At the outset, asking people to make a planned gift – a gift that usually transfers to your cause as a part of your donor’s estate after their death – can seem daunting. By now you’ve heard about the massive wealth transfer taking place as one generation passes their worldly goods on to its heirs. There’s a fundraising opportunity out there, but how can you possibly navigate without an advanced degree in psychology, death, and taxes? I mean –  remainder trusts, annuities, life insurance, revocable and irrevocable gifts – good grief! Let’s get real! You’re already wearing 10 hats for your cause and there’s no way that you can even begin to find the time to put together a Planned Giving program. Just the idea of talking to people about what happens when they’re dead makes you shudder.

It’s easy to get distracted by the details and the complexities that may be a part of some planned gifts. But don’t let the variety of options or the squeamish nature of talking about your donor’s estate hold you back. Here are 4 steps you can follow to get your planned giving program up and going in no time.

1.)   Eenie meenie miney moe

Planned Gift FundraisingWhile there are a wealth (haha) of planned gifts that are possible to make, you want to keep it simple. Simple for your donor to make, simple for your office to track, and simple to communicate. Choose one or two easy-to-implement and easy to track planned giving offerings, like a bequest in a will, or your cause being assigned as the beneficiary on a life insurance policy. You can handle any questions about more complex possibilities with your donors as they arise. Create a checkbox on your donor management system that notes this donor is making a planned gift and add simple documentation to their file.

2.)   Determine what’s in it for your donor

The first thing that tends to come to mind when it’s time to talk about the benefits of making a planned gift are… taxes. But in reality, this is about as motivating to your donor as watching paint dry. Getting a tax benefit for a gift isn’t a benefit that is limited to just your cause. There are several million causes for which a tax benefit is a result of a gift. A tax benefit isn’t the first (second, third, or tenth) reason that your donor is making a gift to any of your cause’s other fundraising initiatives, so don’t lead with a tax benefit as the main motivation for a planned gift.

Planned Gift FundraisingGiving makes you feel good, and giving through your estate should make you feel good, too. So think about it from your donor’s perspective.

  • Is it important to them to support your cause in a way that doesn’t impact their cash flow?
  • Is it a way to make a significant gift that will honor someone they admire and respect?
  • Does it provide a means to continue their regular support and insure that the programs they care about the most continue in perpetuity?
  • Can it distinguish them as leaders?
  • Allow them to serve as an inspiration to others?

Talk about what they will experience (yep they’re still alive here) by making a planned gift for your cause.

3.)   Share the love…

Planned Gift Fundraising…of making a planned gift! Making a planned gift deserves to be honored and acknowledged while the donor can feel that appreciation. Think about how you will recognize and showcase your planned givers. Again, keep it simple and work it into the acknowledgement activities you are currently conducting. Will you have a special designation in your annual report? Include a distinctive thank you mention at your special events? Or maybe a personalized behind-the-scenes tour at your organization? You want to celebrate the difference your planned giving donors are making for your cause and invite them to be a part of that celebration! (Not dead yet!)

4.)   Communicate

Planned Gift FundraisingNow it’s time to plant the idea of making planned gifts in your communications. Do you need to create a whole marketing campaign with detailed brochures, slick forms, and gorgeous photography? No! Once again, you are going to keep it simple and just incorporate a nugget here and there in your existing communications. A paragraph in your newsletter, a line on your letterhead, a story on your cause’s blog, whatever you already have going just include a bit about the benefit (to your donor) about making a planned gift.

Just like you include ideas and suggestions about supporting your cause with a planned gift in your existing materials, you’re also going to work it into your conversations with your donors. Tell a story about how you set up the new planned giving program. Share a tale about one of the benefits you figured out in step two. Make a habit of keeping your donors in the planned giving loop with informational update conversations.

That’s it! Knock out these 4 simple steps for easy planned gift fundraising or Planned Giving program start-up.

When you work your planned giving program into what you are already doing you can breathe a sigh of relief. Keeping planned giving simple and integrating it into established activities keeps you in control of your time and energy.

By focusing on communicating the benefit to the donor and celebrating their leadership, you will avoid that awkward conversation and that hinky feeling you get when you talk to someone about their death.

Sharing the benefits of making a planned gift to donors as a part of your communications lets everyone help raise awareness for your new program.

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Great points, Heidi. Thank you for posting about planned giving! So few consultants address this topic with such ease. Planned giving doesn't have to be complex or realized in the long term. Many are fulfilled within 3-5 years or less. Like your points about blending planned giving messages into existing communications. We'll be featuring a book called "Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing" in a couple weeks at CausePlanet. Look forward to having your input on this terrific topic.

Heidi Hancock
Heidi Hancock

Thanks Denise! Planned giving seems scary, but it can really be almost a creative playground for taking innovative fundraising ideas out for a spin. An just like you note about planned gifts being realized within 3-5 years, there's a lot about planned giving that is quite surprising.

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Nonprofit fundraisingPlanned Gift Program