Ask Claudine

Ask Claudine: Marketing Q&A with Pentera's CEO

Claudine A. Donikian, JD, MBA
President, CEO

Speaking engagements
ext. 300

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About Claudine


We’ve all heard the saying, “Your best planned giving prospect is a current planned giving donor.” How much truth is there in that?

A lot of old sayings, in marketing or any other field, have little validity. But this one is accurate. In the ongoing academic research study that Pentera has commissioned, 21 percent of donors made more than one planned gift. That’s a huge number: Can you imagine getting a gift from one out of five prospects?

We also found that repeat donors like life-income gifts. Among one-time planned gift donors, bequests are by far the most popular gift type. But donors making multiple gifts are more likely to set up a charitable gift annuity or a charitable trust; more than half of their planned gifts in the study were life-income gifts.

Proximity also makes a difference: Donors living in the same state were significantly more likely to make repeat gifts to the same institution.

Another accurate planned giving saying is, “I didn’t make a gift because I wasn’t asked.” We need to keep asking those who have already said yes.

Our board is a little leery about marketing specifically to women donors. What are some of the reasons that it’s important to do so?

There is a lot of research showing that more and more philanthropic decisions are being made by women, and that women donors think, act, and give differently than men do. Not marketing to women because of a concern that some male supporters might be offended is short-sighted. It doesn't recognize the growing importance of women in philanthropy, and it also is an unlikely concern. None of our clients who have marketed to women have reported a complaint from a male donor! Below are some of the research findings showing why you should market planned giving to women. You can read much more in our whitepaper on women in philanthropy that is available on our home page.

  • Women now control more than half of the wealth in the United States—and experts say the percentage could be two-thirds or more by 2030.
  • Women are more charitable than men: Female-headed households are more likely to give to charity than male-headed households across every income category.
  • Women have different philanthropic motivations and behaviors, including:
    • Women donors are more concerned about impact when making philanthropic decisions and are less likely than men to annually support the same causes.
    • Women donors care more about personal experience with an organization when making philanthropic decisions.
    • Women are more likely to use formal networks when making philanthropic decisions, and they give more when they do.

These facts make it clear that the planned giving industry needs to market differently to women donors. And Pentera has developed strategies and materials to do so. Good luck with your board!

What kind of response can I expect from my marketing? Do you have client statistics?

While unfortunately we can’t look into a crystal ball and provide that information, “engagement” is the new “it” metric, the new “response rate,” and it’s quite valuable. Even though the majority of Pentera’s clients get excellent response rates to their marketing, the newer concept of “engagement” is a complementary metric that allows clients to see the “behind-the-scenes” activity and behavior of their constituents interacting with e-mails leading up to and in addition to when they actually “request more information.”

We have the luxury of knowing from e-mail data what percentage (how many) and exactly who is opening and clicking through on e-mails. With print, we can extrapolate from that and be assured that if we could put a camera in people’s homes and watch them go through their mail, we would see some people open the mailed pieces (open rate) and a subset of those read the newsletter (click-through rate).

Think Prius cars. E-mail data allows clients to “look under the hood of the car and see that an otherwise silent engine is indeed running.” High, medium, low, or no response—clients know from their e-mail data that their marketing—their Prius engine—is running. People are engaged and reading materials. Everyone? No. A good number, between 15% and 40% for our clients? Yes.

Pentera provides detailed analytics of critical e-mail data to its clients so they can measure engagement:

  • opens
  • click-throughs
  • undeliverables
  • unsubscribes

Clients can also capture data on how many and which donors click from an eMarketing piece to the planned giving Web site and know what pages are subsequently visited on the Web site. Clients can use this data to determine prospects’ interests and establish a plan for cultivation and for moves management.

What are some tips for driving traffic to my planned giving Web site?

Your planned-giving Web site is likely becoming an increasingly important resource for communicating your message to potential donors. To drive more traffic to your site, try the suggestions listed below. Remember though that the ultimate goal is to get the potential donor to contact you directly via the Web or otherwise. A Web site’s main function is to serve as a place to do research, which donors of all ages will do before making a gift. Another function is the ability to monitor increases in traffic to your site after a mail campaign, a metric for the success of your marketing efforts.

1. Include an article on the Life-Stage Gift Planner™ in your next planned giving newsletter. Write your own, or ask your Pentera account executive for help.

