Do you really need to buy a planned giving website?

In most cases, for most nonprofits… NO! You don’t need to buy a planned giving website.

Here’s why: 
For decades, nonprofit leaders and staff have been led to believe that planned giving is complicated while most planned gifts are made in the form of simple bequests or by beneficiary designation. In fact, only the wealthiest estates pay an estate tax because it is levied only on the portion of an estate’s value that exceeds an exemption level — $5.43 million per person (effectively $10.86 million per married couple) in 2015 and $11.2 million per person ($22.4 million per couple) in 2018.

So, you don’t need a complex website to offer sophisticated giving options to your supporters and volunteers when most of that content will appeal to less than 0.5% of the site’s target audience. These people probably won’t visit the site anyway (if it’s filled with planning tools and tactics) since they have advisors to help with these issues.

More reasons why you might not need a planned giving site (or at least, not the one you currently have)
Full disclosure here… MarketSmart sells VIP micro-sites for philanthropic-minded supporters. I prefer not to call them websites. Sure, they are online. But they aren’t websites and they aren’t just for planned giving. They are for major gifts, including planned gifts. Plus, these VIP zones are designed to capture and nurture engagement using offers that resonate with supporters— not legalese, sophisticated planning tools, and techniques. So, I don’t feel like we sell what so many other companies push on fundraisers.

Now, here are more reasons you might not need your current PG site after all.

Most planned giving sites attract very few visitors
Don’t let your planned giving website vendor/salesperson mislead you. Most of the traffic hitting your site is probably actually your own staff or just a bunch of bots pinging your site to see what’s there. Sometimes, several times in one day, Google might send their bots to your PG pages to crawl and index them. Not worth counting! Those bots will never donate. They aren’t human!

You want real visitors with real needs. You want them to engage and “convert” by filling out a form or by contacting you. Is your site getting them to do that frequently? If not, you probably don’t need the site you currently have. Or, you probably need a different strategy.

Most PG sites are just plain offensive to donors (but fundraisers love ’em)
They confuse donors. They offend them. They focus on death and taxes instead of life, permanence and symbolic immortality. When was the last time a donor complemented you on your planned giving website? Never? Then it’s time to rethink your strategy.

The problem is that the planned giving websites out there (besides ours) were written and designed to appeal to fundraisers  — not supporters. Why? Because that’s the best way to sell ’em.

Quick… Do you like your planned giving website? Does it appeal to you?

If you like it and it appeals to you, that’s a really bad sign unless you have truly already left a handful of organizations in your estate plan. If you haven’t (come on now… be honest), then you are not the person who should be judging your web pages because you’re not in the target market!

Instead, you should follow the research which shows that most PG websites are confusing at best and offensive at worst. They use the wrong words, they use the wrong images, they provide the wrong engagement offers (or none at all) and they drive donors away.

Don’t believe me? Just look at how much traffic you’re getting, where it’s coming from, how many people bounce (leave the site) right away, and how much time do they spend on it (including the minutes spent viewing it and the number of pages viewed).

Oh, can’t seem to get that data from your vendor easily? Hmmm. I wonder why?

Stop the madness!
You probably don’t need self-serve, cookie-cutter calculators either. Hardly anybody uses them. Instead, you need an engaging way to get supporters to raise their hands indicating that they are considering making a planned gift.

Plus, you probably don’t need instructional, legalistic videos and legalese that scare people because they remind them about their own death (and taxes). Yuck! Instead, you should share stories about supporters who planned a gift and found true meaning in their lives by doing so. Or you should provide valuable engagement offers that help supporters contemplate how they want to be remembered, who they’d like to honor and how their life story entwines with your organization’s mission.

Additionally, you don’t need a dozen or so pages buried deep within your web structure that very few people ever visit. Instead, you need a lead generation system that captures information and then automatically cultivates relationships with supporters by sending them highly personalized and relevant communications inline with where they are in the consideration process and what interests them.

In many cases, you only need a few very simple, easy-to-understand pages that help your supporters recognize that they can make an impact after their lifetime — and they can feel good about deciding to do so now. You also need to make the proper bequest language easily available for a donor or advisor along with your tax ID # so another organization doesn’t mistakenly fight you for the gift.

Sure more pages might be better BUT ONLY if they are truly engaging and designed to convert (get the donor to opt-into the cultivation process) based on research and results.

Here are the best reasons to invest in a comprehensive VIP micro-site:

  1. Do it if you can make sure the content is about the Fantastic Four (MarketSmart’s planned giving website content strategy based on research from my pal Dr. Russell James).
    • Helps them visualize their life story while realizing how their mission aligns with your organization’s mission  [Visualized autobiography]
    • Facilitates an experience that allows them to see themselves as the hero in their own life story [Autobiographical heroism]
    • Enables them to feel that they can live on in the hearts and minds of others [Symbolic immortality]
    • Provides a way for them to honor, pay tribute to or recognize others [Commemorative immortality]
  2. Do it if you have a strategy for driving traffic to the pages.
  3. Do it if you have a strategy for generating leads, cultivating relationships and stewarding new legacy society members.
  4. Do it if you have staff available for immediate follow-up.

Don’t do it just to check it off of your list because everyone says you need one. That’ll only result in wasted money.

Wondering how we make our VIP micro-sites so effective? Give us a ring. We’ll show you.

Related Posts:

>>Should your planned giving website include a calculator page?
>>Copywriting basics for your legacy giving website

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Sheila A. Hard, J.D.
Sheila A. Hard, J.D.
3 years ago

Greg, as usual there is an enormous wisdom in this post, and I heartily agree with most of your points. That said, it contains a few assumptions that would benefit from being examined a little more closely.

The first assumption is to equate “sophisticated planned giving options” with the tiny fraction of people who owe estate taxes. Gift annuities are very popular with “mom and pop” donors, some of whom don’t even itemize their income taxes. Charitable remainder trusts are a great technique for people who bought their homes decades ago, have experienced sizable appreciation, and who face a big capital gains tax bill if they sell.

Secondly, although wealthy people have advisors to help them with tax issues, the sad fact is that most of what planned giving specialists know is not taught in law school. This is surprising to non-lawyers, but estate planning classes do not normally go beyond bequests, beneficiary designations, and CRTs. Why? Because the ultimate work product of the lawyer is documents; and agreements such as CGAs and retained life estates generally originate with the charity and are not their stock in trade. (By way of example, I recall being the first one to tell an estate planning attorney about retained life estates. This attorney had been practicing for over 2 decades, was board certified in estate planning, and a member of ACTEC.

While the spotlight should be on the gifts that are our bread-and-butter, sophisticated planned giving options should not be entirely missing from websites.

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