How to Measure Planned Giving Marketing Success

Measuring Success

By Impact Team

February 11, 2020

The planned giving industry is constantly trying to define measures of success in ways that are meaningful and easily understood by our development colleagues in other disciplines. Simply reporting on the number of donor visits planned giving officers have or the dollar amount that comes in the door each year does not come close to capturing the results of our work.

Plainly speaking, we can’t simply create a report that says how much we spent on a mailing and how much money was brought in in response…and sometimes that is the report our leadership wants to see.

At Impact, we try to define marketing success in three basic ways:

  1. Response Rates
  2. Pipeline Projection
  3. Trends over Time

Response Rates:

Many in planned giving come to our work through major gifts or other donor-facing jobs. We are simply not accustomed to measuring the response rates of each mailing we send out. Time and time again, I will ask a planned giving marketer how a piece performed and they will tell me the number of responses they received without even considering how many were sent out. Measuring the response rate gives a more accurate measurement of how well the marketing piece performed in comparison to other marketing efforts.

Pipeline Projection:

In planned giving, we often say that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. The money coming in the door is the result of work done years before and yet we often get credit for it.

It’s time to claim credit for the work we are doing now! We recommend creating a pipeline to show the number of new gifts that are disclosed each year and either the exact amount disclosed by the donor or the current average received gift size. These numbers will wow your boards – and probably you, too.

Sure, you need to take these numbers with a grain of salt – we can’t be positive we will receive that exact amount. However, in most cases you end up receiving MORE than projected using averages.

Trends Over Time:

Planned giving is, at its essence, a waiting game. No, I’m not talking about waiting for our donors to die, though that is always the gallows humor narrative spread about us. Think of it more in terms of brand marketing instead of product marketing. When Nike is selling shoes, they aren’t simply focused on how many Air Jordan 4 Retros in Gym Red they can sell. They are working on increasing their market share of all Nike products among all sneakers sold worldwide.

Likewise, we are not just measuring the results of one planned giving marketing campaign. We are also looking to see if the number of hits to the planned giving pages on the website increase year over year; the number of “out of the blue” phone calls from donors increase each year; the number of donor visits increases as the donors become more interested in talking with us. Looking at those trends over time helps to tell a part of the overall story.

Special BONUS Measure!

Our friend Nicole Engdahl from the National Park Foundation adds a bonus 4th measure of success when she is talking with her leadership: Donor Stories. As Nicole says, “People remember stories better than they remember numbers on a report.” So she always includes a story of a donor she is working with when reporting to her leadership. “Those stories help to bring home the message I’m trying to convey with my reports.”

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