A Planned Gift Program is a great way to ensure the financial stability of your organization and provide larger major gifts. Yet just the thought of starting a planned giving effort can be daunting especially if you are in a smaller organization with limited resources. Sometimes, just the very first steps are enough to cast your net.

You might be surprised at what you catch.

I was serving as the Development Director in a very small development department that included a part-time assistant and me as the director. Between the two of us, we were responsible for raising money across the entire state for my cause.  I knew it was important to provide a variety of different ways of giving for our donors, but because my time was stretched pretty thin, I did not have time or resources to start a full-blown Planned Gift Program.

Writing a Couple of Paragraphs on a Planned Gift Program

Planned Gift ProgramTo keep the pressure off and offer some ideas to our supporters, I wrote an article for our quarterly newsletter about planned giving and ways that donors could “leave a legacy.” I figured that the best way to establish a planned giving program would be not to create an overwhelming number of options, but to make a couple of suggestions that I knew we had the resources to handle, and see what happened. I knew that if I was approached with some complicated questions, I could rely upon an estate planner, who was currently serving on the Board of Directors, to offer guidance and suggestions along the way.

The newsletter with my article was published and it was less than a week later when I received a call from a supporter requesting we get together for lunch. The man making the appointment was a bit of a mystery. I didn’t recognize him from our major donor lists or from any of the other activities the organization regularly held for supporters. After hanging up the phone, I looked up his giving history and discovered he had been making consistent gifts of $25 per year to the organization for over 30 years. While his long-time support was interesting, I wasn’t sure if this lunch was going to be the best use of my already limited time.

Out to Lunch?

Planned Gift ProgramThe day of the lunch rolled around and I still harbored some trepidation, which only increased when I actually met the gentleman in question. Rather unkempt, he was very old and his clothing was worn, dirty, and out of style. I tried hard not to notice whether that was today’s or yesterday’s egg yolk dribbled down the front of his shirt. He seemed a little nervous so I did my best to put him at ease. We talked about the cause and how he got involved. He shared a few insights to what his affiliation with the organization had meant over the years. He relaxed some and it seemed that the lunch had turned into a light meeting keeping a donor informed about the recent work of the organization.

A Secret Gift

planned gift programAs we were standing up from our meal and preparing to leave, he surprised me by asking me to take a walk with him. I had a few extra moments and the walk was not out of my way, so I agreed.  As we slowly ambled along, he told me that he wanted to see my reaction to him during lunch because he had never been a high dollar donor. He had never had a lot of wealth. The cause was very important to him and he believed in the work it was doing. He took a deep breath and shared that he wanted his only source of wealth, some real estate worth at that time $2.5 million, to come to the organization upon his death. He was very proud of the work his beloved cause was doing and this was a way he could make sure that it continued. He had dreamed of being able to make such a significant impact for a cause he believed in so much. When he read the recent newsletter, he realized that he could play a larger role for his cause.

Leaving a Legacy

As a fundraiser, you are in a terrific position to provide inspiration and ideas for supporting your cause. In this case, one idea sparked a life-changing gift that transformed the organization. Keep things simple and easy to manage. Start out small and offer a couple of suggestions of how your donors can “leave a legacy.” Planned Giving does not need to take up a lot of your time. Just a simple article in your newsletter offering opportunities to your donors can make a huge impact on your organization.

Want more easy to implement fundraising ideas?  Then come on by and sign up for invitations to the Masters Circle. We gather each month and answer your fundraising questions and share fundraising strategies tailored for your cause.

Planned Gift Program

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Fantastic, heartfelt story. Absolutely almost passed out when I got to the $2.5 million part! It just goes to show, all these consistent actions that we think are little, can snowball into making a huge difference. Thank you for this lesson.


This great story is confirmation of a fact I just read about planned giving donors. They don't always come in major gift packages. Many donate small amounts over the years and then decide to leave a cause in their will. Very exciting to read this story--thanks for sharing!

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