2. Add the URL of your planned-giving Web site to your e-mail signature.

3. Encourage people to visit your site by giving the URL on your voice mail recording. For example, when people call to leave you a message, they could hear you say, “Please leave your name and number; and also don’t forget to visit our new planned giving Web site to learn about ways you can leave your legacy, at [your URL].”

4. Send a postcard announcing your new site. For added impact and interest, consider featuring the monthly article or the Life-Stage Gift Planner™. This gives potential donors something specific to investigate, unlike a simple, generic invitation.

There seems to be a lot of controversy about the age at which we should start marketing to donors. What is your advice?

Our advice is that there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation, that you must consider a number of factors within your organization. The academic research that Pentera recently commissioned does confirm other research that the likelihood of making a planned gift increases sharply around ages 45-50. But that does not mean that all organizations should market to donors that young.

We suggest that you cultivate a younger audience if your organization has a history of solid stewardship infrastructure and procedures, a budget allowing for marketing and stewarding to all age groups, and the proper staff resources to steward.

It is a mistake for nonprofits to follow one-size-fits-all marketing advice and to focus too much attention on the younger cohort—as some have done with disastrous results. If your planned giving program doesn’t have the processes and procedures to steward young 40-ish donors until the maturation of their bequest in 40 or 50 years, then you really ought to think twice about reaching out to them so young—especially if you are shifting resources away from cultivating and stewarding older donors.

You must continue to steward your “old friends”: those who are 70 and older and those who have been loyal givers and volunteers, including those who have stopped giving or volunteering. It is common for a loyal donor to stop giving in old age but to have a charitable gift to your organization in his or her will—and to maintain that bequest as long as stewarding continues.

How important are donor stories, and what makes a good one?

Donor stories are an effective marketing tool; the key to their success has to do with the second part of your question: Good donor stories usually do have an impact, while poor donor stories may be worse than no donor story at all.

For a short marketing piece with limited space, you have just a few seconds to grab the reader’s attention and create relevance. You don’t have the time or space to tell the donor’s entire life story. The main purpose of a donor story is to present a role model who inspires others to consider a gift. The focus needs to be on the gift made and why the donor chose to make the gift—both the emotional reasons (perhaps to give back in gratitude) and the financial reasons (why the donor chose this particular method of giving).

We offer clients a free donor story writing service, providing a questionnaire from which we write an effective story. We also can have one of our professional writers conduct a telephone interview with the donor and write the story (for a fee).

“The donor stories are wonderful,” says one Pentera client. “Something that would take me or someone else here weeks to do is quick, accurate, and beautifully written.”

We’re always hearing about the Baby Boomers, but are they making the most planned gifts?

They will be, and soon, but currently the generation preceding the Boomers—the Silent Generation—has made more planned gifts, according to the ongoing academic research we have commissioned. The 2016 Planned Giving Study found that 48 percent of donors were from the Silent Generation (currently ages 71-88), while 31 percent of donors were Baby Boomers (currently ages 52-70).

Those Silent Generation donors must be stewarded to the end of their lives, since other research has found that many donors make changes to their charitable beneficiaries within five years of death.

The percent of living donors who are Boomers will increase each year for several reasons: More Silent Generation donors are dying each year; more Boomers are entering their prime planned giving years; and there are a lot more Boomers: the Silent Generation was originally 47 million, while the Baby Boomer generation was originally 76 million.

Thus it behooves us to consider the preferences of the Boomers when marketing. We suggest you:

  • Use a mix of traditional and digital media.
  • Use optimistic images and messaging.
  • Communicate your mission clearly.
  • Provide information on planned giving vehicles.
  • Include life-stage retirement-planning information.
  • Promote your legacy society.
When we market to women, should we promote naming opportunities and named endowments like we do with men?

This is a fascinating question, and I recently had our company do some research about the behavior of our clients' donors that sheds some light on one of the ways that women donors differ from men. We found that many men and couples attach their own names to funds, endowments, scholarships, etc., but that very few single women do so. On the other hand, almost two-thirds of tribute gifts—in which a donor names a fund or endowment for someone else—were made by single women (including widows).

The message is clear: Women donors are more interested in honoring someone else than in honoring themselves. We suggest promoting tribute gifts with all donors, but especially with women. Of course you can also include the idea of using her own name.

Tribute gifts almost always honor deceased family members, with parents the top choice. The second choice of women donors was to honor a deceased husband—often with a scholarship in the husband's name at his college alma mater. That shows how important it is to establish and maintain relationships with a donor's family.

