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Questions I'm Most Often Asked about Building a Planned Giving Program

December 2014

The reality is that if you're not asking for planned gifts, someone else is.

Even though a planned gift is often 200 to 300 times the size of an annual gift, many organizations ignore the potential, preferring strategies to generate immediate funds.

For those thinking longer term, here are the questions I'm most often asked about building a profitable planned giving program. You'll find more extensive answers in my book, Raising Money Through Bequests.

Who are the best candidates for a planned gift?

Although planned giving prospects are often 65 and older, your organization has many other prospects based on the following criteria. These individuals:

  • Believe in your mission
  • Are frequent donors or consistent members
  • Benefit from the work your organization does
  • Have an interest in giving back at a significantly greater level than they can afford with current income

Some organizations will focus on long-time members, while others have religious congregants or grateful patients.

How do you start the conversation about a donor's planned or legacy gift?

It's not as difficult as you may think. For a donor who has a strong connection to you, you might simply pick up the phone and say the following:

I'd like to get your thoughts about a new project we've just introduced at our hospital.
We have a new legacy initiative. It would mean a lot if we could get together and talk about it.

Of course, ahead of time you'll want to gather as much information as possible about the donor's history and connection. Be prepared for some informal banter, but then direct the conversation to planned giving:

What's made our organization special to you and your family?
What inspires you to do what you do?
What motivated you to give your first gift to us?
What do you feel will be the greatest challenges to our organization in the foreseeable future?
What would you like to see continue as your legacy?

If your donor doesn't seem particularly interested, simply ask him or her to consider including your organization in his or her estate plans as a member of your legacy society.

How do I gain my board's support of our planned giving program?

Boards generally have three questions: What will be our return on investment? How quickly will these funds begin to flow into our organization? Will the planned giving program negatively affect our annual appeals?

Obviously each organization will have different results, but if you want to establish a solid base for your program, consider these messages:

  • We have to view our program both as a marathon and as a core strategy of our development program.
  • We need you to support the program by becoming planned gift donors yourselves.
  • We need to think collectively about our future and how planned giving can help support our mission.
  • Staff will need time to develop relationships with our many friends, donors and constituents.

How does a planned giving program support our annual funding?

As a result of conversations leading up to and after a donor's planned gift, his or her interest and connection to you is often strengthened.

Consequently, these individuals may choose to carve out a portion of their future support to enhance your program today. Their buy-in and trust in you as the professional and in your organization often lead to an offer to help with an increased current or accelerated planned gift.

How can we jump-start a stagnant planned giving program?

Consider bringing your current legacy donors together for an informal lunch or dinner. This allows you to show your appreciation for their support and engage them in a conversation about ways to promote your program.

Also, include donor testimonial stories in your most popular communications and indicate the benefits of planned giving support. Sample copy may be as follows:

With a single gift, you can help us do what we do today even better tomorrow.
The good news: we have enough money to secure programs for the future. The bad news: it's still in your pockets.

Lastly, you might choose to develop a fresh planned giving brochure for mailing to promising prospects you've identified.

How do we measure the success of our planned giving program?

It's easy to get caught up in the statement "show me the money," but other indicators should be included when evaluating the ongoing success of your program:

  • Number of prospects identified
  • Meetings held with prospects
  • Types of contact made with prospects
  • Number of asks made
  • Commitments received

These can be monitored through a monthly grid for reporting and evaluation purposes. I've also found that a planned gift report identifying all expected planned gifts and their amounts begins to tell a compelling story of the proverbial pipeline.

Make it clear that you can't count these funds today, but even 5 to 10 donors will begin to set positive expectations for long-term financial benefits.

Should we include planned gifts in our capital campaign?

Incorporating planned gifts in your capital campaign allows donors to significantly enhance their level of support. Recently, we had the good fortune of confirming a $1,000,000 gift to an organization because the donor combined a $500,000 five-year campaign pledge with a $500,000 irrevocable bequest. As a result, the family was able to dedicate a particular area of the organization's building and establish a lasting and visible legacy.

Early in your campaign planning, determine how planned gifts will be counted and credited. Often, they'll be directed to an endowment component of the campaign. Also determine what percentage of planned gifts will be accepted to achieve your overall campaign goal—typically, 15 percent to 25 percent.

David Valinsky
© 2014, Emerson and Church, Publishers

David Valinsky is coauthor of Raising Money Through Bequests and president of David Valinsky Associates LLC, an independent fundraising consulting firm. DVA helps nonprofit institutions big and small anticipate, manage, and respond more effectively to the challenges of the philanthropic marketplace.

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and may or may not represent GuideStar's opinions. GuideStar is committed to providing a range of topics and perspectives to our users. We make every effort to obtain articles from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, but we make no warranties or representations with regard to content provided by persons outside GuideStar.