My first job out of college was as a development director for a Christian school. I honestly didn’t even know what a development director was when I applied for the position, but quickly fell in love with how the role combined two passions God had been stirring in me throughout my college years: ministry and marketing.
My first task on the job was to create a large-scale auction event. It required an unbelievable amount of effort and energy, but I’m thrilled to stay we actually exceeded our fundraising goal.
Soon after, the superintendent gave me a report that listed a handful of estate gifts the school had received in recent years. We immediately noticed that a single estate gift almost always produced more revenue (with little to no effort on our part) than our labor-intensive auction did!
This single encounter placed me on a path to discovering an effective approach to helping organizations deepen their relationships with donors, simplify and infuse meaning into their messaging and uncover more of these invaluable estate gifts.
We are excited about serving ministries “for such a time as this,” because we are currently living in the biggest flow of wealth and worship in history.
Changing times, changing hands
Experts report that between now and 2050, somewhere between $30 to $60 trillion will change hands from this generation to the next. None of us can really grasp how enormous that is, but think about this: If you could somehow spend $10 million per day, it would take you more than 8,000 years to spend $30 trillion (and that’s using the low-end estimate of the generational wealth transfer we’re in right now).
For many, making an estate gift is an expression of their love for the Lord and their families.
Here’s why this matters. When one of your faithful donors dies, their assets enter that massive wealth transfer, and there are only three places the money can go:
- To the government (estate taxes)
- To family (kids and grandkids)
- To charity (that’s you!)
A very tiny percentage of estates are actually subject to tax, so that leaves “family” and “charity” as the only viable options for the vast majority of your donors. In short, there has never been a more crucial — or hopeful — time to be in fund development.
I recently finished a book on this topic called Ride the Wave: Experience History’s Biggest Flow of Wealth and Worship with Estate Gifts (Money for Ministry LLC, 2018), and I want to share three strategies from the book that you can use to position yourself and your ministry in the flow of this historic moment for unprecedented kingdom impact:
- Inspiration over information. Legacy giving materials are often loaded with legal jargon. Author Donald Miller says, “If you confuse, you lose.” What donors really want and need first isn’t information but inspiration. For many, making an estate gift is an expression of their love for the Lord and their families. That’s why you should lead with inspiration that engages people’s greatest aspirations and passions, rather than gift planning techniques. You’ll quickly discover that for most people, their family and their faith will be the ultimate inspiration to consider taking action on an estate gift.
- Dialogue over monologue. While it’s always better to do something rather than nothing with planned giving, taking a “one and done” annual approach isn’t going to move the needle far. Donors need to be part of an ongoing, nurturing dialogue via mail-back correspondence with your ministry. It’s actually unexpected life events that most often trigger legacy gifts. Changes in someone’s family, health or finances often shift their thinking about the future — and are a huge indicator of future gifts. If you’re already in a conversation with your donors and one of these events takes place, you’ll be top of mind.
- Serving over selling. While it’s very important to ask for legacy gifts, many organizations jump to making an appeal without first meeting a donor’s deeper need — kind of like asking for a marriage proposal on the first date! “Serving” is helping your donors ‘get their house in order’ so they can avoid the hassles of not having an estate plan. It comes from a sincere desire to see their family experience the joy of good communication with each other, and make an eternal impact for generations to come.
If you prayerfully take action on these proven strategies, you can “ride the wave” into more estate gifts than ever, while ministering to the hearts of more donors than ever before.
Mike Buwalda is the founder of Money for Ministry, an organization that has helped to surface nearly $1 billion in estate gifts for Christian nonprofits across the US. Mike and his wife Beckie have six children and live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Visit moneyforministry.com to request your free copy of Ride the Wave.