What are the best months to mail?

It’s a common misconception to think certain months are either better or worse for mailing. Direct marketing success is based on four factors: list, offer, creative, and seasonality. While there is a positive correlation between an increase in response during months that have less daylight, it is still wise not to write off mailing in months with longer days (summer), especially if the “seasonality” of an offer calls for it.

For instance, if you were a company selling school supplies for children, you would mail in the back-to-school months, July and August. Similarly, most people mailed donors about the gift annuity rate drop that went into effect on July 1 of 2008 right after they heard about it—in late April to early June.

So, just as the school supply company wouldn’t do a back-to-school campaign in February, a planned giving department wouldn’t do a mailing on Tax-Time Checkup in November or Year-End Giving in January.

We’re starting a new legacy society; what are some tips on picking a name?

We have found that almost all of the legacy society names of our clients fall into one of five categories, named after:

  • A person
  • A date
  • A landmark
  • The organization itself
  • An inspirational word or phrase

We suggest you consider three keys when looking at the five categories: be intentional with your choice; select a name that is easily recognizable; and whenever possible link the name to your mission. While a person is the most popular approach among Pentera clients, we don't recommend it for new societies unless the person is really well-known. Otherwise most people won't recognize the reference

Many organizations name their legacy societies after the year in which the organization was founded. This naming approach establishes the stability of the organization - crucial for donors who are considering planned gifts.

An organization with a significant landmark or well-known natural element can use that for the name. But sometimes the simplest approach is the most effective: "The (organization name) Legacy Society." It certainly keeps the name of the organization in front of the donor, and it is completely clear what the society is about.

What are the best ways to reach our marketing goals of building awareness, educating potential donors, and ultimately getting a response in the form of increased traffic to our planned giving site?

First, market your Web site consistently and frequently in your print materials and include multiple effective calls to action directing readers to visit your planned giving Web site. You will most probably see spikes in your Web site traffic after mailings. Contact Pentera to find out about some new strategies to use in your next print newsletter to drive readers to your site.

Second, incorporate a 100 percent custom eNewsletter into your marketing mix and you’ll be able to see which individuals are opening your e-mails and clicking through to your planned gift Web site. This level of interest is a very effective way to know whom to move from “just on my mailing-list category” to “prime planned-gift prospect.” As you can see, Web site traffic is an excellent metric for monitoring the results of your planned-giving marketing.

When is it advisable to use reverse type (white type on top of a dark background or image) in a publication?

It is generally advisable to restrict the use of reverse type to headlines, titles, or similarly large and/or brief instances of copy, such as in the table below.

Use of reverse type in body copy or, similarly, large instances of copy, causes a dramatic loss of reading comprehension, resulting in a diminished response rate.

Comprehension Level:
Reverse Type for Body Copy
Good Fair Poor
Black on white 70% 19% 11%
White on black 0% 12% 88%
White on deep purple 2% 16% 82%
White on French blue 0% 4% 96%
We are considering doing "impact stories" on some of our successful programs. Do you think that is a good idea?

Yes, they are a good idea if done well; your prospective donors can see just how effective your programs are and thus may be inspired to contribute. However, you have to avoid the top five impact story mistakes:

  1. No connection to donors
    Some impact stories tell all about a program's success … with no connection to the support that funded that success. Prospective donors want to see a direct link. Get a quote from a donor who specifically designated funds to that program.
  2. No connection to people
    "Our program helped thousands last year" doesn't cut it. Telling the story of one person or one family carries much more weight than an overview. You still include the program statistics—preferably in an accompanying graphic.
  3. No picture
    Do you know why animal shelters are so successful at fundraising? Cute animal pics. They barely need to write anything with the photo. Yes, many nonprofits have to protect the privacy of their program recipients—so ask to take a picture and get a signed release.
  4. Too long
    The Centers for Disease Control has a whitepaper for public health organizations in which it talks about "elevator stories"—your best 10-second story. For the written word the CDC suggests "one-pagers," which is what Pentera recommends to its clients: about 200 words.
  5. Poorly written
    It's not easy to organize the crucial elements of an impact story. Our experienced writers can work from your organization's notes and documents (for no charge) or conduct interviews (for a modest fee). Just like our great donor stories, we know how to write impact stories that inspire other donors.

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