Insights from experts at Advancement Resources

Implementing a planned giving program at your organization is important for both your organization AND the donor. Why? Doing so provides an avenue to realize maximum impact together. The organization can leverage planned contributions through investments and endowments to amplify impact. Donors who might otherwise feel that making a transformational contribution to an organization they love is beyond their means can carry out that ambition through their estate planning.

1. Follow Leadership’s Recipe

The first and most important ingredient for a robust planned giving program is buy-in at the leadership level. Prior to accepting any bequests, leadership should have a planned giving policy in place. In addition to outlining what types of planned gifts are acceptable and under what terms the organization will accept them—you’ll want to be able to sell that prize racehorse, for example—the policy should state a clear purpose for unrestricted planned gifts. Will they be used to endow a key outreach program? Will they be used to maintain dedicated staff? Or perhaps these funds will be used to ensure people from all walks of life can access your programming. Beyond their affinity for your organization, a donor may not designate their legacy gift for a desired use. However, when they are making the decision to include your organization in their estate plans, they will be interested in the potential impact of those funds. Donors want to know their funds will strengthen the work of your organization, not merely keep the lights on.

2. Sweeten with Stewardship for the Long-term

Once the planned giving policy is in place, the next important ingredient is creating a strategy for stewarding this type of contribution. Note that changes to final documents most often occur during the last five years of a person’s life. The importance of maintaining a high-touch culture of engagement cannot be overemphasized.

Focus on showing respect to the legacy donor and reinforcing that their expectations will be met. With the clear purpose for legacy contributions that your leadership has outlined in hand, you can point out the impact other legacy contributions have had and will continue to have. Providing an experience for legacy donors—whether it involves meeting a person who has benefitted from your organization’s programming or interacting with key stakeholders—is a perfect way to steward them. Be sure to include family members in your stewardship strategy.

3. Blend Together Team Efforts

The final ingredient involves integrating planned giving throughout all your organization’s advancement efforts. Various advancement teams can partner to secure legacy contributions by incorporating planned giving into their existing work. In doing so, the return on investment for the organization can be quite high.

Work with your marketing team to plant the seed of legacy giving through consistent messaging. Mentioning planned giving in all marketing materials can help drive interest. It could be as easy as including a checkbox to indicate, “Yes, I have included your organization in my estate plans” under the space for a return address on reply envelopes.

Annual giving and major gifts officers should routinely share information about planned giving. Their job is not to know all the details—that’s where the expertise of their planned giving colleagues comes into play—but to increase awareness for this opportunity for all donors and potential donors. Emphasize the importance of planned giving in helping your organization achieve its mission—and in helping the donor achieve their philanthropic goals. As trusted philanthropic advisors, development professionals have the opportunity to help donors contribute in ways that are meaningful to them throughout their lifetimes

4. Season with Research

Because consistent annual giving—no matter the amount—is an excellent indicator of a donor’s likelihood of leaving a legacy gift, keeping a close eye on your database can help your organization pinpoint donors who might welcome this type of opportunity to have an impact. To further narrow your search, consider donors who are childless, as these donors are more likely to include organizations whose vision and mission align with their own in their estate planning.

Another indicator of a potential legacy donor is one who wishes they could “do more.” A donor who only has the means to make modest contributions during their lifetime may be excited about the greater impact they could realize through estate planning.

Organizations owe it to both themselves AND their passionate supporters to offer the opportunity to make a legacy contribution. These types of contributions can bolster the impact of your organization’s crucial work and empower all donors to realize their philanthropic passion in accomplishing your shared vision and mission.