Dear Charlotte, Dear Angela, Dear Donor,

In 2003, when I was the Vice President of Development of Catholic Charities in Saint Louis, I wrote a letter to a deceased woman. It was published in the Catholic Charities Newsletter. I’d like to share a modified version of that letter with you.

Dear Charlotte:

Just prior to Thanksgiving , we learned of your death. We invited you to one of our special events. The post office returned your invitation with a label marked “undeliverable/deceased.”

You passed away April 2003. It just so happens that in October 2003, Catholic Charities was going through a difficult cash-flow shortage. The leadership was having serious discussions about employee lay-offs and services cut backs. Then, the news came, some woman named Charlotte—a donor we never knew—had left four paid on death bank accounts designating Catholic Charities as the beneficiary. The total gifts exceeded $500,000. The cash flow shortage was over.

Charlotte, I want you to know that not a single day has passed when I have not said a prayer for you and for all of the people you have helped through your extraordinary donation.  I vowed from that day forward never to forget you. As an organization, we vowed to hold ourselves accountable by imagining that you resided at the head of our conference table, and from time to time, you would ask, “What did you do with my money?”

My only regret, Charlotte, is that I was never able to thank you when you were still alive. I don’t know much about you. I have no idea why you left Catholic Charities so much money. I can only guess as to what you wanted us to do with your donation.  I can only assume you wanted to help as many people as possible.  Thank you, Charlotte. (Signed) Dan Shasserre.

Now, here I am in a similar development position at Channel 9, the Nine Network of Public Media.  It was October 25, 2010 when I learned of the death of Angela. Our staff remains saddened by the news. None of us were aware that she had passed away, and Angela’s funeral services were private. Still, Channel 9 will receive a generous percentage of Angela’s estate.  Yet, I am somewhat disturbed. I’m disappointed that I didn’t know Angela. I want to ask her why? What motivated you to do this? What do you want us to do with your money? I want to ask you if I can tell others about your gift. Yes, I do want to say “thank you” but, mostly I just want to talk and listen. I want to be reminded, day in and day out, of your story—so we remember how privileged we are, here at Channel 9, that you trusted us enough to donate so generously.

I am tempted to write another letter. I want to know what motivated Angela. Was it a great appreciation for the public television programs she enjoyed, like Nova, Frontline, Masterpiece Theatre? Was it because she appreciated unbiased news from PBS? Was it something from the past, perhaps, a realization of the positive learning experience from our children programs?  Or, was Angela investing in the future of public media because she realized the potential of our collaborative community engagement projects focused to bring improvements in healthcare, education, arts and culture, science and technology, the environment and more? We’ll never know.

If you are a person like Charlotte or Angela…a generous person-one who has already decided to leave some portion of your estate to your favorite non-profit organization, please contact the organization. Speak to the planned giving officer, or anyone, and tell them exactly what you want them to do with your money. Tell them why you are making this gift. They really want to know.

And if you have included Channel 9, the Nine Network of Public Media, in your estate plans, we have many people here who want to listen to your story…please call Jack, Amy, Dick, Nancy, Suzie, Craig, Kate and Kay. Call anyone of us–me too, Dan Shasserre, 314-512-9610.

Letter to a Deceased Woman

There is no act of kindness greater than a bequest gift to your favorite charitable organization. Yet, only 7% of donors in America have left a gift to charity. Also, bequest donors are reluctant to identify themselves while they are alive.  This letter was first published in a Catholic Charities newsletter in 2003. It’s purpose was to remind the organization of how important each and every donor is….how we can never take their gifts for granted. And, also, to thank every generous bequest donor as we encourage others to do the same.

Dear Charlotte:

One year ago, just prior to Thanksgiving, we learned of your death. We had invited you to attend our annual Thanksgiving mass. The post office returned the invitation with a label marked “undeliverable/deceased.”

Fortunately, Teresa, one of our data entry staff members recognized your name. She remembered, years ago, you had made arrangements with four banks, to have Catholic Charities the ‘pay-upon death’ beneficiary of your money-market accounts.

You passed away April, 2003. It just so happens that in October 2003 Catholic Charities was going through an unusually difficult cash-flow shortage. By November our leadership was having serious conversations about cut-backs. Then, the news came to us, a women named Charlotte, a donor we never knew, had left us a gift at each of four banks. The total was $543,187. Our cash flow shortage was over.

Charlotte, I want you to know not a single day has passed when I have not gone to our Good Samaritan Chapel to say a prayer for you and all of the people you have helped through your extraordinary donation. Our President, Jim Stutz and I had a conversation a few day’s after depositing your gift. We vowed from that day forward we will never forget you- the women named Charlotte. We vowed to hold ourselves accountable in this way….we will imagine that you reside at the head of our meeting table… from time to time you will ask us “what did you do with my money?”

This last year, your money (and that of other donors as well), helped us to collect and distribute more than a million pounds of food to families who were hungry, more than 120,000 meals were served to the homeless, more than 1,700 unemployed adults were given job skills training and job search assistance, nearly 33,000 children and 36,000 older adults were provided compassionate care.

