To Count or Not to Count, That is the Question

True collaboration and cooperation is required to achieve success in a comprehensive campaign.  No fundraising units of a charity should be perceived as being in competition with any other unit. In my opinion, this requires strong leadership and creative goal setting. Why are so many planned giving shops measured with metrics designed for major gift fundraisers? I have heard a broad range of answers to this question, none of which was particularly satisfactory and a few reasons made no sense at all.  

What does this have to do with counting gifts in a campaign? Everything. By adopting appropriate counting policies and tying them to performance metrics, we can create true win/win environments within our organizations. My planned giving team has established program goals for both deferred gifts and current gifts rather than dollar goals. No one should have a goal for realized gifts from estates, but it happens all the time. Organizations with big volumes of estates can reasonably project cash flow from existing estates in execution.  Of course we use dollars to measure our progress but in fact we don’t count the money and credit is fully shared with the fundraisers in outlying units.   

All gifts that arise through the Planned Giving program and that are appropriately documented are allocated to a campaign project, unit or faculty.  The fundraiser responsible for the campaign project will be drawn into the development process as early as possible and will be credited with the gift. This is intended to more closely link the donor to their projects and assure that long term stewardship is managed by the unit/fundraiser who gets to count the donation against their goals. The source is identified as a planned gift to assure that the PG program goal is on target. Documented expectancies are counted as pledges at face value for everyone age 65 and older and credited to the fundraiser in the same way as a major gift. If the donor is under 65, by the end of the campaign we discount the gift to the present value using the Bank of Canada 10 year+ bond rate and life expectancy from end of campaign. 

Planned giving donors who are considering a revelation about their philanthropic intent must be given ample reason for doing so and be shown that there is a transparent and consistent standard for including their gifts in a campaign. Transparency is a function of accuracy, completeness and clarity.  It is important, then, to ensure that we are counting, recognizing and crediting gifts according to clearly defined standards. The only standard guidelines that I know of are those developed by NACGP [formerly NCPG and available on their website here] and in accordance with CASE campaign reporting standards (available by purchase from CASE).* Crediting and valuation of gifts and where they show on a charity’s books are policy decisions unique to each charity and are objectified by accounting and financial reporting standards for public institutions in all provinces.

There are three categories of goals for gifts in most campaigns: current gifts and pledges, irrevocable deferred gifts, and revocable deferred gifts.  To my mind there is no reason that any of these types of gifts should be siloed from each other by the artificial constructs of fundraising functions. Annual gift teams during campaigns should prioritize loyal givers as prospects for a planned gift and learn how to have an initial discussion with those donors about a gift by will. Research out of Langley Innovations in the US indicates that the best pool of major gift prospects for a campaign may indeed arise from the database of planned gift donors.  A savvy major gift fundraiser should be knowledgeable enough about planned giving to suggest low cost/ tax effective alternatives to writing a cheque and bring in a gift planner for the more complicated plans. Gift planners should be seeking every way possible to leverage participation in blended gift asks.

Campaigns are not normally compelling reasons for people to write gifts into their wills, rather it is life circumstances and personal events that give rise to new and revised estate plans.  It is our job in planned giving to be top of mind when those events arise in donors’ lives.  Campaigns, however, can create compelling reasons to reveal planned gift intentions and provide a means to stay top of mind over a sustained period. More recently, campaigns can also provide opportunities for blended gifts which have components of current, deferred and sometimes ‘something-in-between’ gifts. Usually a revocable deferred gift is the cornerstone of these hybrid gift plans.

So when you are looking for ways to work together make sure that you consider how you count and credit planned gifts in ways that will engage all fundraising functions in the campaign mix without engendering competitive conflicts. Give some thought to a program goal for planned giving and maybe even annual giving, rather than dollar goals. Adopt counting, recognition and shared crediting policies that reflect the differences in how gifts arise and respect your donors’ notions of philanthropy.

There will be opportunities at the 2017 CAGP Conference in Toronto next March to engage in further discussion about counting, crediting, recognizing and valuing planned gifts in the context of campaigns and other discussions about team building.  Hope to see you there. 

 * Cheryl Stevens from the University of British Columbia did a thorough treatise on the topic in a past edition of Gift Planning in Canada from 2013 and also in a CAGP webinar which can be viewed here.


Great reads this month:

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Comment: 
Eloquent as always. So well stated Doug. Jim Campbell

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