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Should your planned giving website include a calculator page?

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.

planned giving website calculatorSometimes our new clients get all jazzed about having a calculator on their planned giving website. I guess they feel it’s important to provide a calculator so their donors can calculate their charitable gift annuities or their retained life estates.
But I’m not so sure donors really use these things very much. And, after reviewing two of our client’s planned giving websites I found that I was right (at least for those two).
Here are the results from my digging around:
Planned giving calculato statsNow, you should also know that one of my clients told me last month that they once closed a $1 million CGA as a result of their online gift calculator. That’s the kind of story that has always prevented me from dropping the calculator altogether.
What do you think? Have you had awesome success with your online calculator?

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11 responses to “Should your planned giving website include a calculator page?”

  1. Theresa says:

    Great topic Greg. One concern we’ve had is that folks will use the calculator inaccurately and not contact us to do a quick illustration. I’m curious what others think about a calculator on their gift planning websites.

  2. John Bacon says:

    I feel strongly that having prospective annuitants get the numerical information from development staff is critical first step in starting a dialog with us that can lead to a gift now or in the future–and hopefully a bequest intention as those are where the real money is (at least for my charity). I worry that a calculator would short circuit this connection. On the other hand for a program that does large volume of annuities with a more transactional nature (i.e., largely if not entirely done by phone and email), a calculator may make perfect sense.

  3. Jay Smith says:

    We do not include a calculator on our webpage specifically so that we can provide an illustration tailored to the information provided by the prospect. While not always possible, the goal is to meet face-to-face with the individual.

  4. Colleen Lukoff says:

    Adding a calculator or not is really not the right question. If it is easy and low-cost, fine. But don’t have it be the focus. Have stories about giving – other givers and their reasons for being donors – be the focus. They first have to answer the “why” before any conversations about the “how” make sense.

  5. Greg Warner says:

    Thanks Jay, John and Theresa. These are very interesting responses. I wonder if anyone will comment who has had exceptional results from their online calculator. I’m beginning to get the feeling that these tools may actually be a hinderance to getting fundraisers together with supporters.

  6. Greg Warner says:

    Thanks Colleen. But if the “why” question is answered throughout the rest of the site, then do you think you should include a calculator? Even if it’s easy and low cost, I fear that it encourages supporters to try to figure out if a CGA is right for them on their own when we really should aim to get them to talk to a fundraiser to make that determination instead.

  7. Claire Meyerhoff says:

    if you see activity on your calculator page it could very well be staff — or your marketing specialist running an example to include in your newsletter : )

  8. Scott says:

    On the one hand, eliminating the calculator leaves the donor with only one option–contacting the organization directly. This is what we’re hoping for, as this may allow us to engage the donor and better serve him. But wait, the donor actually has another option–leaving your web site without seeking further information. He might, in fact, go to another web site that does offer a calculator … and set up his gift annuity with that organization.
    Might we consider the fact that, by including a calculator, we’re providing more tools and resources to our donors and prospective donors for their benefit, even if it is a minority that end up using it. If we do our best to serve the donor/prospective donor in ways such as this, we are doing a noble thing. That’s definitely helpful for raising revenues, but it’s also the right thing to do.

  9. Colin says:

    Put “planned gifts calculator” into Google and there are thousands of choices — among the top ones on the first page are Harvard, Brown, Stanford, and The Met. Though few people use an online calculator, for those who do, it’s quite possible they would go to someone else’s site to use theirs, if we didn’t offer one. And then, our door to a relationship starts to close. I know of two of our donors who tried to use it and who messed up their calculations. Exactly what you’re afraid of? Don’t be. They called us to ask what they were doing wrong — and now the door opens much wider. In both cases, the donors ended up making new gifts. It may not be a wildly popular feature, but I think we’re better off with one than without one and, apparently, we aren’t alone.

  10. It would be interesting to have more solid data on this issue. Unfortunately, since such a research project is not likely to get funded anytime soon, we have to rely on anecdotal evidence and instinct.
    Reading the comments, I see that some fear that a calculator keeps people from talking with a fundraiser. Why would it? The only reason I can think of is that the prospective donor figured out that a CGA wasn’t for them after all. Well, guess what? They’d still probably feel that way after talking with a fundraiser. On the other hand, the person who uses the calculator might very well contact the organization for more information. The reality is that we simply don’t have the numbers on this.
    Other folks worry that few people will actually use a calculator. So what? Given the modest cost of incorporating a calculator, does it really matter? Even in Greg’s two examples, however, dozens of prospective did indeed use the calculator. So, why not offer a service to those who want it? It would be interesting to know from Greg’s example how many of the calculator users eventually contacted the organization and then ultimately made a gift. Again, we simply don’t have enough evidence to paint a clear picture.
    Personally, I like the idea of offering a calculator. As a former journalist, I believe in information and full disclosure. We should make it easier, not more difficult, for donors and prospective donors to get the information they need and want in order to make their philanthropic decisions.
    I fear that failing to provide a calculator would have two very negative effects: 1) Prospects who know that other nonprofits provide a calculator might wonder why your organization does not. 2) Prospects might go elsewhere to use a calculator (and then make their gift).
    I say, err on the side of more information, not less. And make philanthropic decisions easier for prospects to make, not more cumbersome.

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