If you want donors to give to your endowment, it needs to become an internal priority. Annual giving will always be important for most charities, but if the long-term health of your nonprofit is equally important, more and more effort should be directed to building your endowment fund over time through both outright and planned gifts.
Once endowment has become an internal priority, get your board to more fully own it as well. Make time to educate your board about endowment and the role it can play in your charity’s long-term future. Get your board to approve policies that require some level of ownership on their part.
To get the word out about endowment giving, leave no stone unturned. Meet one-on-one with all major gift prospects; write feature articles about various aspects of your endowment giving in your newsletter or magazine; pitch stories to the local media. Mention it at all public functions; and, especially, tout the impact endowment has on your charity and those you serve.
In addition to those media, make endowment-related topics highly visible on your nonprofit’s website. If more and more traffic is arriving at your site, shouldn’t endowment assume some level of prominence?
There are a variety of ways you can refer to endowment on your website. Here’s a sampling of what others are doing:
Explain how an endowed gift works – Syracuse University (Syracuse, NY) shares a simple step-by-step illustration that helps donors understand what it takes to make an endowment gift that will benefit others for generations to come.
Share a list of endowed naming gift opportunities – Duke University (Durham, NC) offers a list of naming gift opportunities that begins by defining how much money it will take to start a named endowment.
Publicize a brief description of all existing named endowment funds – Wexner Medical Center (Columbus, OH) not only offers a description, but invites website visitors to make an online donation to any of the existing funds. In addition to giving would-be donors an idea of what they might do, these descriptions, like those of The University of Texas at Austin (Austin, TX) serve to recognize the generosity of existing donors.
Make it easy to find important forms - Follow the example of St. Paul’s School (Concord, NH) and provide would-be donors with a downloadable Endowment Fund Agreement that they can print out, review and complete.
Show context - To inspire loyal constituents to give more, don’t hesitate to compare your endowment to others’ funds. A little competition, like this illustration by Colby College (Waterville, ME), might be what it takes to get donors to act.
Announce the launch of a special endowment campaign – Officials with The Vermont Symphony Orchestra (Burlington, VT) launched a $3.5 million campaign in conjunction with the symphony’s 75th Anniversary.
Form an endowment giving committee like that of Ball State University Foundation (Muncie, IN) and share some background information on each of the individuals who make up the committee.
Anticipate questions - To educate probable donors, share a Q&A list that answers basic questions about how endowments work, and how to make an endowment gift.
Point out where endowment fits into your long-range plans by pairing it with your strategic plan - The Nelson-Atkins Museum (Kansas City, MO) points out how an adequate endowment will “fulfill the promises of a community-driven strategic plan.”
Be as transparent as possible with all issues surrounding your endowment. Follow Augustana College’s (Rock Island, IL) example and publish your endowment investment policy so anyone can gain easy access to it.
Show website visitors how your endowment has performed over a period of years – Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI) compares its endowment performance to that of the S&P 500 Equity Index and Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index.
Give website visitors a contact to whom they can direct questions and take next steps as they explore the possibility of an endowment gift. The College of William and Mary (Williamsburg, VA) makes it as easy as clicking on a contact’s name to launch an email.
These represent only a sampling of ways you can draw more attention to endowment through your website. If you’re just getting started, make a point to devote at least one web page to endowment. If you’re well on your way in promoting endowment, consider any of these examples as ways to enhance those pages even more.