5 Simple Planned Giving Tips To Implement Right Now

Here’s a simple approach to planned giving that any organization can – and should – implement RIGHT NOW.

The returns on your investment of time and energy can be simply amazing!

Planned giving is the big kauhana in fundraising. That’s where the profit is, says my friend and mentor Penelope Burk.

But it’s always last down the line in terms of priority – after the fundraising events, mailing campaigns, sponsorships, grant applications, and you name it. Somehow we never get around to planned giving.


It’s so technical, all my friends say.We don’t know anything about it. And it’s a bit weird bringing up the subject.

Balderdash, I say back.

Listen, I don’t know a lot about the technical end of planned giving either. And I don’t need to know it.

But I do know two important things: I know who the best planned giving prospects are and what to do with them.

And that’s all you need to know too.

Here’s a quick and dirty plan you can implement right now. And I can’t imagine a greater return on your effort!

1.  Identify Your Best Planned Giving Prospects.

Guess who they are? They are your most loyal donors over time.They are the most consistent, most non-demanding, perhaps the most silent donors you have.

If you have someone who’s giving your organization $25 for 20 or 20 years straight, you can bet that your cause is in their will.

In fact, many surprise estate gifts come in from those small donors who are ignored by the development staff in favor of bigger donors.

And it’s the long term donor who will leave a major gift as a legacy.

As Target Analytics says, “Loyal giving behavior frequently trumps gift size as a predictor of planned giving.”

2. Communicate With Them Annually.

Simply communicate with your most loyal donors at least once a year, reminding them about estate gifts. “You can leave your legacy to our cause.”

I’m actually not even sure about the word “legacy.” Don’t by all means, remind them of their mortality with things like “when you’re gone,” which is dismal and a downer, says communications guru Tom Ahern.

3.Ditch the Jargon.

In your annual letter to your most loving and loyal donors, pitch estate gifts, not “planned giving.”

People – your donors – don’t know what we mean by “planned giving.”

Don’t throw jargon at them! Throw the words “estate gift,” “leave a bequest.”

4.Add Estate Gift Language to All Your Communications.

Put it in your newsletter, your magazine, your mailings, your annual report. Add a sentence or two into everything you send out.

Include a return card for people to ask for more information.

Remember the old axiom, make it easy for people to give. That includes a simple reply vehicle!

5.  Ask About Donating Their IRA, Tax Free.

Congress has just extended the Charitable IRA Rollover.  This law allows people who are 70 ½ or older to make tax-free gifts of up to $100,000/year from their IRA.

What a wonderful way for your true believers to support you! Don’t be shy about suggesting this.

Just imagine if only one person acted on your suggestion!

Now, if you are lucky enough to be in conversation with someone about donating their IRA, you can also gently suggest other giving options.

Here’s an idea from a Chronicle of Philanthropy webinar yesterday on Fundraising Forecast 2011: Trends and Techniques You Need to Know.

The planned giving expert on the call shared a story: He was meeting with a donor about a possible donation of an IRA, when the donor mentioned millions in his 401(k). It turned out that the donor ended up making a gift of the 401(k) funds too. Can you imagine!

Action Items for You Right Now:

RIGHT NOW, pull a list of long term donors.

RIGHT NOW, schedule an annual “estate/bequest” letter to them. Put it on the calendar.

RIGHT NOW, create two lines about estate gifts to add to all your communications.

You’ll be glad you did!

How about sharing your experience with planned giving? How did you make it work? What were your successes?

Leave a comment and let us all know!

  • Nancy Gilboy

    Gail, you are the best. I eagerly read each of your newsletters and am very, very happy that you will be speaking at the NCIV National Meeting in a few weeks. I am a member of the NCIV Board and look forward to seeing you there!

  • Michael J. Rosen, CFRE

    This was a terrific article with a number of useful, simple ideas that any nonprofit organization can benefit from. My only quibble is with the section on “Jargon.” In my book, “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing” (, I actually recommend staying away from words such as “estate” and “bequest.” Most people believe that the only folks with “estates” and the only people to have made “bequests” are rich people or celebs. And, no matter how “rich” someone really is, unless they’re Bill-Gates rich, they see themselves as “comfortable,” not “rich.” So, if you want people to include your organization in their will, say that. As Gail points out, the more simple the language you use, the better.

