Why You Need to Approach Donors with a Blended Ask

a man using hand gestures to explain tips to a team

January 2015. More development offices that are shifting to a blended ask model, integrating planned giving into major giving. Alumni with a philanthropic mindset and a propensity to give are concerned about their legacy, and studies show that they are increasingly concerned at a younger age — in their thirties and forties. And making a blended ask helps invite donors immediately into a long-term relationship with the institution, not just a one-time gift.

Planned giving has traditionally been an afterthought, but the weather is shifting; our recent survey of 335 chief advancement officers revealed that planned giving is the effort that most advancement vice presidents in higher education expect to yield the most significant long-term impact for their institution, and many are reallocating budgetary resources toward planned giving efforts. This makes understanding a blended ask model especially timely.

Meghan Saenz, our assistant conference director who has been looking into this, reached out recently to Marianne Blackwell, executive director of the Office of Estate and Gift Planning at the University of the Pacific, and Richard C. Peck, director of individual giving and gift planning at the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Geisel School of Medicine, to learn how they have been thinking about blended gifts and what advice they would offer to development officers.

Blended Gifts: Solving an Old Challenge

Meghan Saenz: Tell us more about blended gifts. What challenge in advancement do they help solve?

Richard Peck: Blended gifts help solve the challenge of how to provide a donor-centric and more robust approach to asking a donor for a major gift, especially if the donor is interested in maximizing their assets for the greatest impact in their giving.

A customized comprehensive ask provides the opportunity for more discussion with the donor, and can result in a larger gift than what might be originally perceived. The donor will also appreciate the more thoughtful approach, and he or she will have something special to talk about with a spouse or advisor, who can be a partner for the fundraiser.

Marianne Blackwell: In a blended ask model, development officers will necessarily need to be more donor-centric and authentic. A development officer who consistently plans a blended ask will naturally need to learn more about their donors and thus can engage in a deeper relationship building practice — always a good idea.

Not only should the donor feel more valued, the results should prove more beneficial. And the deeper and more meaningful relationship a donor can have with the non-profit, the opportunities to grow the gift and the impact become greater. Stewardship then becomes inherent and a logical part of the entire relationship-building process, not just a final, got-to-do-it phase of development.

What You Need to Know to Make Blended Asks Successful

Meghan Saenz: What is one thing our colleagues need to understand in order to do blended asks really well?

Richard Peck: Outright gift ask + planned gift ask = Greater than the sum of its parts. Understanding that philosophy will help you close them well. Also, donor-centricity cannot be stressed enough. All the blended gift talk in the world will go nowhere if the donor is not passionate about the topic.
It’s a two-part discussion: 1) what we are dreaming about, and 2) what assets we are using to achieve the goal(s) — in that order, with rare exceptions. Lastly, coordination between officers (collaborating with the same goal in mind, with each officer complementing the other in the cultivation/ask process) should be seamless, and can only work well if there is the perception that both will be rewarded by leadership for their efforts in working together.

Marianne Blackwell: We all want to provide the donor with a giving experience that leaves them fulfilled, valued and feeling like they are part of the ‘solution’ to make an impact toward the charity’s mission/vision. I think development officers should always understand the importance of this emotional result; the donor relationship building work toward a blended ask often can bring about these emotions.

It takes time and attention to learn more about our donors and their hopes and dreams with respect to our mission. Hopefully, by building an open and honest relationship with our donor, it will help pave the way for a more natural blended ask; we are both working together toward making a difference for the constituents of our non-profit, be they current or future students, animals in need,  art/music patrons, etc. And with a blended gift, there can often be more creative and varied ways to achieve the end goal, i.e. more tools in the ‘toolbox’.

Knowing more about our donors (because we’ve created an environment in which they feel more comfortable sharing personal information with us ) allows a gift officer to offer creative giving plans that result in a Win:Win solution for donor and charity.

The Cost of Not Pursuing Blended Gifts

Meghan Saenz: What is the opportunity cost of not pursuing blended gifts?

Richard Peck: The opportunity cost of not pursuing blended gifts is hard to measure, but it is clearly high. Approaching the donor in only one way simply limits the size of the gift, both now and in the future. Donors will not consider all their options without the help of a thoughtful fundraiser to jump-start the blended ask conversation (at the right time, of course).

Marianne Blackwell: Like Rick, I think the opportunity cost is hard to measure, but clearly leaving a PG ask ‘off the table’ can limit future revenue opportunities. There’s a good article by Eddie Thompson about this very short-sightedness: http://eddiethompson.org/2014/09/21/obstacles-disincentives/

Since I’ve always been in Planned Giving, my focus has almost always been about future sustainability of the non-profit; without a solid PG pipeline, the future can be bleak, not to mention that future development staff will be greatly disadvantaged.

I’ll bet just about every charity can recall when they received an unexpected realized estate gift and how grateful/lucky they felt. I remember when Pikes Peak United Way in Colorado Springs was considering furloughing staff because of the (lack of) budget; a surprise $100K bequest gift was received and the lights stayed on. Manna from Heaven!!

Meghan Saenz: Thank you, Richard and Marianne! We look forward to seeing you in Chicago.