Claire Meyerhoff

Claire Meyerhoff

What does your planned giving marketing look like? If you are like most nonprofits, then it is probably non-existent or a bit of a mess. Claire Meyerhoff shows how a good story might be just what you need to get your planned giving campaign going. (For more on asking for bequests, join us in January for Tom Ahern’s webinar, Marketing Bequests : The Delicate Art of Asking for the Final Gift.) ~Kivi

Guest Post by Claire Meyerhoff

Do you have a five year bequest marketing plan, a huge budget for an outsourced year-long direct mail campaign, and a dedicated Director of Planned Gifts?

No? Well…then you’re in very good company.  MOST charities are “sliding” when it comes to planned giving.  They love when the phone rings and an estate attorney says, “Arlene Anonymous has made a bequest to your organization…” But they don’t love the idea of dedicating time or budget to go after planned gifts. If you’re not marketing planned gifts (bequests in a will or using other assets to make a gift), here’s an easy way to start… 

Tell a Bequest Story.

Here’s a story (or some version of it) that could appear in a church bulletin, website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, direct mail piece and FUNDRAISING newsletter. A great photo is a must.

Why is Rose Smiling?

Rose Marshall is the happiest she’s been in years.  Every Sunday, her son Jack picks her up at her Rush Avenue home, drives her to St. Mary’s, opens the car door for her, gets her “handy-dandy rolling walker” from the trunk and sets it in front of his mother.

Then Rose walks into church with no help from anyone.

“This new ramp has made me a new woman,” said Rose, who was baptized at St. Mary’s in 1924 and has been a member ever since.

Rose said the old ramp was “iffy,” she didn’t “feel confident” and always had her son “give me a little push.”

The new ramp was installed by Heritage Access (donating labor and providing most  materials at cost) in January, thanks to a gift from Bill Wallace, who remembered St. Mary’s in his will.

“A few years back, Bill told me he named St. Mary’s in his will. He didn’t want to make a big fuss, but said he’d like the money to be used for improvements at the church,” said Pastor Susan.

“I can’t think of a better improvement than seeing Rose’s smile as she walks up that new ramp.”

If you share a story like this in your newsletter and other “outlets,” you’re PROMOTING PLANNED GIVING without sending a single letter or spending a dime.

Here are some of the great things this story does:

1. Shows your donors the impact of “everyday philanthropy.”

Rose’s story is obviously for a small audience in a tight community. You can let your readers know the planned giving donor (the person who put the charity in their will) was an “everyday person.” Do this by including details like “Bill, a retired elementary school teacher…”

2. Gives you, in your fundraising hat, an opportunity to talk to someone about their own will.

You can chat with another loyal donor (in this case, Rose) about putting the charity in his or her own will (or learning that it already is!).

3. Helps you emphasize confidentiality and discretion.

The story shows that Bill, the donor had a CONFIDENTIAL conversation with the Pastor, assuring donors their intention will also be handled with discretion. (Many people who have put a charity in their will DON’T TELL THE CHARITY because they don’t want to “be bothered.” In your letters and marketing materials, it’s important to include language like, “Your gift may remain anonymous which is shorthand for “discretion.”

4.  Shows your donors that you keep your word and use bequests as intended.

5. It’s friendly and upbeat.

The story treats the bequest in a friendly way. It’s about the transformative power of a gift and doesn’t mention death or “your legacy.”

6. Tells a story about OTHER PEOPLE, not your charity.

It thanks the company that installed the ramp. Good nonprofit stories are NOT ABOUT YOUR CHARITY but about OTHER PEOPLE.  Never use self-serving quotes from the board chair.  The pastor’s quote provides context and an important message: “we listen to you.”

7. The story has multiple uses in different media and formats.

The story could be repurposed on Facebook and Twitter or even pitched to a local newspaper, with a new headline, “Why is this woman smiling?” and the photo of Rose.

8. You can retell the story with a “call to action.”

Talk about repurposing content!  While this is the general newsletter version of the story, without a “call to action,” it was later used WITH a call to action in a FUNDRAISING NEWSLETTER or LETTER with this language:

“Is St. Mary’s already in your will, trust or other estate plans?  Thank you!   Please let us know about your plans because it helps St. Mary’s plan for the future.  Call or email Ruthie Lund in the Development Office and she will add your name to the Legacy Society.  Your gift may remain anonymous, if you like.

Don’t have a will? You’re not alone! Now is a great time to start planning, and please consider including a bequest to St. Mary’s in your estate plans.  Contact Ruthie for suggested “bequest language” and the St. Mary’s tax ID for you to share with your attorney.

You CAN do some planned giving marketing yourself! Start by identifying ONE great story about how your org put a bequest gift to good use.  No realized bequests?  Find a donor who has already put your organization in their will. Ask them WHY they did and tie their passion to a great story about work your org is doing right now.

Claire Meyerhoff is a long-time contributor to Nonprofit Marketing and heads up the Planned Giving Agency, a full-service fundraising marketing firm specializing in planned giving.  She’s available for conferences and training and her presentation, “Five Easy Things You can do Today to Bring in More Planned Gifts Tomorrow,” is “FANTASTIC,” according to Gary Doyens, Founder and Director of Caroline’s Room and Board Member of the Connecticut March of Dimes.  You can reach her at or send her a LinkedIn invitation

Published On: September 26, 2013|Categories: Fundraising, Storytelling, Writing Skills and Content|