5 ICONic Ideas from AFP ICON in New Orleans

Canopy leadership team at AFP ICON 2023 in New Orleans

Earlier this week, the Canopy leadership team attended AFP ICON in New Orleans. Here are our key takeaways.

1. 12-12-12 Rule 

There was a big buzz about the 12-12-12 rule at the conference. People were talking about it at the lunch tables, on the exhibitor floor, and in the educational sessions. At Canopy, we’ve been telling our customers about it for years now. Here’s the rule: the majority of legacy donor prospects are donors who have supported your organization for at least 12 years, have given at least 12 gifts, and have given a gift of any amount within the last 12 months.  

More importantly, however, is why we use this rule. The reason we measure these data points is so that we don’t overlook our most loyal donors in search of higher dollars. Sara Leonard and Debbie Sokolov addressed this in their session, “Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover.” They shared many examples of hidden major donors who might not live in a mansion or drive a fancy car, but still go on to leave amazing legacy gifts.  

Like David Baldwin, whose first gift to several Tampa Bay area charitable organizations was only $5000—not enough to earn him a spot on most of their major donor lists. After living a wonderful, yet modest life, David left over $63 million dollars to those charities.  

What’s the lesson here? Don’t judge a book by its cover. If I had to guess, David Baldwin probably passed the 12-12-12 test for every organization he gave to. It’s vital that we learn to better identify and steward our most loyal supporters. 

2. The Continuing Budget Battle: Print vs. Digital 

With each passing year, I worry that digital marketing will dominate the conversation at nonprofit conferences, but experts continue to stress the importance of print and mail correspondence. And we agree! Conversations about legacy continue to yield the best results when we integrate direct mail.  

So how do digital trends enter the equation? Digital is a good tool for educating donors, especially inspiring them to think about legacy giving options at your organization. Feathr gave some great tips in their Learning Lab about getting creative with digital marketing by using strategies like affinity targeting and geofencing, and your legacy programs could benefit from these strategies.  

However, the majority of legacy commitments come from direct mail pieces. At least two different sessions focused on generational trends in philanthropy, and both stressed the importance of print and mail even for younger generations. And while online donations may be on the rise for things like monthly and annual giving, the trend hasn’t caught up with legacy giving, and we see no signs of that changing. The big takeaway here is digital might be cheaper, but print and mail is more effective. When we think about stewarding legacy donors, we need to keep their preferences in mind. 

3. Legacy Donor Stewardship 

Understanding your donors is a crucial part of a successful planned giving program. It’s one of the first things we discuss when we start working with a new customer. But getting to know your donors can take a lot of time and resources. Plus, it can be really, really awkward to talk about death and taxes (we wrote a whole blogpost all about that). What should you do instead?  

For starters, don’t talk about death! Secondly, there’s one phrase that I heard over and over again at AFP ICON, both in conversations with peers and in presentations from the experts: build trust. Legacy donors need to trust your organization. They need to be confident that their gift will be put to good use and have a lasting impact. They want to feel seen and heard in their decision-making process, and they want to feel honored and respected.  

Leaving a legacy gift is an emotional decision. Legacy donors are essentially treating your nonprofit as though it’s one of their children. So make them feel like family! Learn about who they are, why they care about what you do, and how they prefer to support your work. We call this important part of donor conversations “The 3 P’s.” 

4. Getting to A “Yes” 

The profession of fundraising is not for the faint of heart. You experience setbacks and challenges, and it can be tough to make the ask, knowing that the donor might say no. So is it worth it? Let’s make the case.

In their session, “Objection! How to Address Donors’ Legacy Giving Concerns,” Lynne Boardman and David Kravinchuk shared that the U.S. is expected to experience a $30 trillion wealth transfer in the next decade. That money could go to the government, or it might only be passed down to loved ones. But a large percentage of that wealth will go to a nonprofit like yours.  

Making the ask is worth it, even if you hear the answer “no” along the way. How can you turn a no into a yes? Share these reminders with your donors: 

  • Legacy giving shouldn’t take away from securing the future for your donor’s loved ones. Leaving a legacy can be a way to make your family proud.  
  • Legacy giving does not have to be complicated. Most planned gifts are bequests or a simple gift in will. 
  • Legacy giving isn’t just for millionaires. Everyday people leave incredibly impactful legacy gifts to worthy causes every day, and your donors can too. 
  • Legacy gifts aren’t squandered away by the organizations that receive them. These gifts create longevity and sustainability for the future, and they can help create lasting change for generations to come. 
  • This one might shock you: ASK your donors about legacy giving. Many donors say a silent “no” simply because they’ve never been asked to say otherwise.

 5. Be An Expert in Inspo, Not Info 

In his session, “Planned Giving for People Who Are New to Planned Giving,” Wayne Olson reminded us that we make planned giving way more complicated than it needs to be. We agree (and yes, we’ve written about this before too). When it comes to planned giving, donors simply want to give to causes they love. They are motivated by passion and values, not by terms and techniques. It’s not your role as a nonprofit professional to be a tax advisor. Your role is to share your vision and mission, create donor relationships built on trust, and equip your donors with inspiration.