Should you target market financial advisors in order to get more legacy gifts?

It depends.
I find myself saying, “It depends” quite a lot these days. But, seriously, the decision to target market to financial advisors depends on the nonprofit that employs you.

If you work for a Community Foundation, I’d say almost 90% of your marketing should support your efforts to meet and build relationships with local estate planning professionals. But if you work just about anywhere else I’d turn that upside-down so you use your marketing to help you generate leads and build relationships with individual donors.

Let’s get strategic about this.
1.  Ethics.
In most circumstances, estate planning professionals (financial advisors) feel strongly that it is unethical for them to ‘recommend’ a specific charity to a client. Many have told me, point-blank, that they are very uncomfortable with the idea of doing that because their code of ethics demands complete objectivity.

So, although they might meet with you if you target market them, they probably won’t recommend your specific charity (or at least they shouldn’t).

Note: I have heard stories from planned giving professional describing situations where an advisor was asked by the donor to recommend a specific charity resulting in humongous gifts. Although, I can’t help but wonder if the advisor really recommended just one. I bet they recommended a category based on the donor’s interests or they might have suggested the donor look at a few charities, including yours. In other words, since the planned giving professional wasn’t in the room, I don’t think they can be sure that the advisor solely recommended the PGO’s employer.

2.  Finding the advisors that need your help is challenging.
Although there are many cases when they will need you, for a large portion of their clients all they really need is your charity’s tax id #.

For the rest, the ones that need you, how will you find those needles in the haystack? There are about 250,000 financial advisors in the U.S. and that figure doesn’t include all the attorneys that can possibly create a will. That’s just financial advisors.

But let’s use that low number anyway to start developing a strategy and tactical plan that answers the following questions:

  • Which advisors should you call and meet with first to get the best results?
  • What do you hope to accomplish with those advisors (let’s be specific and precise here)?
  • How many of those advisors do you need to meet with each year/month/week in order to get the best results?
  • How long do you think it will take to get the meetings with them?
  • How long will it take to cultivate relationships with them?
  • Do you have that amount of time available?
  • How will you qualify them for further cultivation (to make sure your time is well spent)?
  • How will you track your results so you can determine if your strategy is working immediately and in the long run?
  • Would it be better to just meet with a bunch of individual donors?

Face it, finding and meeting with financial advisors might make you feel good but that strategy won’t work as well or as quickly as one that focuses on donors first and foremost.

3.  Call reluctance.
Call reluctance happens when faced with the task of cold- or warm-calling. No one likes rejection. So, when the time comes to pick up the phone and call some donors or prospects, we become reluctant and find other things to do instead. I believe many nonprofit legacy gift officers suffer from this syndrome. Then, instead of calling donors, they decide that they’d rather talk to an advisor instead. That makes sense because both legacy gift officers and advisors are similar to one another. Donors (especially major donors), on the other hand, are not similar to gift officers.

4.  Golden rule.
If you are opting to spend tons of time with financial advisors when you really should be building relationships with donors, you might benefit from my golden rule. No, this is not the golden rule you already know. It’s my golden rule: He or she who owns the gold, rules!

In other words, fundraisers should go right to the source of the money, not the person warehousing the money and making recommendations to the person who owns the money (gold). The person who truly owns the money is the REAL decision-maker. Go there! Anything else is dawdling and should be thought of as a third-tier strategy. Exhaust your top-tier strategies, like calling donors, first!

As you might know, our top-tier strategies here at MarketSmart involve first surveying donors to generate highly qualified leads. Then using the rest of our system to cultivate and prioritize the leads. Using this strategy, fundraisers get exceptionally qualified leads ensuring that they won’t be able to think about third-tier strategies (like cultivating relationships with financial advisors).

Bottom line: In many cases, it’s simply not a sound strategy to target advisors. Sure, you’ll hit one out of the park every once in a while. But mostly you’ll spend your time spinning your wheels when you could be meeting with real, live donors instead.

Related Posts:

>>Are fundraising tricks and gimmicks worth doing?

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Scott Park
Scott Park
6 years ago

Excellent reality check, Greg!

mike cowart
6 years ago

Our focus is on donors, but a secondary focus is on professional advisors, and we invite them to a luncheon in our first meeting w/the nonprofit, which has become a client. Our reasons:
1. We are not here to take business from you.
2. Explain our process-we don’t sell products, manage assets, draft documents, or solicit gifts.
3. Invite them to participate in our process
4. Follow up for referrals to our nonprofit client-professional advisors become our greatest advocates!

James E. Connell FAHP, CSA

Your comments and key points are timely.
Folks may enjoy reviewing this PowerPoint link to a presentation for my October 26 talk to the Planned Giving Council of Greater Philadelphia entitled: “Building a Professional Advisory Council and Agents of Wealth Program” as only 14% of professional advisors understand the power in charitable giving and most of those are just for Donor Advised Funds.

6 years ago

Thanks James. I took a look at your presentation. It’s very detailed and thorough. Very well done. But I still can’t see why a nonprofit and its staff would go to such trouble (time, effort and immense cost) to market to advisors so rigorously. I still believe it’s much more essential to market properly to donors first (and possibly ONLY).

Tom Yates
Tom Yates
4 years ago

I agree. A million times more ROI from cultivating donors instead. On the flip side, many advisors like the councils because it gives them some non-profit credentials and they see a potential for client referrals back to them from charities (the latter doesn’t actually happen all that much either). The Advisory Council as fundraising strategy time has come… but, like SO many things in planned giving, there is little research and data to back that notion, so it lives on in zombie mode.

Lawrence Henze
2 years ago

Totally agree with you, Greg! Donors and prospects first. I see too many organizations engaging with advisors as their primary strategy. The result is money being left on the table.

Jonathan Scott
2 years ago

This sounds right, generally, but what about cultivating financial advisors as donors themselves? That might be an exception. Either way, the focus for limited resources must be on building relationships with donors and prospective donors, and being strategic and targeted with the use of those resources is something we owe to the donors who are ultimately paying for this work.

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