Essential Elements of a Successful Planned Giving Program

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Written by Alex Comfort, CFRP

Planned Giving is the most misunderstood activity in a typical Development Shop. All the other major categories of fundraising -- annual fund, major gifts, endowment, and earned income -- seem pretty straightforward. But many people are cowed by Planned Giving. Why?

Well, some of the stuff is pretty complicated. So many development professionals just leave it to the attorneys.  Better yet, they find an unhappy attorney and hire that person to do planned giving.

The truth is that unhappy attorneys do not make very good planned giving officers very often:

  1. They do not understand how non-profits work.
  2. They usually are not good in cultivating donors.
  3. Marketing is something most attorneys have never even considered, much less done.

And so we stand at an impasse.  How about a radical idea….let’s take back planned giving and learn enough about how to do it!

When I do talks on Planned Giving, I usually ask how many people have a planned giving program. Few hands are usually raised. Then I ask how many charities in attendance have received a bequest. Most hands go up. And then I tell them that they do, indeed, have a program. 

We need to remember that every time we thank a donor, or give a talk, or send out a mailing, we are tacitly promoting planned giving. So without getting into the weeds too much, know that there are several aspects of a successful program.

 1. Education of our “Family”

Our constituents need to know that we welcome and accept planned gifts – normally given through a bequest in a will (or Living Trust) or in a distribution of a retirement plan.

2. Marketing

We need to tell our folks about all aspects of planned giving so they can consider making a gift.

3. Assistance

When they call us, we need to be able to discuss some ideas with them and tell them how to talk to the various members of their financial team. 

So these three elements are what is needed in your shop. The best news is that you need NOT be a financial whiz to do this.  You just need to know how to communicate with your donors.

I’ll dig into more details in my next blog, but do these things right now:

  1. Somewhere at the bottom of every letter, pledge card, brochure, newsletter, annual report, special event notice, write the phrase “Have you considered leaving a gift to (your charity name) in your will or estate plan?”
  2. Put the same line under your name on your email block (or have someone do it for you). And do the same for your CEO, CFO, Volunteer Director, and others who interact with your donors.
  3. Ask your Board Members to put the phrase under their name on their email.

This is Passive Marketing and it works. I’ll get into more later about active education and marketing next time. But do this now and you will have a “bare bones” planned giving program.

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