New study on planned giving reveals key insights into donor motivations and behaviors


A new Special Report from Giving USA Foundation, Leaving a Legacy: A New Look at Planned Giving Donors, investigates understudied area of philanthropy

CHICAGO November 6, 2019 —Although bequest giving accounted for 9% of the $427.1 billion contributed to charity in 2018, and bequest contributions have exceeded $30 billion in the past four years, research on planned giving had been scarce, with the last national study occurring in 2001.

The results of a new dedicated national study of planned giving donors released today reveal key trends, motivations, and information that will help nonprofit organizations work more effectively with these donors. Leaving a Legacy: A New Look at Planned Giving Donors, a Special Report published by the Giving USA Foundation and featuring research from a team led by Elizabeth J. Dale, PhD, Assistant Professor of Nonprofit Leadership at Seattle University, contains never-before-seen data and insights on a growing area of philanthropy.

“This Special Report provides the most in-depth picture of the current profile of planned giving donors in the United States,” says Dr. Dale. “Planned giving is actually a highly accessible form of individual giving, and we have found that there is significant opportunity for organizations to use our findings to establish best practices, better engage with donors, and seek out new gifts.”

Using data from a survey with more than 860 donors interested in planned giving and interviews conducted in early 2019, findings cover:

  • Key demographic characteristics of planned giving donors and prospects
  • When to target donors who might be creating or revising their wills
  • The process of will writing and estate planning, and what motivates donors to make a planned gift during that process
  • Characteristics of organizations that inspire planned gifts
  • How to reach out effectively to diverse types of donors and encourage gifts of all sizes

Additionally, the report’s more detailed findings include:

  • The average age donors wrote their first will was 44 years old and almost all (91.6%) used a legal advisor to write their wills. Over half (53%) of donors established their first planned gift at the time of writing their first will.
  • 7% of study participants felt their estate planning process was “very easy” or “somewhat easy” with another 22.9% reporting feeling neutral about the process.
  • The average age at which donors made their first planned gift was 52.8 years old. Among gay and lesbian donors, the average age of first gift was slightly younger, at 50 years old.
  • Respondents were most likely to make a charitable bequest (68.1%), followed by a charitable beneficiary of a retirement plan (29.7%), insurance policy beneficiary (18.5%), and a charitable trust (18.5%). Interestingly, donor-advised funds (DAFs) surpassed charitable gift annuities in the donor sample.
  • The top three motivations donors cited for making a planned gift were: the importance of the cause; the belief that the nonprofit makes a significant impact; and the donor’s ability to make a larger gift through an estate gift than during the donor’s lifetime.
  • Many of the study’s donors had long histories with the organizations they are supporting in their estate plans. More than 50% of them had been donors for longer than 20 years.
  • 7% of planned giving donors say their annual gifts to the organizations they support increased after making a planned gift.
  • 4% of donors report always telling organizations about their planned gifts while 38.7% sometimes informed the organizations.

“Recent economic, demographic, and philanthropic trends point to the continuing importance of planned giving to nonprofits,” said Rick Dunham, chair of Giving USA Foundation. “Having updated information on average donor age, gift size, and whether donors are comfortable discussing planned giving allows nonprofit organizations to craft more effective messages and develop updated strategies for their planned giving program.”

 Expert Panelists Discuss Special Report During Free Live Webcast on November 6

On Wednesday, November 6 at 11 a.m. Central Time, Giving USA Foundation hosted a webcast exploring the research and trends highlighted in Giving USA’s latest Special Report, Leaving a Legacy: A New Look at Today’s Planned Giving Donors. The panelists were:

  • Elizabeth J. Dale, PhD, Assistant Professor, Nonprofit Leadership, Seattle University
  • Robert F. Sharpe, Philanthropic Consultant
  • Kathy Kielar, WTTW and WFMT Vice President of Development
  • John Brennan, President, County Line Properties and WTTW and WFMT Board Member and donor

This event was moderated by Dave Smith, CAP, President and CEO of Heaton Smith Group.

View a recording of the event.

Read the Full Report

The Giving USA Special Report, Leaving a Legacy: A New Look at Planned Giving Donors is now available at www.GivingUSA.org as a digital download ($24.95) or 100-page paperback book ($29.95).

About The Giving USA Foundation

Advancing the research, education and public understanding of philanthropy is the mission of Giving USA Foundation, founded in 1985 by The Giving Institute. Headquartered in Chicago, the Foundation publishes data and trends about charitable giving through its seminal publication, Giving USA, and quarterly reports on topics related to philanthropy. Published since 1956, Giving USA is the longest running, most comprehensive report on philanthropy in America. Giving USA 2019: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018 is available now at www.GivingUSA.org.