Respecting Our Seniors’ Perspective

Gene Christian
Download the Planned Giving Mentor article
November 2004
Volume II, Number 11

Some of my best friends are seniors. Tom Brokaw calls seniors “America’s greatest generation.” Indeed, most of our best planned giving prospects have lived through one World War (if not two) and the Great Depression. Much has been written about seniors in our culture, the period in which they grew up and how they view the world today.

To a large extent, our senior generation developed strict guidelines for themselves regarding work, social interactions and faith. As a result, they were a hard-working people and considerably conservative in their social and political views. For every dollar they earned, they saved 20 cents. A handshake was a promise. Religious involvement was–and is–important.

So how does this viewpoint manifest itself as they contemplate a planned gift, and what should our posture be as we work with them?

Financially Conservative
First, for many seniors the notion of spending money and paying taxes is a big deal! This group of people pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made their own way by being creative, resourceful and entrepreneurial. Many seniors today have saved tremendous amounts of money because they intentionally chose a lifestyle significantly below their means.

When I meet a planned giving prospect for the first time, I’m often interviewed. They’re interested to know whether (on credit) I drive a high-end car, wear a fancy watch or live in a large home on the hill with a three-car garage. So my car is intentionally older; I bought my watch on TV; and my home is fairly modest by most standards.

Seniors want to know that giving to your charitable organization doesn’t facilitate a lifestyle for you–or me–that dramatically exceeds their own.

Desire for Simplicity
Second, handshakes and promises don’t work very well in planned giving. I am often flabbergasted by the number of agreements in duplicate, disclosure statements, deposit forms, W-9s and so forth that have to be completed at the outset of a planned giving agreement. Imagine how a senior person must feel when they are going through all the gift annuity paperwork for the first time–and they don’t like paperwork to begin with! What should we do?

Read each document thoroughly yourself first. This will increase your own learning, while at the same time help you explain to your donor what each document contains. Also, be sure to speak clearly at what may feel like a slower pace. Don’t rush through the paperwork as a formality. I’ve watched that happen before–and the effect on seniors is not good.

Well-Honed Viewpoints
Finally, even if you don’t share similar religious or political views, remember to respect your donor’s viewpoint. They’ve worked hard, and lived a long and often financially productive life. They just might have a pearl of wisdom or two that we need to hear!


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