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How to make the initial engagement with a planned giving prospect.

Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

Recently on the Smart Planned Giving Marketers group on LinkedIn, a member of the group asked the following about making the initial engagement with a planned giving prospect: “How can I be honest about my intention (to discuss planned gifts) without scaring them away?”
I replied saying that she might want to consider changing her thinking with regard to the initial engagement by recognizing that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Here’s what I meant and here’s part of my response below:
In any sales situation (and any discussion with a prospect about planned giving IS a selling situation), the seller needs to recognize that the engagement process is just that… a process. It’s like a courtship or dating. You can’t go out on a first date thinking that you need to be honest about your intention to find a mate and get married. That would certainly scare away all of your dates.
Likewise, while you may feel that you would eventually like them to leave a gift to your organization, I don’t think you need to tell them that right away. And I don’t think you are being dishonest by not doing so because, in fact, at this stage you should merely try to build a relationship with that prospect and uncover their needs. It may be clear that you should ask for the planned gift during that first meeting. But, then again, it may not be the right time.
Similarly, a life insurance salesperson (or any other type of salesperson) should not meet a prospect solely with the intention of selling life insurance. Of course that is the end goal. But, rather, he or she should go into the meeting to develop trust, build a relationship and learn about the prospect’s needs. Once the prospect’s needs are determined, then the salesperson can begin to attempt to align solutions to fulfill those needs (otherwise commonly known as “selling”).
Planned gifts solve lots of problems for donors. Most of the time folks leave planned gifts because they want to do more to help the mission and they simply cannot do that during their lifetime. You can empower those people to make a decision they already want to make but they just need to be shown how. And, you can’t get to that point of the conversation without first building the relationship and uncovering their unique set of needs and desires.
So, I suggest putting aside the end goal for the first visit. Instead, just set up the meeting to thank them and learn about THEIR passions, desires and needs. If you uncover problems you can solve and desires you can satisfy with a planned gift, then you can move toward that goal together. That’s fair to your organization and your donor. And by approaching it that way, you won’t scare them away. It’s all about reframing how YOU think about the initial engagement. Look at yourself as a relationship-builder, problem-solver and catalyst for empowerment… not necessarily just a fundraiser. It’s not about getting the gift to aid the mission.  It’s about helping the donor achieve their philanthropic goals by aligning your organization’s mission with theirs.  By doing it this way, you’ll be more comfortable setting up and carrying out the initial engagement.
I hope that response helps others struggling with how to make the initial contact.

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