Posted March 8th, 2017

Five Tips for Fundraisers New to Gift Planning

Blank name plate on table in reception

by Aviva Shiff Boedecker

Managing a quality gift planning effort that attracts and keeps donors can be more of an art than a science. Here are five tips for making a significant contribution to your organization’s success.

1. Start slowly and build carefully.

Don’t feel compelled to do everything at once. Take time to prepare a careful strategic plan. Determine what is most important to set in place, what it will take to get there, what results you hope to see and when. Plan to do things in order. For instance, educate board and staff about how your organization will benefit from gifts that may not be available for expenditure for several years or more, before you start writing trust management policies.

If you’re starting a new program: Figure out who your best prospects are—alumni, long-term donors, members, grateful patients or others. In some cases, advisors in your community may be helpful in discovering prospective donors among their client base. Don’t forget volunteers. They can sometimes be better planned giving prospects than the wealthiest members of your board.

If you’re taking over an established program: Get to know the existing donors. They are your best prospects for additional gifts and, if they are happy, may be your best“sales force.” Make sure they are satisfied with the way their gifts have been stewarded, and allow them a chance to get to know you and feel comfortable with you. (See “Capturing Stories at Midwestern University”.)

2. Define how you will measure success.

Set realistic goals and communicate them to your management and board, where applicable. Otherwise, your goals may be set for you without your input. Make sure your goals are aligned with the program priorities you have identified. Your goals should be based on overall programmatic objectives, not just the number of gifts completed, especially for a start-up program. Examples of manageable goals are:

  • identify supporters over age 65 who will be the best prospects for gifts that are based on life expectancy
  • plan and complete mailings about bequests and bequest-like gifts, such as remainders of retirement plans, as soon as you possibly can
  • plan and complete one board training session and one staff orientation, where practical
  • compile a mailing list of donor advisors and plan outreach to them, where appropriate
  • attend one seminar or conference about planned giving
  • join your local planned giving council and attend meetings
  • identify resources for the support and marketing materials you will need
  • identify your “ideal” number of newsletters, personal visits or Legacy Society events

Examples of problematic goals are: complete $2,500,000 in charitable gift annuities; add 40 people to your Legacy Society; get 50 percent of your board to make a planned gift commitment. These goals not only depend on factors that can be beyond your control (economic outlook, makeup of donor base), they may sometimes result in gifts that meet the needs of neither the organization nor the donor in an effort to successfully meet a goal.

3. Just because it’s not complicated doesn’t mean it’s not effective.

For start-up programs, it is usually best to initially concentrate on developing a bequest/remainder program. Bequests are sometimes overlooked, perhaps because they do not come with a lot of bells and whistles, or perhaps because they are by nature revocable and don’t “count” toward gift totals the same way other gifts may.

Many programs find that 85 percent or more of planned giving revenue comes from bequests and other simple remainders. Bequest-type gifts (life insurance, retirement plans and pay on death designations) are comfortable for donors because they are revocable and because there are no complicated tax rules to contend with. Since designated beneficiary gifts require only a form that the donor can obtain from their insurance provider or retirement plan administrator, there are no special documents to prepare. This option makes it especially easy for people who may not want to upset a plan already in place to “leave a legacy.”

These gifts are also easy to incorporate into your development program because they require no management other than stewardship while the donor is alive. Yes, it’s a good idea to obtain a copy of a will or the designation of beneficiary form if the donor is willing to share it because it will make it easier to receive the gift later and will be helpful to have terms of the gift. But, remember that it is rare to know about more than one out of six bequests in advance. Many people are not comfortable providing documentation of their planned gifts—don’t jeopardize your relationship with your donors, or worse, the gift itself, by pressuring donors for information they are reluctant to provide for a myriad of reasons.

In addition, don’t forget about the Charitable IRA opportunity for those aged 70½ and older. This can be a good source of additional current income while also setting the stage for a future gift of what remains in the fund.

4. Be an advocate for your program.

Informed staff and board members are important to the continued viability of the planned giving program. It is easy to forget that educating fellow staff, your management and board members about planned giving is an ongoing process.

You need to regularly draw their attention to the importance of your efforts and constantly share your successes with them. Be creative; a brief update about a prospective donor with whom you are working, the background of a bequest that came in recently or a sample of the mailing you will be sending out can be more effective than a lecture about the latest changes in the tax laws.

5. Be patient.

It may take time to see the results of your efforts. Planned gifts can take a long time to “incubate.” It is not unusual for months or even years to pass between someone’s request for information and the next time you hear from them, not to mention the time you finally receive notification of a gift. It’s more the rule than the exception to hear, “Thanks for the information. I’ll call you when I have a question,” when you try to follow up with someone.

People make planned gifts on their own timetables, which unfortunately do not have anything to do with the end of your fiscal year or the current campaign. However, many of our clients find that 50 percent or more of bequest revenue in a given year comes from wills executed within three years of death. This statistic underscores the importance of starting your efforts among the oldest members of your constituency who are making final plans near the end of their lifetime.

You may not see the “response” you expect from your planned giving mailings. People often don’t act right away, even though they may have read and been interested in the information. Often people will put your brochure or newsletter in their “estate planning file” to be reviewed weeks, months or even years later when they get around to doing their estate planning. Even then, they may not tell you what they’ve done.

Gifts often won’t “mature” for a while. Therefore, your organization will not have funds to spend right away, no matter how successful your efforts are. This can be frustrating to those in your organization who want an immediate return on investment. See item 4. Network with your peers who have more mature programs and share their results and the time it took to achieve them with your leadership.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand all the technicalities right away. People skills and marketing sense are more important, and a consultant or perhaps a member of your board or committee can help with technical questions. Being new to gift planning can be overwhelming.If you keep your goals in mind, take them one step at a time, make sure your management and board know exactly what you are achieving and keep your sense of perspective, before you know it you will be at the helm of a successful program and advising your less experienced colleagues.

Sharpe Group’s highly acclaimed seminars are one of the best resources for those new to planned giving. Our next “An Introduction to Planned Giving” Seminar will be held March 23-24 in Chicago. Click here for details.

Aviva Shiff Boedecker is a Sharpe Group Senior Consultant.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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