Inside Planned Giving, Part III

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

This is the third and concluding installment of questions and answers about planned giving, one of the most neglected areas of fundraising and also one of the most lucrative.

The first two instalments can be read here.

All of these questions have arisen in real conversations over the years. I hope my answers will help you navigate this important field.

Do you have any stories you can share about the impact of planned gifts?

Many. In one case, a small, niche organization with a unique mission was hit pretty hard during the recession. They had started furloughing people and looking for programs to close when a bequest came through in January 2010 that was bigger than their average budget for the year. This single unrestricted planned gift saved the day, saved their programs, saved their staff, and they’re considering using some of it to start an endowment.

Who is the right person to be talking to donors about planned giving?

If you have a donor who has always been interacting with the executive director, the executive director is the right person. If a donor has been talking to a board member, then the board member should ask. Basically, the right “asker” is the person with the best and longest standing relationship with the donor. If no close relationship exists, the director of development is the appropriate person to get to know the donor and then ask.

In what ways should nonprofits be advertising and promoting their planned giving programs?

Promote it like a circus barker! The more you promote, even if it feels silly and makes you uncomfortable, the more success you’re going to have. Put a planned giving slogan on business cards, email signatures, on the outside flap of envelopes, on pre-printed return envelopes. You should even take out the line about putting a stamp on postage-paid return envelopes and replace it with a line that says: “Put us in your will.” Also, acknowledge legacy-givers. List people who’ve made planned gifts in your journal or create a legacy society.

Only a third of the people who make a planned gift self-identify beforehand. You don’t find out about two-thirds of planned gifts until they come in. As such, you need to let people know you want that kind of gift and that other donors are making them.

How many people leave money to charity in their wills?

You’d be amazed at how many individuals, even wealthy ones, do notleave money to charity in their wills. Many more people than those who do say they would consider leaving money, but they’re not asked. In fact, less than 50% to 64% of Americans have wills, depending on which fact source one checks.

What is the formal acknowledgement of planned gifts? Can you elaborate on that?

There are many ways to formally thank planned givers, and if you can give recognition you should. I suggest that a legacy society be formed, and that you associate a benefit with it, such as an annual luncheon, an entry-fee discount if applicable, or a small gift in addition to written recognition.

But a warning for nonprofits: Don’t start a legacy society until you have members to put in it! Some nonprofits make promotional brochures for their legacy society, but have no members as yet to acknowledge. If people see that nobody is in it, they won’t join. But active legacy societies are great marketing if you have people in them, and they can exert peer pressure too.

Is there a difference between everyday planned-giving work and mid-campaign planned- giving work?

No. Whether or not you’re mounting a capital campaign, planned giving is essentially a campaign that never ends. As such, you have to create unique ways to generate a sense of urgency. Otherwise, people will feel like they have until the day before they die to make a legacy gift.

What are some strategies to convey a sense of urgency to act?

Hire a planned-giving consultant to focus on a detailed scope of service! Failing that, there are ways to encourage donors to make a legacy gift. They have to be appropriate to the organization, but can include perks, matching challenges, and more. I will say that in Giving USA studies going back decades, bequests alone have represented between 7% and 9% of all giving—that’s billions and billions of dollars. That number would be even higher if more people were regularly being asked to make legacy gifts. Any agency that has individual givers and is not pursuing planned gifts is walking away from money that could be theirs. I encourage all fundraisers to have a planned-giving program.

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