Kick Off Planned Giving in 2020
The most financially successful nonprofits aren’t funded exclusively through well-executed annual giving programs or foundation grants.
They achieve long-term, diversified financial strength through legacy gifts — primarily bequests left in the wills of generous donors who believe strongly in their work.
If you manage a small or mid-sized nonprofit, just one legacy gift can fundamentally change your financial trajectory. And if you devote sufficient time and energy to building and marketing a planned giving program, you can begin to accrue multiple legacies that can, in turn, help support your work for decades to come. After all, bequest gifts don’t come in one and two digit amounts. The average charitable bequest is around $36,000 — and can run much higher.
Unfortunately, many organizations shy away from creating legacy gift programs — partly because those gifts often don’t yield results for years, if not decades. But if you’re looking to build a strong, financially sustainable nonprofit, now is the time to kick off planned giving.
Here’s a quick, four-step guide to help you get started:
Step 1: Determine Your Readiness
While planned giving should be part of the fundraising toolbox for most nonprofits, not every organization is ready. To determine your readiness, consider these two questions:
- Is your nonprofit at least five years old? Before you can ask your supporters to make a legacy gift, they need confidence that your nonprofit will outlive them. This is difficult to achieve if you’re relatively new. Once your organization proves it has staying power, you’re in prime position to start attracting planned gifts.
- Do you have consistent donors who are ages 55 and older? Most donors don’t think about legacy gifts before they reach their mid-50s, so you need to have a good number of donors who are 55 and older before you launch.
These needn’t be major donors. Consistency is much more important — for bequest marketing — than gift size. If you’re an organization that is just 10 years old and have people who have made a gift of any size in seven or eight of those years, they’re ideal prospects for a gift by will.
Step 2: Start Simple
There are a number of different planned giving vehicles, some of which are quite complex. I strongly advise that you start simple. Rather than trying to market hard-to-understand methods, like charitable lead unitrusts (you don’t want to know), encourage your donors to make a simple bequest.
Everybody needs a will. People understand what they are. And there is no lifetime cost. They simply include a provision in their will to give some portion of their estate to your organization — and they don’t even need to tell you that they’ve done it.
Step 3: Market for the Long Term
Most of your donors won’t think to include your organization in their wills unless you ask them.
So ask. And be multichannel about it. Have a page on your website that explains how donors will further your long-term work and how easy it is for them to make a legacy gift. Include information about planned giving in your other communications channels — including your print and digital pubs, email appeals, annual report and events.
If budget permits, create direct mail appeals that focus on planned giving. I write a lot of direct mail for
clients. It’s a valuable channel. Your goal is to start a long-term conversation, so make your marketing materials warm, factual, sincere and straightforward.
These are long-term asks that likely won’t pay off for years. So it’s important to be consistent and reinforce the message regularly with the idea that some of your donors will keep you in mind when the time is right.
Step 4: Create a Recognition Society
Stewardship is a critical component of any fundraising campaign — but it’s especially important for charitable bequests. We don’t want donors changing their minds.
I urge the nonprofits I work with to create a special society for legacy donors that honors their gifts and their contributions. Publicize the members on your website and in your annual report (with permission). Maybe host an annual program to show your gratitude.
This doesn’t require a major investment — you might host an annual lunch or a special reception for members in conjunction with an existing event. (Think VIP pre-reception!)
Your CEO should attend these soirees, so the gratitude comes from the top. Each member has put you in their will for gosh sake, alongside their spouse, children and grandchildren. We’re talking enormous, serious
Remember, a legacy giving program requires a sustained, long-term effort. But that doesn’t mean it has to be overly complicated or require a massive investment.
By starting with the basics — and being smart and consistent about your messaging and stewardship — you have an opportunity to make a lasting impact on your organization.
Tony Martignetti is the principal of Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, which helps nonprofits build appropriate, scalable and successful planned giving fundraising programs. He is the host of the popular fundraising podcast Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio and author of "Charity Registration: State-by-State Guidelines for Compliance."