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  • Bob Kennel

    Gail, I never cease to marvel at your communication gifts and the simple value of your common sense ideas. I almost feel proud of the evident national expansion of your work. I knew you “when”, and you were plenty good then. I keep forwarding your website to all the charitable groups who have me on their lists. Hope you hear from some of them. God Bless.

  • Marcus Cowan

    At the LGBT Center of Raleigh, we’ve just started working on a plan for estate giving. The information you provided is so timely — and simple to implement. I’m always looking forward to getting your communications! Thank you again,

  • Helen DeBoer-Daggett

    Legacy Giving, as they call it in England is a wonderful giving option. I like the term Legacy Giving because all of us will leave some kind of legacy, monitary or otherwise when we leave this world. Years ago, we actually change my title from Director of Planned Giving to Director of Legacy Giving. Donors got it. and they still welcomed me through the door. I’ve been piggy-backing LG on my materials and my visits and presentation for over 10 years with positive results.

    If you want a 5- day Canadian Legacy Giving course in beautiful Banff, Alberta in March, check out (Canadian Association of Gift Planning).

    Another way to touch your donor is to write a note to them announcing you are launching a legacy giving donor wall at your next donor appreciation event. They can identify themselves with a tick box, indicate how they want their name displayed and then you can follow up and build the relationship. I find legacy donors quite private about estate planning, including myself. Afterall, in Canada, we only see approx. 15-30% identify themselves to the charity. Once they understand that the public display of their name on the wall is to encourage others to give and not necessarily about them, they may be more receptive to identify.

    You can’t take legacy giving to the bank today but you can certainly celebrate Gifts of Tomorrow, today. (That’s the title of our wall)

    For the Legacy Giving Charity Child concept–a two minute elevator speech to get people thinking about leaving a charitable bequest in their will -check out the NGH Foundation Legacy Giving Program Slide presentation at the bottom of my Linked In Account. Believe me, it works.

    And Gail, through using the concepts of your book, a board member attends presentations with me. And guess what? He closes with the legacy ask to the service club members!!! Helen

  • Gail

    Bob, you are so kind and I appreciate it! : )
    Was fun working with you for NC State!

  • Lori L. Jacobwith

    Simple, powerful, practical tips every social profit organization can use. Great post, Gail. I’ll mention it in my monthly enewsletter tomorrow morning. :-)

  • Zeke Weiner

    I just have to say that Gail Perry gives me, and all who tap into her knowledge, so many easy, effective ideas I can put into practice near immediately. I thank Gail for generously sharing her expertise and knowledge. This one – on planned giving – is just the latest…

  • Gail

    Thanks Zeke, I am really glad you find these ideas helpful! : )

  • Betsy Baker

    Oh, Gail, I have been in fund raising for more years than I care to mention and I still get clammy palms when “planned giving” is even uttered! Thank you for simplifying the process for everyone. It IS a very important part of raising money and just because you’re not familiar with it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include it in your fund raising plan. Anyone can easily incorporate the suggestions you made into their communication. Thanks for a great post!

    Betsy Baker

  • Amy Eisenstein

    Gail, you are so right! Many nonprofits ignore planned giving as an important tool in their fundraising toolkit. These are fantastic, doable steps to help them get started at the most basic level.

    I was recently with a client – the organization has an elderly couple donating $12,000 per month (yes, per month). When I asked the ED if the couple had the organization in their will – he had no idea, because he never asked!

  • Bill Morford

    Gail, I appreciate your helpful and straightforward newsletter. This issue inspired me to get to work on a “planned giving” option for our small non-profit that serves cancer survivors in our rural community. I like Michael Rosen’s suggestion of saying “include us in your will”…that sounds simple and understandable to everyone. By the way, we already held a meeting with a local attorney specializing in estate planning…it was a good start for us. Thanks for all of your ideas!

  • Angela

    These are excellent and very doable. Thank you for your insights.

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