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Don’t remind me!

By Dan Zelinski


It’s been a difficult day …

  • Jane Q. Sample comes home from a stressful day at work to a sink full of dishes.
  • She’s got to start dinner for her husband and their wonderful grandchildren.
  • She’s not sure how she’s going to play taxi successfully for three growing grandkids again tonight while her daughter, a nurse, works 3-11 — back and forth between baseball practice and piano lessons.
  • The weekend seems like it’s weeks away instead of days.

Jane is feeling the grind of life. And she pauses — for just a moment — to sort through today’s pile of mail. Maybe she’ll come across some good news to brighten her day.

“Well, here’s a mailer from my favorite ministry!”

Opening it up, she finds a marketing piece about including the ministry in her will or estate with a headline screaming, “You can’t take it with you!” … set over a photo of a coffin full of cash.

Jane’s initial response? “Yuck!” — not interested.

Suddenly the fact that chicken is on sale at the grocery store seems far more interesting than making an eternal impact through her favorite ministry, at least for the time being.

The last thing that Jane — or anyone — wants to be reminded of is the fact that time on this Earth is short. Our own death is not a concept we like to entertain.

And this isn’t just a preference. Research shows that people are actually wired to avoid engaging in death reminders — messages that force us to think about our own end is repellent.

Often times, copy that seems witty or clever to us as ministry marketers and fundraisers can create barriers that are very difficult to overcome for donors. When we read and write such copy, we are often processing it from the perspective of someone else’s death — not our own.

Forcing someone to consider their own death is a sure way to shut down their interest and keep them from engaging with the rest of your practical, informative content.

Remember — your partners don’t donate from a will, estate, or other planned giving strategies because they’re going to die someday. Rather, they engage in planned giving out of a desire to:

  • Make an impact.
  • Change the world.
  • Leave a legacy.
  • Move God’s Kingdom forward.

Your job — really, your ministry back to your generous friends and partners — is to make sure each one knows that investing in your ministry through planned giving strategies like bequests and annuities is a powerful, effective opportunity for them to release their resources back to God in faithful stewardship and make what may be their most significant impact!

Of course, there are plenty of times when talking about planned gifts when referencing death is unavoidable — but don’t lead with it or make it the headline!

You’ll have far more success in engaging donors with planned giving messages if you can draw them into the piece with:

  1. Powerful stories of impact
  2. Testimonies of changed lives
  3. Good reporting on the outcomes and effectiveness of your ministry together

Then, once the reader is committed to the piece, you can transition to the nuts and bolts of explaining why a particular planned giving opportunity might be right for them.

You might find you have questions about crafting effective messaging for your planned giving marketing and fundraising campaigns. If so, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at