How to Get Donors to Give to Your Endowment Fund

Building an Endowment Creates a Future for Your Nonprofit

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Why Attention to Growing Endowment Pays Off

All too often raising charitable gifts for endowment takes a back seat to support for general operations. Understandably, the pressure is always on to focus on short-term solutions.

But that’s the wrong approach. You’ll always be behind the eight ball if you avoid looking out for long-term solutions.

And that’s why it’s so important that fundraisers devote at least 20 percent of their time to raising endowment gifts. Annual interest from a permanent endowment fund is like a lifeline for nonprofit organizations.

Most experts agree that nonprofit organizations should work towards an endowment that’s three times the amount of its yearly operations budget.

So if your general operations budget is $1 million, you need an endowment of at least $3 million. And with interest rates so low, income from a $3 million endowment doesn’t go that far.

But who is most likely to give to your endowment campaign? One fundraising expert, Joe Garecht of the Fundraising Authority, says that the best prospects for endowment gifts are people who already care about your organization or mission, who understand and want your nonprofit or one of its programs to continue forever, and someone who has the financial means to give substantially.

Do you know people like that in your community? Take a look at your existing donors first, and then branch out and look for new donors with these charateristics. Not everyone will wish to help with your endowment. And you certainly don't have the resources to appeal to the entire pool of possible donors. So prospect first and appeal second.

Once you have prospects, move on to your tactics. 

What are you doing to build your endowment? Are you using every possible avenue?

Begin by listing everything you are doing to market endowment gifts, and then add new strategies to it.

Use these 25 Suggestions to Start Growing Your Endowment Today

  1. Create an endowment committee who, in addition to other responsibilities, is charged with identifying, cultivating and soliciting endowment gifts.
  2. Hold a special annual event, the proceeds from which you dedicate to your endowment.
  3. Ask all donors who give $1,000 or more each year to make an endowed gift large enough to ensure their annual support continues long after their lifetimes.
  4. Include regular feature articles in your newsletter or magazine on topics related to various aspects of endowment such as a profile of an endowment donor, or an article illustrating the impact of a named endowment fund.
  1. Get an individual or a foundation to establish a challenge gift aimed at matching those who give to endowment over a specified period.
  2. Publicize all named endowment gifts to plant the idea of making a similar gift in the minds of others.
  3. Use Peer-to-Peer methods by asking board members, members of your endowment investment committee and others to help identify and accompany you on introductory calls to new prospects.
  4. Develop a list of endowment fund opportunities to share with likely donors, such as capital projects, programming needs, and staff positions.
  1. Establish social proof by Inviting each of your board members to establish a named endowment fund.
  2. Design a simple handout that describes endowment gift opportunities and includes a list of existing named endowment funds.
  3. Establish a giving circle, one of the goals of which is to create and add to a named endowment fund.
  4. Launch endowment campaigns to honor long-time and respected employees of your charity who retire.
  5. Make a board-approved policy regarding planned gifts such as “All unrestricted bequests more than $10,000 will be directed to the endowment.”
  1. Devote space on your website to endowment topics, such as Q&As, endowment stats, a list and description of existing named funds.
  2. Use your special events. Mention endowment gifts – and their potential impact – during all public functions.
  3. Bring in an expert. Get someone from another charity with a sizeable endowment to speak to your board about the impact of their endowment on people and programs.
  4. Upgrade current donors. Go to donors with existing named endowment funds and invite them to add to their funds with both outright and planned gifts.
  1. Approach targeted groups to establish named endowment funds such as alumni classes, civic organizations, business associates, affinity groups and others.
  2. Earmark funds. Make a board-approved commitment that a certain percentage of every dollar raised will be given to your organization’s endowment.
  3. Launching an “asset-building” campaign that focuses on endowment rather than capital projects.
  4. Set up a plan for continued education. Educate all planned gift prospects about endowment giving through personal visits, in your planned gifts newsletter. Invited them to make a planned gift to your endowment.
  1. Host a once-a-year event that recognizes all endowment donors and invites other attendees to join in supporting your endowment.
  2. Approach major donors (and their heirs) whose names are attached to any of your campus’ buildings. Invite them to endow the building's future maintenance and enhancements.
  3. Set yearly quantifiable objectives such as "to make x face-to-face calls on endowment prospects throughout the year" or "to solicit x prospects for named endowment gifts annually." 
  4. Identify foundations that contribute to endowment funds and submit letters of inquiry to them.

    A healthy endowment helps your organization survive during lean times and thrive during more prosperous times. Focus at least 20 percent of your time on raising funds for an endowment that will guarantee your charity’s long-term future.