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How to Raise Planned Gifts by Mail

Larry Stelter


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How to Raise Planned Gifts by Mail
by Larry Stelter, 102 pp., $24.95. (Click here for quantity discount information)

If you want to know why planned giving has near-unlimited potential for your organization, call a few colleagues and ask them to tell you the first word that comes to mind when you say, “planned giving.”

For many, that word will be “complex.”

Bingo! Therein lies your opportunity.

As Larry Stelter makes clear in his new book, How to Raise Planned Gifts by Mail, most people have it all wrong when it comes to planned giving.

of related interest

OF RELATED INTEREST: In Raising Money through Bequests, David Valinsky and Melanie Boyd show you how to partake of today’s intergenerational transfer of wealth –what many are calling the greatest opportunity in the history of fundraising.

Granted, executing a planned gift can be complicated, but that’s irrelevant really. Attorneys, financial planners, CPAs – they can and should handle the paperwork.

Your job is more pivotal, and simpler. It is to arouse your prospect’s interest in making a planned gift. And Stelter, who heads the largest planned giving marketing company in the world, shows you how to fan that flame and lay the groundwork for closing the gift.

And funny enough it all starts with direct mail, whether in the form of personal correspondence, newsletters, customized proposals, or informational brochures.

Of course, you can’t shower your mailings on the general public. As Stelter points out in the opening pages, “Direct marketers often cite the 60-30-10 formula for determining a mailing’s success. Sixty percent depends on the quality of the mail list; 30 percent is based on the content of the appeal; and 10 percent can be attributed to the design or format.”

The goal of Stelter’s book, in which he offers a wealth of guidance and examples, is showing you how to double, triple or even quadruple your planned gift income by putting that proven formula to work.

Let’s take but one example, the task of identifying your audience. Just who should receive your mailings? Various factors come into play, says Stelter, including age and affinity to your cause. But what’s most important is this: “Start by limiting your list to people who have met one basic criterion: Anyone who has made at least two gifts of any size to your organization.

Note who this excludes:

  • Wealthy people in your community who have never given to your organization.
  • Everyone who attended your last auction, had a few drinks and spent more than they intended.
  • People who have made only a single contribution of any amount.
  • Your parents, friends, or random family member who, again, fail to meet the basic criterion.

Note, too, that Stelter says two gifts of any size. “I’ve yet to find any statistical data correlating the size of a donor’s annual gift to his or her own potential to make a planned gift,” says Stelter. And this from a man who’s conducted dozens of focus groups across the country and been in the gift planning business for more than 30 years.

If, like many others, you’ve been shying away from planned giving because of its so-called complexity, How to Raise Planned Gifts by Mail shows just how unfounded – and costly – your apprehension is.

About the Author

Larry Stelter is president and CEO of The Stelter Company, a national planned giving communications firm that focuses on print and Web products. Founded in 1962, The Stelter Company and its staff of more than 80 individuals serve more than 2,500 print clients and 1,100 Web clients nationally.

Larry’s primary responsibilities include project development and sales. He personally works with 300 clients in a 10-state territory. At many national and regional meetings, he has spoken on the subjects of planned giving marketing, Internet marketing, and relationship skills.

Larry is a graduate of the University of Iowa. He is married and the proud father of three sons (two 3rd-generation Stelters now working out of the Washington, D.C., and Denver offices). He serves on several boards, is an avid golfer and fisherman, and now is the proud grandpa of his first two grandsons – Ben and Sam.

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Table of Contents


  1. Getting to the heart of the matter
  2. Keep your eyes on the goal
  3. Who should receive my mailings?
  4. Who else should receive my mailings?
  5. Women in philanthropy
  6. Targeting professional advisors
  7. The direct mail package
  8. The look
  9. The message
  10. Technically speaking
  11. A matter of time
  12. How to improve your gift planning program in five easy steps
  13. What do you expect? The right way to measure success
  14. Stay the course


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Excerpt This article is excerpted from Larry Stelter's book, How to Raise Planned Gifts by Mail, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019.

The Goals of Your Next Planned Giving Mailing

An essential early step in developing a planned giving mailing is to agree upon its purpose. In my opinion, six pivotal goals stand out:

Goal #1: Give Thanks

In his book Mega Gifts, Jerry Panas, a grandmaster of philanthropy who probably knows more about donors than anyone in America, stresses the principle of thanking individuals at least seven times for each gift they make. Seven times! I suspect most of us think that once or twice is enough. But Panas makes a valid case and his advice is certainly worth heeding, as a thanked donor is often a loyal (and increasingly) generous donor.

Goal #2: Educate

Planned gifts are sometimes called “stop-and-think gifts.” They require more understanding and thought than it takes simply to write a check. Unfortunately, most people have little understanding of, and devote even less thought to, this type of giving. So before they can even consider making a planned gift, they need to be educated about estate planning. That’s Job 1.

Goal #3: Generate Response

What can you offer donors that reflects your mission and will prompt them to respond now? An invitation to a free seminar on estate planning? Extended-access hours at your clinic? A white paper on how to cut taxes? A private tour of the museum’s gardens?
The underlying motive here is to create an opportunity for a one-on-one conversation with your best prospects and to build the kind of trust and understanding that could eventually lead to a planned gift.

Goal #4: Motivate Donors to Seek Professional Advice

Another way to open the doors to more planned gifts is to motivate your potential donors to seek the advice of their professional advisors. Many people who receive your mailings won’t respond directly to you; rather, they’ll first call their attorney or financial advisor to discuss estate planning and gift options. That’s why it’s key to build relationships with professional advisors in your community and educate them about the value of gift planning, as they may be fielding questions on your behalf. If you get a call from an attorney asking for your legal bequest language or for more information on giving opportunities, take notice.

Goal #5: Break the Ice

Direct mail programs serve to break the ice with your donors. Those who are receiving your regular communications are normally more open to your request for a planned gift. Take a lesson from business studies on lead generation, which have found that companies with a high level of awareness have a far easier time generating leads than companies that continually have to introduce themselves to prospects.

By integrating your tactics – making “soft” phone calls, sending direct mail, sponsoring events, and keeping touch via emails – you’ll be warming the prospective donor to respond positively to your “ask.”

Goal #6: Drive Readers to Your Website

Many donors find the anonymity and self-service aspects of the Internet quite appealing. They can read gift planning articles at their leisure, access online gift calculators, make online donations, and learn more about the needs and successes of your organization.

As seniors discover the Internet in ever-increasing numbers, the Web has emerged as an important and cost-effective way to educate donors about gift planning. Cross-promote your website in your mailings and you’ll create a powerful partnership between Web and print.

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