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Make 2010 the Year YOU Start Planned Giving

I have the privilege of writing a series of six articles on planned giving for GuideStar this year. Knowing I have the year-long commitment, I can prepare a meaningful series, rather than a few relevant but unrelated pieces.

Small and medium-size nonprofits are very often overlooked by planned giving articles, consultants (not me), seminars (not mine), and commentators. I hate that. The prevailing belief is that smaller organizations can't have a planned gift program. That's just nonsense.

I'll use this series to get the ignored organizations started. Are you on board? Are you going to make 2010 the year you start planned giving?

Here's what you need:

  • At least a 10-year history. You're going to ask your planned gift prospects to include you in their wills, meaning your program will start with charitable bequests. Your prospects need assurance that your nonprofit will outlive them, because you won't get their gifts until their deaths. You'll always wish your bequest donors a long life (don't venture into a "bequest acceleration program"), and longevity is important for your nonprofit, too.

    I'm starting with bequests for a number of reasons, which are laid out in this article I wrote last year.

  • Consistent donors who are 55 and over. That's the age at which people start thinking about charities in their wills. To be sure, we do wills long before our mid-50s, but those earlier wills aren't likely to include charities. It's later in life when we start thinking about our will as a vehicle for giving back.

    In late 2009 there was some noise about promoting planned gifts, including charitable bequests, to 30- and 40-somethings. I think that's a waste. Will a few stray bequests come from it? Maybe. But the number will be quite small, so it's not a smart use of direct marketing dollars. Plus, the few you might get are enormously susceptible to change as those young donors' priorities shift over their remaining 50 or 60 years.

    Your target audience does not have to be major donors. Consistency is much more important for bequest marketing than gift size. If you're an organization just 10 years old and have people who have made a gift of any size in 7 or 8 of those years, they're ideal prospects for a gift by will. Many times through the years I've looked at the giving histories of donors who have told our clients they're included in wills, and I'll see $5 and $10 gifts for decades, often more than one a year. Loyal donors like that are always thinking about your organization—always planning for you—and they're the best prospects for a planned gift by will.

    We all know bequest gifts don't come in one- and two-digit amounts. The lowest I've ever seen is $500. Nationwide, the average charitable bequest is around $32,000.

    Finally, these donors should have given consistently without a quid pro quo. Exclude those who are solely golf outing donors, walk-a-thoners, gala attendees, theater night patrons, and the like. You want the donors who consistently give out of a love for your work.

That's all you need to start your bequest marketing program. My articles will help you with the rest.

You've got some work to do to inaugurate your planned giving program. And you've got two months to do it, when my next article comes out.

What You Need to Do before April

  • Query your database. You need to determine whether you have donors of the type I described. If you can't query by age because you don't have it in your data, don't despair. Search for gift consistency with a long history, such as 15 gifts in the past 20 years; my example above; or somewhere in between. If you go back more years and keep increasing the number of gifts, you'll pull an increasingly older (and smaller) prospect pool. If you increase the number of gifts and keep the years constant (e.g., 18 gifts in the past 20 years), you'll be pulling slightly more loyal donors, but their number will fall. That's just an example and too restrictive. Fifteen gifts in 20 years is a good measure, as is any query with the same ratio.

    In the next article I'm going to propose direct mail to your prospect pool, so refine your query to get to a size you can mail to, based on your budget and staffing.

    If you don't have a budget for direct mail, that's OK. There are other ways to promote bequests, and I'll explain them and give examples.

  • Make your decision. If you have the requisite history and the right donors, decide whether 2010 is the year you start planned giving. Maybe you need to consult the CEO or your board. If you decide this is the year to launch your program, we'll take our next step together in April.

Read the Other Articles in This Series

Tony Martignetti, Esq., Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC
© 2010, Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC

Tony Martignetti, Esq. is managing director of Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC, a planned giving consultancy that works with a wide range of educational, cultural, advocacy, social service, religious, and healthcare institutions to create donor opportunities by building planned gift programs where they don't exist. You can find him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

Topics: Fundraising