What the heck is planned giving and why should you care?

Planned giving is when a donor decides to give you money over time, either as a monthly or yearly donor, or in a will or estate plan. Most small nonprofits do not have planned giving in their fundraising plans. But you should! Small amounts every month or year will add up to large amounts over time! And people do want their names to last, long after they are gone. Planned giving is a way to ensure this.

If you are a more seasoned fundraising professional, you may have noticed that I have a lot of blog posts about more short-term fundraising methods, like direct mail or events, but less on planned giving and major gifts. So I went to Christina Attard, who has a lot of experience in these areas, and asked her to write a post about planned giving. I love this post! And I hope you will too.

Christina Attard

Christina Attard

Here are the secrets about your planned giving program that only donors know…

There is no denying that promoting planned gifts is good practice for many charities. Many of us fundraisers truly view charitable bequests as a powerful tool and as a type of gift that almost anyone can consider.

However, I ask all you fundraisers and non-profit professionals, “Have you put your name on a legacy donor wall somewhere yet?”

As I like to joke, my current net worth at present is about equal to my zero-dollar cell phone! The beauty of it is that as a couple in our early 30s with a young child and a big mortgage, we were able to create three, six-figure legacy gifts for our favorite charities! (Long time frame? Yes. But there is value here for the long-term.) So really, if you’re still waiting, your excuse had better be a good one!

My story:
I am the first to admit that it took me five years from when I became a gift planning officer to finally complete my first estate plan. The good news is that making your own charitable bequest will make you a better fundraiser. I promise.

What happened is that once I finally had a house and a family set up, the time felt right to make a will and purchase some life insurance. Yes, my mind knew that I was about ten years late on making my first will, but like most of us, I had to “feel” that I was ready. For me, the opportunity to finally become a legacy donor was also very exciting.

What I learned:
It’s true that major life events are good times to talk to supporters about bequests. It’s also true that giving can feel very exciting for your donors! I also really did want to be “asked” by my favorite charities.

Then, we began to seek professional advice. In the marketing material I used to produce, we often spoke of how bequests and insurance gifts were easy and straightforward to establish.

What that messaging didn’t take into account were all the other factors that individuals have to balance in addition to the gift plan. All told, the process took just over a year and picking out and qualifying for the right insurance policy was not easy at all! Some tenacity was needed from our family to stick out the process and our advisors did a good job of letting things settle for a while and then following up to move the steps along.

What I learned:
Fundraisers have to respect the estate planning process. Often, campaign timelines demand that a donor be qualified, solicited and stewarded in a certain time period. This doesn’t work in a donor-centered fundraising model and I understand better now why planned gifts can take years to secure.

Finally, it came time to start contacting the charities we were considering as beneficiaries. As a professional fundraiser myself, the words “Senior Development Officer” did not have the usual effect of striking fear into my heart! I knew to look for some one with a scary-sounding title deep in the hidden web-spaces reserved for planned giving. It was still a lot of work to find the right people to talk to and to get the information that I needed to make a gift – imagine how our first-time donors feel! With several potential beneficiaries on our list, information gathering was a big job.

To make things worse, after negotiating with one charity for a number of weeks, when the development officer realized that we’d prefer to give to an associated sub-branch rather than the main charity, she left me to start again with another development person in the organization rather than bridge the relationship!

What I learned:
Make it easy. Sometimes, we forget as fundraisers that most of our donors, including our planned giving prospects, support multiple charities at once. I knew who I needed to speak to and the information that I’d need to collect and it was still a complicated exercise – how difficult is it for your supporters to reach the key people?

I used to wonder why most donors who had made legacy gifts were neglecting to share the gift information with their charitable beneficiaries within moments of signing a new will? What I understand now is that for me, the relationships with the charities’ representatives were not strong enough. In my own story, only one of the three has ever called to follow up and ask me what happened after our initial conversation.

The development officer that did check in while we were still in-process started the conversation off apologetically:

“I know this isn’t important and I don’t mean to bother you, but…”

This was a sad moment for me as our discussion was in fact very important to me and the truth is that I was waiting for that call! Sadly, we haven’t been added to any lists for planned giving solicitations. I’m still receiving digitally signed thank you notes for my annual gifts despite my expressions of interest in planned giving. It’s been over two years since my phone last rang. It’s time to call!

What I learned:
It’s no surprise to hear that relationship building is the essential key to building engagement in your mission. However, it’s important to remember to be genuine and enthusiastic and to actually pick up the phone! As a fundraiser, I used to ask at the end of each call when I would be welcome to phone or visit again and then put that date into my calendar and act on it. I realize now how essential that is.

Finally, it all comes back to passion.
I spent years asking others to take a leap of passion and make a personal, meaningful and long-term commitment to my charity via a planned gift. However, I hadn’t made that leap myself before. I would have a hard time, now, feeling that I could relate to a fundraiser who had not personally supported a charity of their choosing in this way before asking me to join their charities’ legacy circle. Your donors might agree.

About the author: Christina Attard has spent over a decade helping charities ask better and donors give smarter. For her, the best part is enabling people who want to help realize their vision for doing good. Connect with Christina Attard on Linkedin, or visit her well-written blog here.

Thank you so much for writing this post Christina! Your experience echoes my own. I’ve seen this time and again. Have you ever tried to make a donation to your nonprofit? How easy is it? Can you do it in 5 steps online? 3 steps? 1 step? How convoluted are you making it? Doing your own planned gift is going to teach you so much! Even going through your own steps for online fundraising can make it so much simpler to see how to improve the process!

Do you have any planned giving tips to share? Please leave a comment!