When Executive Director David Cohen implemented the Endowment Book of Life planned giving program at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba (JFM) in 1997, with the help of Planned Legacy Inc., he wasn't convinced it would work. Now, after utilizing the networking power of the information economy and the emotional component required by the emerging experienceeconomy, Cohen has a waiting list of donors.
Why? Because Cohen does not sell a commodity, rather, he offers an emotionally meaningful experience that includes being a participant, in the Endowment Book of Life. This approach, when combined with the exponential power of human and digital networks, has resulted in donors asking the JFM how they can participate in the program.
The Endowment Book of Life has averaged 56 new Signers (participating donors) per year since its inception and it now has 280 Signers. From approximately 25 Signers to date, some of who have left a bequest and others who have a made a gift through life insurance or through cash contributions, the program has already generated approximately $2 million. This does not take into account future legacy gifts to be realized from the remaining 255 Signers, future cash gifts generated from Signers due to their enhanced relationship with the JFM, or future cash gifts and legacy gifts generated by increased community exposure.
Calculated conservatively, the Return on Investment (ROI) for the Endowment Book of Life is approximately 40-50 times the initial capital invested. The program has now reached a point where it has the critical mass of Signers it requires to become a self-generating fund development solution. Additionally, the current valuations do not take into account the donors currently on the waiting list or the exponentially increasing power of the Endowment Book of Life network.
As Kevin Kelly says in his book, New Rules for the New Economy, "The sum value of a network increases as the square of the number of members. In other words, as the number of nodes in a network increases arithmetically, the value of the network increases exponentially."
Because the ability to make new connections increases dramatically as a network grows, it is preferable to be part of a large network. In the knowledge economy, as a network grows it creates what economists call "increasing returns". The larger a network becomes, the more attractive it will be to newcomers. The typical pattern of "increasing returns" is a long lead-time followed by explosive returns. As a network grows, its value to members increases exponentially until it reaches a critical mass where everybody wants to be part of the network. Then it takes off — which is precisely what happened at the JFM.
The JFM has spent the past five years cultivating its Endowment Book of Life network. Part of the reason for its growth is the fact that the components that make up the Endowment Book of Life program have taken advantage of the current knowledge economy and, as Rolf Jensen describes in his 1999 book The Dream Society, the post-knowledge economy.
The Endowment Book of Life components include: a meaningful life story/ tribute writing session with the donor; an event Signing Ceremony where Signers are recognized in front of their peers, friends and family as they sign their stories; a beautiful recognition gift in the form of the Signer's story / tribute mounted on a specially-designed plaque; and an interactive, touch-screen Web-based kiosk that features a multi-media display of the life stories / tributes along with information about the Endowment Book of Life and the initiatives and successes of the JFM. The kiosk resides in a high-traffic area of the JFM facility where it is accessible to the public and JFM community members.
In order to understand how each component of the Endowment Book of Life utilizes current and emerging economies to increase the size of its network, it is important to understand how mankind has progressed in the past 100 years, and where it is heading.
In the first half of the century, machines replaced manual labor. In the second half of the century, that trend continued, along with the fact that computers increasingly replaced brainpower. The industrial age has now been basically automated out of existence, and the information age will soon face the same fate, as more and more complex tasks become automated.
As a result of these changes, while our material needs remain, "the material aspect of our living will receive less attention — we will cease to define ourselves through physical products, relying instead on stories and feelings," says Jensen in The Dream Society.
Jensen envisions a new society in which six emotional markets exist: the market of adventures for sale; the market of togetherness, friendship and love; the market for care, the who-am-I market; the market for peace of mind; and the market for convictions.
Adventures for sale does not sell a motorcycle, it sells the experience of riding a motorcycle. Bars and clubs are in the business of selling liquor, but what they really sell is a place to connect — togetherness. Nursing homes and hospitals are in the market of compassion, comfort, healing and help, but toy companies create products that cater to these emotions, such as dolls that need to be taken care of. A baggage manufacturer sells suitcases, but it markets the emotion of traveling to exotic places. Some companies will market the feeling of peace of mind with their products. Others will align themselves with values and morals that people respect — "We don't test our products on animals."
