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Planned giving for non-experts: 3 ways to prioritize your efforts

An increasing number of donors view planned giving as an avenue to support to a beloved organization. With donor interest rising, it is imperative that every nonprofit prioritize planned giving programs. Of the $449.64 billion donated in 2019 (per Giving USA), $43.21 billion was given in the form of a bequest, which is only one of many planned giving vehicles.

Despite the obvious potential in planned giving, there is a common misconception that planned giving is overly complicated given the various gift vehicles and tax implications. Some organizations even shy away from marketing planned giving due to a lack of comfort with the technical aspects of these types of gifts, resulting in countless missed opportunities. Organizations have a distinct occasion to dispel such misconceptions, and as a result, elevate philanthropy for their missions.

You don’t have to be an expert in planned giving to secure more planned gifts.

Any organization – whether it currently has a planned giving program or not – can make a significant impact in their fundraising efforts by prioritizing leadership, resources, and marketing.

1. Leadership

Engaging leadership, staff, and volunteers in planned giving at the outset will ensure the program has a greater chance of succeeding in the long term.

When building and prioritizing planned giving programs, it is important to establish a reasonable scope of activities that considers budget and staffing limitations, as well as to set realistic expectations about the timeline for gifts to come to fruition. This is exactly why it is so important to reach consensus and gain support from internal and Board leadership at the outset. Not doing so can hinder the program’s success.

Successful programs:

  • Gain leadership and Board approval in planning for the program
  • Teach Board leaders and other volunteers how to be advocates for planned giving opportunities
  • Assign dedicated staff to highlight and focus on planned giving efforts
  • Ensure frontline staff have a foundational understanding of planned giving and feel comfortable speaking about it as an option for donors

Questions to consider:

  • Does your culture and leadership support the establishment of a planned giving program?
  • Which stakeholders need to be involved across the organization?
  • Can someone “own” the program if it is not already assigned to a staff member, even if they give only a percentage of their time towards planned giving?
  • Do frontline staff have a basic understanding of planned giving when speaking with potential donors?
  • Are Board members or other volunteers willing to get involved and become familiar with planned giving?
  • Do your key stakeholders and staff need planned giving training?

2. Resources

Planned giving programs must also have fundamental resources in place, such as appropriate levels of staffing and investment, policies and procedures for gift acceptance and administration, and data management practices.

Successful programs:

  • Determine ownership of and responsibility for planned giving activities, whether they are individually managed or distributed among a team
  • Set realistic expectations about the timeline from promotion of planned gifts to fruition, and establish a scope of activities that considers budget and staffing limitations
  • Develop appropriate program policies, procedures, and guidelines that address gift acceptance, gift administration, counting, and naming
  • Establish tracking mechanisms for identifying planned giving prospects and donors within your database

Questions to consider:

  • Does your existing staff structure support building a planned giving program, and if not, what resources might you need?
  • Within your staff, who has the bandwidth, capacity, and interest in taking on planned giving responsibilities?
  • Can you outsource certain functions, such as administration of complex planned gifts?
  • Which types of gifts will you accept, and how will they be counted and administered?
  • Which stakeholders need to be engaged in the process? Do you need a Gift Acceptance Committee?
  • Do you have a planned gift intentions form, or do you need to create one?
  • Do you have an existing prospect pool for planned giving, and is your data captured in a way to help identify and steward these prospects?

3. Marketing

The most effective way to raise more planned gifts is by persistently marketing opportunities and the impact of such gifts across all channels.

Successful programs:

  • Execute consistent organizational messaging across all materials and your website
  • Target certain age groups and showcase relevant giving vehicles based on your prospect pool composition
  • Establish systematic and personalized stewardship for donors (such as the implementation of a legacy society or sharing donor testimonials)
  • Consult with existing donors and volunteers as to which marketing and stewardship tactics they find most appealing

Questions to consider:

  • How can you leverage existing appeals and communications to market planned giving?
  • Do you have an existing list of donors to engage in marketing efforts (e.g., donor testimonials)?
  • What is your staff bandwidth, and can you outsource some marketing functions to an outside vendor?
  • Does your website include basic information on planned giving and a point of contact?
  • Can you amend your existing or create additional stewardship practices for these donors?
  • Can you develop a legacy donor society, if one does not already exist? If so, how can that be leveraged to engage and steward these donors?

Amid an ever-evolving philanthropic landscape, planned giving continues to emerge as an attractive option for all levels of donors. Planned giving can be a powerful way for donors across the wealth spectrum to get involved with an organization they care about deeply and make a meaningful impact on the organization’s mission. Organizations that champion and implement planned giving fundamentals now will engage a much more diverse prospect group in the short and long term.