By Christine Kang

Estate planning and social media is not a pairing you would immediately nor easily make. In fact, until COVID-19 hit, the creation of wills was a heavily paper-dependent and traditional process, with all signings required to be in person. But when it comes to gathering information on will planning or learning more about charitable bequests, it appears that Canadians are more than keen to engage online and on social media no less.

The typical story of planned giving begins with a gift planner visiting an elderly donor and drinking tea together while they share stories of their lives. I have a soft place in my heart for these visits and donors as it is a great gift to be invited into someone’s home and to hear their life story. But it happens more seldom than you might expect.

More and more charities have moved to invest in gift planning, recognizing the tremendous opportunity due to the transfer of wealth, the long-term value of raising future funds, and the heavily taxed assets owned by many aging Canadians. Today, the stereotypical planned giving donors who may be willing to share information regarding their planned gifts to your organization are becoming harder to find.

These committed donors are being approached by many organizations and maintaining the growth of future gifts that organizations rely on for the future, especially in times of uncertainty, is starting to require more effort and complexity. This can pose a difficult conundrum in the world of planned giving, where the case for organizations to invest resources for the benefit of the future can be a constant challenge, especially where there are so many immediate needs at hand. But it is also the role and privilege of leaders to be able to invest in the future of their cause.

So, investing in gift planning is an investment into the future. And like all investments, some risk is involved — such as the long lifecycle for any planned giving program. There’s a gap between when a future gift is confirmed to when the donor might pass away and the gift is realized. And there’s also a gap earlier on the cultivation stage as well. Canadians tend to delay writing their will and even when they start thinking about it more seriously. It can take some time before action is taken. What’s more, if the idea of including a charity as part of their legacy is new to them, there will be many considerations at play, from ensuring they provide enough for family to choosing which charities to include.

Despite these risks, it’s still an investment worth making. Not just because I’m personally biased as a gift planning professional, but because the proof is in the millions of dollars that come into charities across Canada from estate gifts every year. After all, every type of fundraising, be it corporate, direct mail, major gifts, etc., has its benefits and challenges, and gift planning is no exception.

I have the privilege of working at an organization where compared to many other charities, there has been a long-term commitment to planned giving and investing for the future. I recognize this is a tremendous blessing to be able to take risks. Initially moving some of our planned giving activities online wasn’t too difficult. We do live in an increasingly digital world. But starting to promote planned giving, a personal and delicate topic for many, on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn was a risk, unproven at the time. Fortunately, the results were beyond what we could have imagined.

After a few years of social media campaigns, we have earned over 11.5 million impressions, almost 1,000 individuals interested in learning more, several confirmed gifts, and lots of learning along the way on how to optimize this new way of marketing for gift planning. There are also proven results from a few other charities who have also ventured out into the social media space and from Will Power, the CAGP’s national campaign to make gifts in wills the social norm.

Through these campaigns we have learned that Canadians are willing to engage in getting their information online and via social media. We have learned that they’re willing to provide us with their personal contact information over social media channels in exchange for more information on the topic. We have learned that going out on social media allows us to reach new people, the vast majority of whom do not currently have a relationship with us. We have learned that the quick almost instantaneous results from online marketing allows us to immediately see which ads and content resonate well with audiences and which do not, a benefit not available in traditional media like print. I’ve been contacted by many of my gift planning peers across the country and even across the border in the United States, eager to learn more about this new frontier in gift planning. Innovation can be hard to come by but once you’ve proven it for others, it seems like overnight it can quickly become a new standard.

By no means am I saying that social media is the solution for every planned giving program. A combined approach to your gift planning efforts involving tried and true methods like surveys, direct mail, and delightful in person visits is probably still best. But don’t be afraid to allow a little risk and invest for the future, knowing it’s already been tested and tried with proven outcomes.

Christine Kang is a Manager of Gift & Estate Planning at SickKids Foundation.

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