What to do instead of the crusty old estate planning seminars you run hoping to generate planned gifts

I’m not sure the old-fashioned estate planning seminars really work to generate legacy gifts. Here’s why:

  1. They’re expensive (since time is the same as money).
  2. Some folks just want a free meal or free information.
  3. Others feel that the seminar offer is incongruent with the charity’s mission (leaving donors to wonder why you’re doing it in the first place).
  4. And, finally, if you aren’t being transparent at first about why you’re holding the seminar, then some might think that you’re really just trying to dupe your supporters… now that’s not nice!


Instead, why not try this idea: 

Invite longtime donors, volunteers, board members (or any other group) to participate in a focus group!

That’s an offer that focuses on your supporters’ emotions rather than the transactional aspects of their legacy gifts.
Once there, ask them how they think the organization should prepare to serve future generations. That would make ’em feel valued and appreciated!
Those that come forward will obviously care about the organization’s future— qualified leads. Then you should be transparent about the purpose of the focus group. Ask the members how they think the nonprofit should prepare to help future generations. Ask them about how you should approach others with regard to making a gift in a will. And, finally, give them a survey after the focus group to see if they are interested in making such a gift.

I think in many cases this might be a much better, more strategic offer when compared with a crusty old estate planning seminar. And besides, no one wants to think about death. Rather, everyone likes to think about the future!



>> 10 Ways to Deliver Value to Your Major Donors and Planned Giving Prospects
>> Visual Planned Giving eBook: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning


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Deb Allen
Deb Allen
8 years ago

Here’s a quandary for you–how do you recommend phrasing the “we want to help future generations” pitch, when you are raising money for a cause that you hope is eradicated soon, like breast cancer?

8 years ago
Reply to  Deb Allen

Hi Deb. People give for different reasons. Some want to help future generations. Others want to help end suffering. In this case, I don’t think you’d necessarily want to use the “future generations” pitch in the first place. But, rather, the “end suffering” pitch. Hope that helps.

Michael J. Rosen
8 years ago

I’m not sure why it needs to be an either / or situation. Organizations can present estate planning seminars AND also conduct focus groups. The key is to structure both or either to be as effective as possible.
A crusty old estate planning seminar may not be effective. However, a dynamic, transparent, helpful, engaging, upbeat estate planning seminar might be of tremendous value to participants and the organization.
When it comes to focus groups, there are good ways to do it and horrible. A focus group that is just thrown together and facilitated by a member of the development staff will be a nearly worthless gimmick. By contrast, a professionally designed and independently facilitated focus group can be enormously valuable.
The bottom-line is that however an organization approaches its prospects and donors, it should do so in a high-quality way with key objectives in mind.

8 years ago

Well said Michael (as usual)!

Debbie Eliason
8 years ago

Good discussion. I’d also like to note that if you host a focus group, you need to be prepared to follow up, and your leadership has to have buy in from the beginning. Might seem like a no brainer but….

8 years ago
Reply to  Debbie Eliason

Always sound advice from you Debbie! Thanks.

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