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Cynder Sinclair: Implementing a Robust Planned Giving Program for Your Nonprofit

In our last article we discussed: why a planned giving program is important, how it fits in with your overall fundraising program, creating a culture of donor-focused gift planning and building your nonprofit’s gift planning team.

This article will address the four remaining topics: identifying potential donors, having the planned giving conversation, marketing your giving program and measuring success.

These eight components of creating and implementing a planned giving program will provide clarity and inspiration for your nonprofit’s efforts in this important area of sustainability.

Identifying potential donors

Even though almost everyone is a candidate for gift planning, certain individuals may be more open to the gift planning message than others. Several studies in the past decade have shown that more than 90 percent of planned gifts are made by donors who have given loyally to the annual fund or been consistent members in the organization.

However, most nonprofits identify only 10 percent of these donors as prospects for planned gifts. Also, many of these people do not view themselves as wealthy or as philanthropists. Yet this group of prospects names nonprofits as will beneficiaries with an average bequest size of about $50,000 nationally. For most nonprofits, this is considered a major gift.

Remember to use a donor-focused approach, which takes into account how each donor wishes to be treated. You will notice that each generation tends to value certain ideals over others. For example, the Boomer generation cherishes their individualism, health and wellness, and social expression, whereas Millennials care more about their financial future, positive change and tolerance of diversity.

Understanding generational giving patterns is critical when adapting your approach to your donor’s interests. For many years, nonprofits often assumed that most planned giving donors were wealthy and elderly. Today we realize that these donors actually made planned gifts not because they were wealthy or elderly but because they were loyal to the organization and committed to its mission.

Look for faithful contributors to your nonprofit when identifying potential gift planning prospects. Then rank them by the length of time they have supported your organization. Also, look for current and past board members, longtime volunteers and former staff members.

Having the planned giving conversation

Beginning a dialogue with a planned giving candidate can be daunting for board members and nonprofit executives alike. However, remember that these are not cold calls on people who have no interest in your nonprofit. These are wonderful philanthropists (even if they do not see themselves that way) who have made regular, consistent investments in the cause for years.

When you ask for a meeting, they may wonder why you want to meet with them since they do not consider themselves philanthropists. You can simply answer, “I just want to come by and say thank you for being a longtime supporter and hear more about why you are so passionate about what we do.”

If you genuinely remain in a place of curiosity about their interests, your questions will flow easily and the conversation will evolve naturally. Keep in mind that it often takes several visits over a period of years to convert these conversations into commitments — and those commitments into matured gifts. So, have patience, trust yourself and your donor, and enjoy the process.

Marketing your giving program

For many years, most nonprofits marketed their planned giving in the same way: Send a large number of newsletters describing gift planning techniques to wealthy, elderly prospects in their database hoping some of them would respond. Unfortunately, that technique hasn’t been effective since the early 2000s since donors became overwhelmed by the sheer number of newsletters they were receiving.

Once again we are back to the importance of developing a donor-focused approach. Successful marketing efforts always target individual donor interests and values. For example, donors older than age 60 are less likely to alter their estate plans to include new nonprofits. Therefore, your best prospects are those who have demonstrated their commitment to your cause over time. Your consistent annual donors will be most responsive to your gift planning marketing efforts. If a prospect is not loyal, there is no point in pursuing a planned gift.

Tom Ligare, president of the Charitable Gifts Agency, recommends reading the 1999 release of a study by Paul D. Schervish and John J. Havens titled "Millionaires and the Millennium: New Estimates of the Forthcoming Wealth Transfer and the Prospects for a Golden Age in Philanthropy" detailing the $41 trillion transfer of wealth, of which $6 trillion to $7 trillion would come to nonprofits between 1998 and 2052.

Measuring success

To be successful with planned giving efforts, expect to invest a lot of time into building and deepening relationships with individuals who are enthusiastic about your mission. Be a partner in their life’s vision and passion. Remember, you can help your donors understand what impact they want to have today, what outcomes they hope to achieve for tomorrow, and what legacy they want to create during their lifetime and beyond.

Since planned giving conversations develop and deepen over a period of years, measure your organization’s success by activity and not by dollars raised, especially in the early years.

— Dr. Cynder Sinclair is a consultant to nonprofits and founder and CEO of Nonprofit Kinect. She has been successfully leading nonprofits for 30 years and holds a doctorate in organizational management. To read her blog, click here. To read her previous articles, click here. She can be contacted at 805.689.2137 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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