendees of my training programs.  No simple answer.  Here is my try, for this purpose: planned giving is the area of fundraising that encourages gifts to charity through estate plans and/or tax advantaged gift structures.  If you want a deeper answer, click here for a previous blog post on this question.

So, if we are talking about estate plans and gift structures – we are generally talking about older prospects – at least those who are starting to plan for their ultimate resting place (we never mention the D word, right?).  How do gifts like this happen?

Think about it. A donor/prospect has to decide that his favorite charities should be along-side family in his will or other estate plans.  What is your job in planned giving? Firstly, to communicate this message to anyone who it might resonate with (this often takes many years to sink in).

Fact: most planned giving donors ultimately decide to keep this decision private so your organization has no clue as to whether your messaging is working until they start seeing more bequest money coming in!

Marketing.  Yes, planned giving is a marketing job.  Not only for those out of the blue bequests that most orgs receive.  But, also for those donors you actually speak with – the decision making process is so slow and hard to pin down, you need your prospects to have as much mental preparation before these conversations as possible. Get the message out – that is challenge #1 for a planned giving program.

But, is marketing the prime feature of the job? No. For a full-time planned giving director or officer, you are going to need to be first and foremost a fundraiser!  By that, I mean someone who is proactive with creating interactions with donors and who can lead conversations towards completed commitments.  So, while a flair for marketing is really important, being able to connect with donors is probably the most important trait of a planned giving officer (you can always use outside marketing firms to help you but you can’t have outsiders meeting prospects and closing gifts for you).

Aren’t we missing something?  What about the financial planning aspects of planned giving?  Isn’t that the trickiest part of the job and the top trait we need for our planned giving officers?  Isn’t this why so many lawyers join the planned giving ranks?

Fact: your planned giving officer does not need to be a lawyer or accountant – just needs to be someone with enough comfort and confidence in personal financial matters to be engaging with donors when and if the topic arises.  And,  you can always call in an expert on the legal stuff!

So, yes, you need a comfort level with basic financial and estate planning. No, you don’t need to be an attorney.  Note: attorneys and accountants are people, too, who can learn to be fundraisers so don’t rule yourself out if you are one – just realize that you need to be a “salesman” and “marketeer” first and foremost for this job.

Lastly, customer service.  This is a customer service job.  Once a donor lets your org know that it’s in his or her estate plans (or other planned gift), you need to treat these donors as VIPs, keep them feeling good about the org, and connected.

So, for the potential full-time planned giving officer, you generally will need to be strong in all of these traits: sales, marketing, financial planning, and customer service. Oh, and you’ll need to be a good colleague among the rest of the fundraisers and leadership of the organization.

A key to success in planned giving: win over and train your colleagues in identifying planned giving opportunities.  Remember – the best donors are quite often the best planned giving prospects and you won’t be given access to them unless you are a trusted colleague!  And, you’ll need approval for your marketing efforts so don’t make internal enemies with finance or PR!

One of the reasons I love working in planned giving is the broad range of activities.  After close to 20 years as a full time planned giving officer/director or consultant, I have come to the conclusion that the “sales and marketing” end of planned giving is the key to success.  You need to be someone who gets out smart and high quality marketing (and be willing to change when results are lagging) and someone who gets out the door to see donors (in person meetings are so important for donor relations). If neither of these prime activities appeal to you, you might want to rethink your plans.

What about career prospects for full time planned giving officers?

Here is the problem.  When I first started full time in planned giving in 1998, when I felt down at my job, I just opened the Chronicle of Philanthropy and saw 10 or more jobs that I would likely get interviewed for.  But, that changed with two recessions and shifts in the nonprofit world.

In short, planned giving is always a subset of fundraising and when nonprofits go through tough times, one of the easiest programs to cut is planned giving.  Therefore, the full time planned giving position became a rarity – even at many large institutions.  (Next post will go into the partial planned giving officer option).

What should you do if you have done your research and want to try this career direction?  What if you can’t get close to a full time planned giving-only job?

Easy answer: get a job in fundraising!  Start getting to know donors and how to behave with them and what working at nonprofits is like.  You can always pick up more training on the financial planning end of planned giving and wait for opportunities at your job to show off your planned giving moxie.  Orgs love the idea of crossed trained fundraisers.  You never know, you might help create the need for a dedicated planned giving officer – which could be you!

Next post on careers in planned giving: partial planned giving officers!





Careers in Planned Giving – Intro

Wealth Transfer ProphecyFor close to 20 years, I have counseled colleagues into whether to join the planned giving field. Some have made it while many have not.  This post is the first in what should be a long series on this topic.

For an intro, let’s assume that we all agree that the fundraising world is sitting on a precipice – huge swaths of most fundraising databases are filled with babyboomers!  Let’s not forget that people do not work or live forever – so giving doesn’t continue forever either.  A scary prospect for most organizations but there is an answer to soften the blow: planned giving.

So, planned giving – which as a career option has taken its hits over the past two recessions – is poised for growth!  That means more and possibly better jobs – either as planned giving specialists or fundraisers with strong planned giving skills.

That being said, if you have not been working in or around the field, you are a long way from breaking into this area.  My goal with this series of posts is to breakdown the profession, define it clearly, lay out potential job options, job skills necessary to work on, and interim steps to be considered along your career path.

Here are my initial blog post that I am mulling over:

  • What is planned giving from a career perspective?
  • Is the great wealth transfer really coming and will it be great or a dude?
  • Who should be looking into planned giving and who should be looking to add it to their skillset?
  • Getting a job in planned giving or one with significant planned giving responsibilities
  • The planned giving job market – a realistic assessment

What do you think?  Please add your comments! And, forward to friends who might be candidates for a job change in this directions.