Essentials to Starting a Planned Giving Program

John Marshall
Senior Vice President

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to speak with many organizations about the merits of including Planned Giving as a component of their overall fundraising program. These have been organizations that were primarily in the process of considering the addition of Planned Giving but were somewhat hesitant to “take the plunge” for any number of reasons. Mostly, such hesitancy was due to their lack of understanding about this unique fundraising opportunity as well as their uncertainty about how to get started.

I have always maintained that every nonprofit should include Planned Giving in its fundraising universe in some fashion. It could be as minor as placing the words “Have you considered leaving our organization in your will?” on the bottom of your organization’s letterhead.

If you are at that stage where you believe now is the time to get started, allow me to offer up what I feel are five essentials for you to consider as you start the process.

  1. Make certain your Board and senior staff understand Planned Giving and are FULLY SUPPORTIVE.

Patience is absolutely required and the organization’s leadership will need to understand that planned gifts do not instantaneously materialize. They take time to be properly cultivated and may not be realized for quite some time. It is important leadership understand that planned gifts are what will help sustain the organization over the long run and can provide the resources required to create the “margin of excellence” every nonprofit desires.

  1. Identify your target audience.

“Aim at nothing and you will hit your target every time” is a phrase that was drilled into my head very early in my career. You must develop a cultivation list of those who are likely to be responsive to your organization through the various opportunities of Planned Giving – usually those who have a history with the organization and who have shown loyal financial support for an extended period of time. Those to consider for your cultivation list should include:

  • Consistent donors. Giving for five or more years or those who have given $1,000 or more at any time
  • Current and former Board members
  • Current and former volunteers
  • Current and former staff

And when considering who to identify, remember the letters F-L-A-G:

  • Frequency
  • Longevity
  • Age
  • Gender (women tend to make more bequests….men make more planned gifts by way of trusts)
  1. Determine which Planned Giving vehicles you can most comfortably offer and manage.

Please don’t promote to your constituents an opportunity you cannot manage/deliver. If you simply want to start by dipping your toe into the pool, encourage participation by way of a bequest. If you wish to take a more proactive approach, then consider the following:

  • Charitable Gift Annuity
  • Charitable Remainder Trusts
  • Life Insurance
  • Charitable Lead Trusts
  • Life Estate Contracts

If you decide to be more comprehensive in what you offer, I heartily recommend that you go to great lengths to enlist the support of professionals who can advise you in any number of ways to ensure that you are providing accurate information to your constituents. I have always recruited what I refer to as a PAC group…..Professional Advisory Committee consisting of those whose expertise relates to the estate planning arena. (Attorneys, Estate Planners, CPAs, Real Estate Agents, Life Underwriters, etc.).

  1. Determine how you will promote Planned Giving.

If you envision promoting your Planned Giving program in more ways than simply including the aforementioned sentence on your letterhead, you might want to create a promotional program which could include:

  • Direct Mail
  • Newsletters – include an article in your main newsletter (possibly with a testimonial from a donor)
  • Seminars – an opportunity to invite the professional community to participate
  • All of the above
  1. Make certain to pay particular attention to internal management issues.

It is essential that you have all your ducks properly lined up, otherwise, unwanted cracks in your Planned Giving program floor may start to appear. Consider the following:

  • Personnel: who will be assigned oversight for the Planned Giving program?
  • Budget: the creation of a separate and appropriate Planned Giving budget
  • Policies and procedures should be created to establish the types of planned gifts that are and are not acceptable, gift limitations, donor confidentiality, etc.
  • Buy-in from the finance department: developing a solid relationship with your finance department in an effort to ensure clarity of understanding on policies and procedures as well as communication and accounting for deferred gifts

Taking the plunge into Planned Giving should be accomplished only after very careful consideration occurs among the organization’s stakeholders/decision makers. Properly orchestrated, the Planned Giving program can provide wonderful benefits to your donors today and to your organization in the future.

John F. Marshall is Senior Vice President with JB+A, Inc. with more than 40 years of fundraising development experience and expertise. You can contact him at jmarshall@fundraisingjba.com or call him at 816.237.1999.

One Comment

  • John Shehane says:

    Good advice John. I’ve found a few reasons over the years that nonprofits don’t add planned giving marketing to their quiver. The board believes they have to wait around for someone to die before they get money and they need money NOW! When I introduced a planned giving program at Pembroke Hill a couple of decades ago, we discovered a lot of gifts in the planned gifts pipeline. By tracking these donors who had self identified, I was able to show that their annual giving increased because we were paying attention to them on a whole different level. Another barrier is the development directors who fear that planned gifts requires a boat-load of esoteric knowledge they don’t have and would rather stick with what they’re comfortable …mail, phonothons and events. They don’t want to lay bare their lack of expertise before a boss that would expect them to have or at least be acquiring. Give my best and a happy new year to all at JBA.

    John

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