What to think about as you start a planned giving program

We’re in the midst of a significant moment for planned giving as the COVID-19 pandemic is providing people with the impetus to think about their long-term financial goals and estate plans. The uptick in planned giving interest may benefit those organizations that can accept planned gifts.

Planned giving offers a number of advantages for both the organization and the donor, as I wrote in a previous post.

Planned gifts are often among the largest gifts an organization receives and they provide stewardship opportunities that often cement a donor’s relationship with the organization for life. In fact, some planned giving donors may even become better annual donors; 7% of planned giving donors say their annual gifts to the organizations they support increased after making a planned gift, according to Giving USA’s 2019 survey. Planned gifts are an excellent way to build endowment, which can lessen the effect of future economic downturns and financial challenges. And planned gifts can offer a very high return for low institutional investment. Planned giving enables donors who want to help your organization but may not have liquid assets available to make an outright gift now, to make a sizeable commitment with little or no immediate outlay.

Will your organization benefit from this rise in planned giving? Here are three things you can do to make it possible.

1. Be prepared

Benjamin Franklin’s quip “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” couldn’t be truer when it comes to planned giving. Organizations need to be ready to accept these gifts, which requires them to have systems in place to ensure proper handling and a positive donor experience.

That starts with gift acceptance policies that define what kinds of planned gifts your organization has the capacity to take and how you will administer them. Your organization’s staff and board can collaborate on creating gift acceptance policies by considering the organization’s capacity and access to professional partners with the requisite expertise. For example, they might consider whether they have the capacity to handle a gift of real estate, if they are able to convert gifts of tangible personal property into usable cash, or if they can enlist professional help to do what’s needed.

An important part of being prepared is ensuring that the organization’s gift information system can record planned gifts—and that staff members know how to do so. After all, these gifts will likely be received years into the future. It’s critical that the future organizational leadership will understand and be able to implement the donors’ intentions as agreed upon.

2. Continually market

Planned giving doesn’t require a separate, elaborate marketing plan, but it does require channels to inform constituents that a planned gift is a desirable option for support. For example, you can include a planned giving marketing message in your existing communications. That message can be as simple as, “Have you thought about adding our organization to your estate plan? Let’s talk about it.”

As a board member of Opera Idaho, I’ve helped the organization’s development and marketing staff add that messaging across a range of media, including Opera Idaho’s e-newsletter, website, gift solicitations, and performance programs. Using existing communications avenues is a simple and cost-effective way to get the message out.

All gift officers can promote planned giving, no matter their level of experience or particular expertise. Throughout the pandemic, my colleagues and I have encouraged gift officers to spend time on relationship building by checking in, talking to donors and showing sensitivity to how individuals may have been affected by the pandemic. Those conversations help lay the foundation of trust that is essential to attract planned gifts.

While the pandemic might have been the impetus for some to have these conversations, this kind of relationship building is not germane to the pandemic. Talking to—and really getting to know—your organization’s donors is essential for any nonprofit and any good gift officer, at any time, to cultivate philanthropy.

3. Know how to provide excellent stewardship.

Those who make planned gifts, particularly deferred ones, may be making their ultimate commitments to your organization and require stewardship over their lifetimes.

Organizations need to show that they are worthy of this kind of lifetime commitment and foster the lifelong relationships. Keeping the donor’s confidence and trust is paramount and often encourages current gifts during the donor’s lifetime.

Planned giving is foundational

While the pandemic is shining a light on planned giving, it is an important component of any organization’s long-term philanthropy program going forward. People tend to think about their futures whenever there are major life changes, such as marriage, birth of child, divorce, or retirement. For some, the pandemic has caused or highlighted a major life change that has compelled them to think about their financial futures.

Post-pandemic, some will still be dealing with its effects, and there will still be all those other life changes that lead people to think about planned gifts. The work done now will serve your organization well today and going forward.


If you need assistance with measures to ensure your organization benefits from the increased interest in planned giving, please reach out to Laura at lsimic@grenzglier.com.

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About the author

Laura Simic

Vice President

 Laura Simic brings more than 35 years of experience in fundraising and executive leadership in public and private higher education to the GG+A team.  She has frontline development officer and two decades of executive leadership experience encompassing all areas of advancement including alumni relations, advancement services, communications, annual giving,…