The Five Big “Don’t-s” As a Member of a Donor’s Estate Planning Team

One of my greatest honors as a charitable estate planning representative has been the occasional invitation to be a part of a donor’s estate planning team. Awards and plaques are nice, but that invitation signifies an unprecedented level of trust in your professional ability and personal integrity. It is not just a matter of a donor believing in your particular charity. I’ve been involved with individuals who intended to leave millions to a charity but would not even consider including one of that charity’s representatives in the process. So, if you have the opportunity to be on a donor’s estate planning team, don’t underestimate the honor, and don’t mess it up. Here are five more specific don’t-s:

1.  Don’t sell:  Neither the organization’s representative nor an agent of the organization should sell products (insurance, annuities, investments, money management, etc.).  If your organization is providing legal and/or planning services, the organization should offer them without charging donors and without obligation.

That invitation signifies an unprecedented level of trust in your professional ability and personal integrity.

2.  Don’t Pressure:  Organizational representatives must not pressure donors to meet with them or engage in an activity that makes them feel uncomfortable. Donors and non-profit representatives should formulate planned gifts primarily with the donors’ goals and objectives in mind. Pressuring donors gives the distinct impression that you don’t really care about their objectives, only getting contributions. Most of us are offended by and resistant to pushy people. Though some may politely tolerate you in the short run, your pushiness will likely result in reduced gifts or discontinued support all together.

One of the keys to successful planned giving is recognizing, understanding, and affirming a donor’s pace. 

3.  Don’t Rush:  Though your motivation may be completely pure and your attention singularly focused on the donors’ objectives, each donor has his/her own pace. Some are uncomfortable with the process of estate planning and want to get it over with as quickly as possible. Others, who are equally uncomfortable, want to take a few steps at a time, sit back, and see how it feels. There are, of course, limits to how slowly you can go and still get the job done, as well as limits to how quickly you can go and get it done correctly. But there is also a lot of space between those time limitations. One of the keys to successful planned giving is recognizing, understanding, and affirming a donor’s pace. Remember, it’s not about your schedule, your pace, or how quickly the organization needs the gift. We find that adapting your process to their comfort-level with regard to detail and pace will actually increase the amount of their estate that goes to charity. Moving too fast makes for anxious donors. Move to slowly and they will lose interest or find others to help.

4.  Don’t Draft: Non-profit professionals can speak in general terms about charitable trusts and planned gifts to the organization. But no matter how much they think they know, non-profit representatives need to remember that they should not give legal advice if they are not attorneys specializing in trusts, estates, and tax planning. Doing so increases the risk for the donor and the liability of the non-profit. Donors should secure their own attorneys and accountants to give advice and draft documents.

5.  Don’t Talk:  The representative should never talk about private information learned in the planning process. If there is every any doubt about what should or should not be shared with colleagues at the non-profit, you should discuss it with the donor.

Remember, you’ve been asked to participate because of the trust that donors have in you. Your first and foremost responsibility as a representative of the organization is to prove and reaffirm that trust.

Eddie Thompson, Ed.D.

copyright 2011, Eddie Thompson
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