Fundraising is much more than solicitation; it’s the development of meaningful relationships between a nonprofit and its donors over time. This process takes effort, but if done right, it could lead to a stage whereby the donor decides to leave a charitable bequest to your nonprofit in their will. This stage in the donor journey is called Planned Giving

In many ways, planned giving is the pinnacle of the relationship between nonprofits and donors. To develop donor relationships to the point of successfully asking for a planned gift, nonprofit fundraisers need to have a comprehensive plan in place. 

This article covers the steps involved in developing a planned giving program that works. By understanding what a planned giving program entails, you can create a donor engagement strategy that deepens your relationships with donors and secures impactful gifts for your organization. 

What is Planned Giving?

Planned giving occurs when a donor leaves a donation or charitable bequest to a nonprofit organization in their will or trust. The terms planned giving and legacy giving can be used interchangeably, but for clarity’s sake, this article will use planned giving

A planned giving program is designed to efficiently solicit planned gifts from donors through various stewardship and appeal techniques. To create a planned given program for your nonprofit, fundraisers should consider the steps discussed in the next section.


Identify Prospects for Your Planned Giving Program

Use this tool to rank your donors and identify planned giving prospects based on wealth and philanthropic indicators.

4 Steps to Creating a Planned Giving Program for Your Nonprofit

1. Review Your Nonprofit Organization’s Goals

Before deciding which donors to reach out to, you need to figure out how your planned giving program will align with your organization’s goals and fundraising strategy. Your planned giving shouldn’t be a standalone project. Instead, it should directly impact your nonprofit’s goals and mission. 

Here are four factors to consider when deciding the scale and focus of your planned giving program: 

a. Budget: You should decide how much you’re willing to invest in your program. Keep in mind that the most significant resource that’ll be spent is your staff time. So, consider how much staff time you can afford to allocate to identifying prospects, creating and distributing marketing collateral, and coordinating fundraising appeals. You should also consider the fact that your program isn’t likely to yield immediate returns. It could take a decade or more to see a substantial return. So, you should factor that point into your budgeting process. 

b. Leadership: You should also consider who will be in charge of your planned giving program. Having a specific staff member leading your program will ensure that someone’s delegating tasks and is accountable for the program’s performance. 

c. Consultants: If you’re strapped for time, you should consider hiring a planned giving consultant. Consultants can guide your program from the planning stage all the way to your first few solicitations. Check out the Association of Fundraising Professionals directory and search for “consultants” to find the consultant that’s right for you.

d. Bequest Types: Lastly, you should consider what types of planned gifts your organization is equipped to accept. Cash gifts are straightforward to accept, but more complex gifts such as stocks, properties, or other in-kind donations can sometimes burden organizations. For example, if you’re bequeathed a property, you’re also responsible for the upkeep, management, and possibly the sale of the property. Some nonprofits might find this responsibility to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Talk to a fundraising expert today to learn more about how Fundraising KIT can quickly and easily help your nonprofit raise more for your cause.

2. Identify Your Prospects

The next step is to identify your ideal planned giving prospects. To do this, you should look out for the following indicators in your donor data.

a. Donor Loyalty

The first and most obvious indicator of a high-potential planned giving prospect is donor loyalty. As you might expect, 50% of legacy donors give to a specific nonprofit for more than two decades before leaving behind a planned gift. When organizing your fundraising appeals, you should filter your contacts by active donors who’ve been consistent donors for a long time.  given.

b. Donor Age

Next, you should filter your donor database by age. Donors aged 44 years and older represent more than 75% of all wills and over 80% of the total value of all charitable bequests made. Chances are, if you approach donors younger than 44, they may not have their will prepared yet. 

That said, age isn’t a clear signal of whether someone has made a will or not. Don’t let a donor’s age deter you from asking your most loyal donors to leave a legacy gift, even if they are relatively young.

c. Parental Status 

Parenthood is one of the purest joys a person can experience, but it’s also a significant financial investment. Parental status has a massive impact on the likelihood of a planned gift. 

Among donors aged 50 years and over without children50% had philanthropic plans. But, among similar donors with children, only 17% had philanthropic plans. 

