How to Talk to Donors About Planned Giving


Planned gifts are important.  To donors, they often represent the biggest gifts to charity they will make.  Planned gifts also tie the donor to the charity.  To nonprofits, planned gifts similarly are some of the largest donations received and also serve as long-term relationship builders.  In this article, we provide guidance to nonprofit organizations on how to talk to donors about planned giving.

Build a Relationship

A planned gift often requires a donor parting with a meaningful portion of his or her net worth.  Additionally, the planning giving donor may have some type of attachment to the donated asset – for example, a family real estate property or stock in a former employer.  Given the magnitude and significance of the gifted asset, donors generally do not view making a planned gift as a transactional experience.  Development representatives should get to know the donor and form a friendship.  With a solid relationship in place, the development team member can begin to focus on the organization’s mission and how a gift would assist with the fulfillment of the mission.  It is important for the charity to shepherd the donor through the often complicated gift process and to stay in touch with the donor following the gift.

Tailor the Process to the Donor

Once development teams become familiar with the prospective donor, they will be better equipped to create a gift process that will fit the donor’s preferences.  One important consideration is who will be involved.  Some planned giving donors may prefer that only their spouses participate in discussions.  Other donors may wish to quickly bring children, advisors, etc. into the conversation.  Similarly, the location is key.  In some cases, donors may simply wish to have relaxed conversations at their kitchen table.  In other cases, a “big splash” donor event is appealing.  The speed of the process represents a third consideration.  Some prospective donors may be quite cautious and methodical.  Conversely, some donors may make first contact with the charity, have a partial plan in place already, and be ready to move quickly.

Have a Donor-Service Mindset

We recommend that charities prioritize the goals of the planned giving donor.  This involves understanding age/stage of life, income sources and needs, assets, and desired impact from giving.  While some outside research may be useful, much of this information can be collected from conversations with the donor.  An estate design process can uncover many of these details while providing a valuable service to the donor.  With a solid planned giving donor profile in place, the development professional will be well-positioned to identify gift opportunities that fit the planned giving donor’s financial and charitable goals.

Determine the Right Level of Detail

A high capacity to give does not necessarily mean a high level of sophistication.  When determining how to talk to donors about planned giving, it is important to assess the donor’s ability to understand the complexities of planned gifts.  The donor’s knowledge of tax, legal, and investment topics can be documented in the planned giving donor profile.  Taking time to ascertain the right level of detail and volume of information to communicate is important in building trust and providing clarity.

Be Flexible

Planned gifts are often flexible by nature – flip trusts, flexible deferred charitable gift annuities, and the grant timing of donor advised funds are examples of flexibility.  It is necessary for development teams to be similarly nimble as they talk to donors about planned giving.  As discussed above, planned gifts represent major life events for donors.  Be prepared for changes in direction that naturally come as individuals struggle with significant decisions.  Don’t be afraid to adjust the terms of the gift or even the type of gift as the planned giving donor refines his or her thinking over the course of the process.

Utilize Experts

From a soft skills standpoint, the development officer should be able to tell the organization’s story and vision, form relationships, and articulate the usefulness of a gift.  From a more technical perspective, planned giving teams should have a general understanding of the types of planned gifts and be able to identify the gift type that best meets the planned giving donor’s objectives identified in the planned giving donor profile.  However, planned giving teams should not be expected to have the level of niche expertise that legal and tax specialists can offer.  Development teams should often include the use of experts in their processes for how to talk to donors about planned giving.

Final Thoughts

Planned giving is overlooked at many charities because of its long-term nature and complexity.  However, planned gifts often have a high impact on the ministry receiving them.  It is worth the investment of time and energy to pursue planned gifts.  The recommendations above will aid development teams as they proceed with how to talk to donors about planned giving.  If successful, their organizations will thrive with major gifts from long-term engaged donors.

Want to learn more about planned giving and estate design or administration of planned gifts?  Please

contact us to learn more.  As part of our mission, we assist Christian nonprofits in securing and managing major planned gifts.

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Winters Richwine