In The Experience Economy, B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore also suggest that experiences themselves are becoming economic offerings that are as distinct from products as products are from services. Pine and Gilmore's ideas regarding experiences are slightly different than Jensen's ideas regarding emotions, but they have their similarities in that the product or service becomes the device for what is really being sold — the emotion, the story — the experience.
Pine and Gilmore suggest that organizations that sell only the product and not the experience will be relegated to competing with their products and services on price alone — as commodities. Organizations that succeed in the new economy will be those that can turn their products and services into experiences that connect with their customers / donors in a personal and memorable way. Experiences will become the dominant method of providing value for products in the post-knowledge economy.
The organization that creates an enriching experience for the donor achieves two substantial benefits: one, it differentiates its offerings from similar offerings on the market, and two, it provides exceptional value that commands a larger market.
Comparing two different, yet similar endowment programs, both of which provide community services and funding for children's programs — which organization would you choose? The organization that offers strictly a commodity, or the organization that offers an emotionally charged, value-added experience, plus the commodity.
"Those businesses (and organizations) that relegate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant," say Pine and Gilmore in The Experience Economy.
Pine and Gilmore go on to say that companies will have to construct experiences based on four realms of mutually compatible experiences that range from entertainment and educational to escapist and aesthetic.
Questions that organizations will have to ask include: What can we do to make prospective donors want to join us? What can we do to make our donors feel comfortable and free to do what they like, to be themselves? What can we do to immerse our donors in activities, to persuade them to become active participants? What can we do to make our donors want to learn and explore, to ask questions. What can we teach our donors? What can we learn from our donors? What can we do to inspire our donors? What can we do to make our donors feel good about themselves, our organization, our initiatives and their experience with us?
Organizations that ask these questions and implement appropriate solutions will be positioned to capitalize and thrive in the post-knowledge experience economy.
When Cohen designed the Endowment book of life program, it is unlikely that he was thinking about the post-knowledge economy, yet he knew that emotion, networking and awareness would be major keys to his program. As a result, the Endowment Book of Life has positioned itself as an extremely successful planned giving program that is prepared to reap the benefits of the experience economy.
An analysis of the components of the Endowment Book of Life reveal that they are in line with Jensen, Pine and Gilmore's ideas and thoughts for the future, yet they are already working today.
New Signers in the Endowment Book of Life are treated to a meaningful, cathartic experience when they write their personal life stories or tributes to loved ones. During the story writing process, a Signer learns more about the JFM, and the JFM learns more about the Signer. At every stage of the story writing process the Signer is made to feel important, to feel good about their life and their legacy. This process creates a powerful emotional connection between the Signer and the JFM and initiates a lasting bond.
During the Signing Ceremony the Signer is honored among family, friends and peers, as they sign a copy of their story. This signed copy is then placed in the physical Endowment Book of Life. Signers also receive a beautifully mounted copy of their story for their home or office, as a lasting gift of recognition. There are no socio-economic boundaries to hurdle. The only requirement for Signers is that they promise to leave an endowment to the JFM. Signers all feel a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a community, a sense of doing good for their fellow community members.
The network development that takes place naturally at the Signing Ceremony is further enhanced when the Signers' stories are publicly showcased on the interactive Web-based kiosks and on the JFM's Web site.
Visitors to the JFM facility are attracted to the kiosk, where they learn about the JFM and peruse the Signers' life stories and tributes. These visitors begin to identify with the Signers and the JFM's initiatives — they develop a desire to participate. The network expands again when Signers direct their friends and family, both locally and around the world, to read their stories on the kiosk and on the JFM Web site.
The Endowment Book of Life is successful because David Cohen had the ability to see something that wasn't there when he initiated it. Every component of the Endowment Book of Life is in line with Jensen, Pine and Gilmore's views of the new and emerging economy, where products are differentiated by emotion and meaningful experience. In addition, the JFM has utilized human and digital networking to increase awareness and become a self-generating fund-development system.
The Endowment Book of Life works because it combines the exponential networking power of the information economy, with the feelings and emotions required by the emerging experienceeconomy.
The result — a planned giving program with a waiting list — year after year.
For more information
For specific project examples and demonstrations, or more information on interactive displays, digital messaging systems and integrated donor wall projects, please contact Planned Legacy.