It’s Planned Giving, Not Product Giving

Warning courtesy of Martin Deutsch on Flickr
Planned Giving practitioners and theorists stress donor-centered fundraising. But some with an interest in Planned Giving are out to push products, irrespective of whether they’re right for your donors. Don’t let your charity, your program–and your donors–be compromised by these folks.

This has been bothering me for nearly four years, when I started to see it trending upward. The “it” is people who sell financial products calling themselves “planned giving consultants” or something similar.

In fact, they aren’t consultants at all. They’re salespeople. Typically their products are life insurance or commercial annuities, but the menu may vary. Some sell multiple products.

What offends me most about this community of salespeople is that “donor-centered” to them means “Your donors all need the financial product I sell.” It’s just amazing how a seminar led by a life insurance specialist of this ilk will conclude that everyone in the audience needs more life insurance. I’ve been in such programs.

Amazing too that in meetings with a charity’s leadership, life insurance forms the basis of the “planned giving” program these “consultants” pitch. I’ve been in such meetings, screening for self interest to protect my clients from those offering to help the Planned Giving programs I’ve created. This kind of help my clients don’t need.

What I’m describing does not impugn all financial product brokers. Most are ethical and don’t purport to be any type of fundraising consultant. I regularly include a life insurance broker in panel programs I manage for clients.

Life insurance and other commercial financial products certainly have their place in the discussion of estate and retirement plan charitable gifts.

Here’s my point: those who sell the products are not Planned Giving consultants.

Protect your charity’s reputation. Protect your program’s integrity. Protect your donors’ plans. Give a gracious “No thank you” to specious offers of help from people whose real interest is selling financial products.

8 thoughts on “It’s Planned Giving, Not Product Giving

  1. On the issue of semantics, I suggest that it’s not even “planned giving” but “gift planning.” I made this shift several years ago when I caught myself inadvertently describing products to my prospective donors. Even the internal mindset of this language invited me to introduce “products” to my prospects. Even though I was certain a charitable gift annuity was the absolutely best choice for my prospect’s desire to give the prospect seldom agreed.

    My definition of a planned gift is one that requires forethought and often input from the donor’s professional advisors. The word “deferred” doesn’t exist in that definition. My point — too many of us in the profession still think largely in terms of deferred gifts when we speak planned giving. It leaves the whole realm of outright planned gifts off the table.

    Today, when I invite a new prospective donor to discuss why and how he might wish to support our organization I ask for a discussion of gift planning. I explain that “Your gift plans might include outright or deferred gifts, or even a thoughtful combination.” This simple, donor-centered syntax invites me to discuss what gift vehicle(s), whether deferred and/or outright, best suits the prospect’s priorities, both for our organization and for her own purposes. I help my donors make their gift plans; I’m a gift planner.

  2. Great article, Tony. It’s definitely been a problem in the Planned Giving arena, but one that can be guarded against.

  3. Tony,
    I have ben working exclusively in the nonprofit market since 1993, mostly in higher education.About half of the work I do is fundraising for my nonprofit clients. I hope you can put me in the category of sincere insurance professionals. I think that all of my college and university presidents and development officers would back me up on this.
    What I do have trouble with is the bias against sales and selling. I’ve found that a good percentage of time spent by college and university presidents is spent on sales of various sorts, certainly when they make their southern swing through Florida and Arizona “visiting” wealthty alums each winter. There’s usually an ask in there somewhere. Nothing wrong with this but let’s recognize this for what it is.

    When development officers plan the next campaign, set goals, prepare literature, develop prospect lists, prioritize donors, call on them for appointments, have “ask” or “closing” meetings, is this not sales in its purest form? Again nothing wrong with this, but let’s recognize it for what it is.

    Financial products, along with other fundraising techniques are merely tools to achieve a goal.One is not better or purer than the other merely because a financial professional earns a living at his or her profession just like other fundraising professionals earn their living.

  4. Charities absolutely must be careful. I ask for an IRS private letter ruling when my clients are offered a new scheme. The schemers never have had one.

  5. I agree with you completely. While I was running a planned giving foundation I would be approached almost weekly with a new product – and many times the goal was to get access to my donors and prospects. Sometimes the plan also included our organization investing dollars in the scheme! (Not to mention the legions who wanted to manage our endowment for us!) Almost always the product delivered results that were clearly “too good to be true.” I became ruthless with my questions during the first contact and very rarely did they get past that first encounter.

    More annoying was when these product-pushers cornered a well meaning board member and convinced him or her they had the answer to all of our fundraising problems. They are very persuasive and sound remarkably sincere. I would regularly get a call from an excited board member or a friend of the organization who wanted to introduce me to their new best friend with a terrific, fool proof way to spin straw into gold.

    After a while I included a brief tutorial on this subject for my board members once a year or so, to remind them that nine out of ten times these ideas and products are not going to benefit the foundation or the donors. The products generally were all variations on a few themes, and I would “innoculate” them against them.

    Having said all that, I will add that I am a big fan of the irrevocable life insurance trust and think it is a great tool in the right circumstances. I also believe that life insurance is a good tool standing on its own, and annuities as well. And I am also a big fan of many of the financial planning, investment, and insurance professionals that I have met through my legal and planned giving work. There are many who have a genuine customer service mentality. Fundraising professionals must develop genuine relationships with allied professionals, learn which of them share your values and approaches (and there will be many), and then work with them and refer to them. Just as with any aspect of fundraising, success depends on taking the time to build true relationships.

  6. Totally agree! It’s the same philosphy I believe in when it comes to major gifts. An “ask” for a gift of a specific amount seems to be oxymoronic. Sure, research a donor’s ability to give, but then ask, “We’d like you to make a gift that would have a significant impact on the lives of the people we serve. We’ve set various levels of gifts simply as a way to track progress, but only you can determine the amount of a gift that will greatly affect the lives of as many people as possible.”

    Then again, we’ve been trained from a very early age to ask for specific gifts: “Dear Santa…”

  7. I can’t agree with you more, Tony. I have over 13 years as an in-house fund-raiser and have experienced many of the same things.

    My cure was to always put together my own Planned Giving Seminars and Wills Seminars. I used only speakers I knew, or speakers whom I’d heard thier presentations before. I’d give the speakers a absic outline – very vague with just enough guidence to make sure they knew what points I’d like them to touch on. Every speaker had a hard time limit,and I’d sit in the audience where they could see me and I could signal them as wrap-up time approached.

    I also had an iron-clad policy: no speaker could pitch any of their products during the program. They we welcome to provide leave behinds (including a business card) for all participants, but no talking about anything the sell. The speakers knew this policy as I recruited them, and were reminded in the outline. In 13+ years, I can only remember 1 speaker who violated the policy and I never used him again.

    I’m curious how other Planned Giving Personal have avoided what Tony talks about.

  8. Your points are very well taken. I have not had the personal “pleasure”of encountering these salespeople but do know that making significant charitable gift decisions is complex enough without the added stress and confusion of additional products and pressure. It is always a good idea to learn the motivations of people selling to or advising you.

    Keep up the good writing and thinking!

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