Charlotte, we invite you to reside at our meetings. We want to share more details. We want you to know more about our plans and aspirations. You will continue to challenge us to do more on behalf of the poor. We promise we will have a good answer to your question, “what did you do with my money?” My only regret, Charlotte, is I was never able to thank you when you were still alive. Thank you.


Daniel R. Shasserre

Does Your Planned Giving Program Have a Plan?

Annual giving has always been the primary focus for nonprofit fundraisng efforts.
And, it’s no wonder-a 2008 national study by the Stelter Company revealed that 90%
of U.S. adults age 40 and over, donated to at least one non-profit organization
in the past year or so. Yet, only 7% reported to include a charitable bequest in
their wills.

This disparity offers an enormous opportunity for planned giving fundraisers. And
yet, a quick peak at most non-profit organizations will discover little to no strategy
for cultivating planned gifts, including bequests.


Show me the money, NOW…
Most development departments we work with are
under pressure from their Board of Directors to increase contributions to cover
the annual operation budget. Or, they may be planning some capital campaign project
that is sure to absorb the staff.
Bequest revenue, or gifts from various kinds of annuities, are sometimes viewed
as surprise gifts that can’t be counted on and seldom happen. Why should we be surprised
by this attitude? Look around the table at your Board of Directors and at your organizations
leadership. How many planned giving experts do you see?

Let’s review your development plan this year….you have four special events including
the annual gala and auction, you have two big mailings planned, you have to make
50 major gift prospect calls by December your boss wants you to improve the newsletter,
your web-site hasn’t been updated and it’s beginning to embarrass you, the database
software needs to upgraded and, so on. Is it any wonder that planned gifts, in most
organizations, seem to happen (if it happens at all) by accident.

Why your Planned Giving Program is Important…
Research findings conclude “giving” is ingrained in the American culture. Data indicates
that 7% of Americans age 40 and older have named a nonprofit organization in their
will. In addition, another 10% are a good prospect.

The Stelter study further reveals that 64% of U.S. residents age 40 and over already
have wills. The planning decisions, for the most part, take place before they reach
age 50. Once a nonprofit is included in the will it is rarely changed. Therefore,
bequest made at these younger ages are likely to stick benefiting the nonprofit
for decades to come. So, how much money are you leaving on the table year after
year, because of an ineffective planned giving program?

Several clients I have worked with have effective planned giving programs
in place with annual initiatives that get positive results. These organizations
report consistent annual planned gift bequest revenues that represent 25% or more
of their total revenue from all sources.

Your largely untapped bequest prospect group is the same man or woman who will attend
your next golf event or will donate a small gift from your next mailing. Yet, most
of these people will never be asked for a planned gift.

Our experience indicates, most Development Directors, in small to mid-size nonprofit
organizations, will never find the time to create an effective planned giving program.
Why is that so?

How to Start a Planned Giving Program…
Many of our clients have started new Planned Giving
programs this past year, and, at the same time they have upgraded their annual fundraising
efforts during these difficult economic conditions. How did they do it?

Let us make these recommendations.

One: Review your donor records to discover likely planned gift prospects (they will
be over the age of 40; they will have donated something to you every year for ten
years are more, they have a high net worth).

Two: Consider an investment to improve your website, especially offering interactive
donor communication in regards to your planned giving options.

Three: Consider partnering with experts to offer at least one Planned Giving Seminar
this year.

Four: Use a multichannel marketing approach to send consistent, relevant planned
giving information to your donor prospects. Use your newsletter, email newsletters,
website, direct mail inserts to targeted prospects. In every communication to donor
prospects provide useful information and an opportunity to make a planned gift.

Are you ready to accept a planned gift?
Are you prepared for the donor who wants to give you a Charitable Remainder Unit
Trusts gift? There are more than 100 instruments a donor could use to make a planned
gift to your organization. Most development directors are not planned giving experts,
but they can surround themselves with expert services for just such an occasion.
We suggest that you surround yourself with experts.

We also suggest that you take a very close look at your case for support. How long
has it been since it has been upgraded? Is it compelling? Are donors attracted to
your organization when they read it? How do you know?

Do your donors know what you are doing with their money? Have you been good stewards,
using donor money for maximum impact. Do you communicate with donors as if they
are investors? Do you report positive outcomes to your investor donor? Are you
strengthening relationships with your donors?

Now is the time to create new opportunities to educate and engage your donors. Let
them know how your organization is making a difference. Make sure they know how
much you appreciate their financial support. Make sure they know what you did with
their money!

Are You Eligible for the Grant?
The Missouri Foundation for Health Capacity Building – Technical Assistance Grant
Program is accepting applications. This grant program provides health-related organizations (budget cap of $10 mil)
with up to $20,000 for capacity-building projects in strategic planning, fund development,
strategic communications, business & financial planning, management systems
development and program evaluation.