After all the “Leave a Legacy” promotion in the past 20 years—the focus on planned gifts, and research on who gives them—the needle on realized gifts has barely budged. Perhaps it’s too early to judge this, but many of you know I have long been a critic of the planned giving profession’s focus on “gizmos” rather than simple bequest solicitations. The Hartsook Chair, Adrian Sargeant agrees and published a long and exhaustive look at bequest giving in late 2008.Bequest giving isn’t just a side order of fries. Think about this: if we could move the realized bequest number to 8% or 9% of total philanthropy, we would add $6-$10 billion more. And you know I am all about growing this number.I titled this entry “Yes, No or Maybe.” I will get off my high horse and back to the street. Recently a client Vice President for Development, Robin Rowland of the Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, shared with me a survey she did of her 600 most loyal donors last January.By the way for those who are reading this and believe that Nobody is giving money away, this organization increased their annual support from $300,000 in four years ago to one million this past year. But I digress . . .In the survey Robin developed that asked about opinions on animal welfare, their relationship to the agency, some demographics about marriage and child status, was a question that asked “Have you included the HSGKC in your estate plan or would you be interested? “ Respondents had three choices: “Yes,” “No,” or “Maybe.” The returned surveys revealed that some already had designated an estate gift.But interestingly enough out of the 200 who responded, 60 said “Maybe.”Maybe?Yes, “maybe” they would. Let me tell you that again, out of 200 responses, 60 said that maybe they would include HSGKC in their estate plan. We aren’t talking about an organization with a million donors or even 20,000. We aren’t talking about an organization that has had an effective fundraising program for decades.So the answer is, “perhaps.” “I would consider it.” “Maybe.” Now the Humane Society just needs enough time to follow up.Of course, you know every story always has to come back to me. You knew I would manage to make that happen.In the late 70’s with no data base other than punch cards, I sent out a survey similar to Robin’s to Washburn University’s 300 oldest alumni. I asked similar questions relevant to a University. Of the 300, one hundred replied and 30 or so of those said they had included Washburn in an estate plan. I was a one man fundraising shop, so for an hour a day, I would pick up those 30 cards from the corner of my desk and call each of them to thank them and ask if they would value it. Before the year was over, we had virtually all the 30 thanked, valued and verified. Millions of dollars have flowed in as a result of that exercise. One Vice President of Washburn even called me once to thank me for doing this.I wonder what would have happened if I had left an option for them to say, “Maybe.” How much money did I leave on the table for Washburn? Sorry, Washburn, I was young and inexperienced.Hartsook is applying Sargeant’s bequest research with five institutions that have agreed to serve as beta sites for testing his assertions. In his new text, Fundraising Principles and Practices, you will find there are two separate chapters for what has traditionally been lumped together: one for Planned Giving; another for Bequest Giving.The tide is changing. “Maybe” you should think about all the money that’s being left on the table.
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