While this certainly doesn’t mean you should exclude donors who are parents, it would be wise to prioritize donors without children to ensure you’re making time for your most promising prospects. 

d. Marital Status

Similar to parental status, marital status significantly affects planned giving. For example, planned gifts from single, never-married donors are about 13% larger. This may be because married donors are more likely to leave behind a significant proportion of their assets to their spouses, limiting the amount available for nonprofits.

e. Pet Ownership

Last, and perhaps the strangest, a donor who has a pet is more likely to leave a planned gift. Pet owners are about 70% more likely to give. More so, while pet owners write only 25% of all wills, 70% of these wills include a charitable bequest. This data point may not be a great of potential planned giving prospects like the others listed, but it might be worth considering.


Learn More About Your Donors

Use this donor profile template to record and track important details about your donors so you can identify prospects for your next fundraising campaign.

3. Create Program Policy and Promotional Materials

Once you have identified your planned giving prospects, you should create documentation, resources, and marketing collaterals to guide and implement your outreach strategy. The goal here is to inform donors about your planned giving program and educate them on how to leave a charitable bequest. 

Here are four resources you need to create as you develop your planned giving outreach strategy: 

a. Gift Acceptance Policy: Determining what kinds of planned gifts your nonprofit can accept is a great place to start when setting parameters for your planned giving program. Your gift acceptance policy should prompt prospects and donors to consider other types of non-cash gifts they could donate or point them in the right direction. 

b. A How-to Guide: Although donors may want to leave you in their will, they may not know how to. You may want to direct them to Free Will’s completely free charitable bequest setup tool. Additionally, explore Free Will’s nonprofit page, which includes resources such as their stock acceptance tool and qualified charitable distributions tool. 

c. Planned Giving Resource Webpage: When you inform donors about your planned giving program, you’ll need to direct them to a webpage where they can learn all about it. 

d. Personalized Outreach Email: Once you’ve decided who your most promising planned giving prospects are, you should consider sending a dedicated, personalized email to inform them about the program. You can use KIT to segment your donor database so you can send personalized communications from your nonprofit email marketing platform.

4. Acknowledge Your Donors Appropriately

Leaving a gift to a nonprofit in one’s will is the ultimate expression of commitment to a cause and should be recognized as such. Think of ways to express your gratitude and appreciation to the donor, or honor them if you only found out about the donation after they passed. 

Here are some ideas of ways to express gratitude: 

  • Give the donor a plaque
  • Spotlight them on your “donor wall of fame” 
  • Share a personalized impact report with the donor or their estate. 
  • Name an annual award or program initiative after the donor. 

If the donor has requested a specific type of recognition, be sure to honor it. But keep in mind that many donors won’t want to be recognized in an overly expensive way. They are dedicated to your mission, so they may not want to see funds diverted from the campaigns towards stewardship activities.

4 Planned Giving Appeal Best Practices

Fundraisers should carefully plan their approach to making planned giving appeals. You want your appeals to be thoughtful, meaningful, and personalized. Don’t be tone-deaf; instead, consider how the donors would receive or perceive the message you’re trying to convey.

Here are four planned giving fundraising appeal best practices to consider:

a. Meet the Donor Occasionally: Set up an in-person or virtual meeting for your most valuable prospects to discuss their future with the organization. Face-to-face interactions are great for building rapport and longstanding donor relationships.

b. Show Genuine Interest in the Donor: Don’t ask for a planned gift in your first conversation. It’s vital to build a relationship of trust over multiple campaigns, gifts, and years. Learn more about the donor’s interest using tools like KIT or through personal conversations with them. 

c. Offer your Nonprofit’s Planned Giving Program as an Option: When the time comes to discuss the donor’s contribution to your nonprofit, offer planned giving as an option among other campaigns or programs. This tactic will make donors feel less ambushed by the topic and give them a greater sense of freedom. 

d. Keep Donors Focused on the Present: Try not to mention death specifically or hint at it by asking them to “leave a legacy behind.” Instead, ask them to “create a legacy” or “make a gift.” This strategy will keep donors focused on the positivity of their present rather than a grim future. 

It’s easy to think of planned giving as a way to solicit sizable donations. But, while setting up your nonprofit’s planned giving program, don’t forget that your ultimate goal should be to meaningfully deepen the bond of trust between your organization and its donors. Only with this goal in mind will your program be able to secure the most significant and impactful donations.


Get Timely, Actionable Donor Insights with Fundraising KIT

Fundraising KIT helps you uncover patterns and trends in your donor data. It keeps you abreast of any changes in your donor behavior so you can adjust your strategy and stay on track to meet your goals.

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