Get Wild with Planned Giving - present a compelling case, courtesy Phil Murphy

by Phil Murphy, Zimmerman Lehman Team Member

Imagine writing a foundation proposal requesting "lots of money for a big building to support our good work." The most sympathetic foundation executive wouldn't tolerate such a vague and lazy request for a minute.

Yet most planned giving programs tell donors little more than that.

The typical planned giving brochure, crammed with information on the joys of charitable remainder trusts, gift annuities and pooled income funds, usually has a picture that illustrates the mission of the organization and a wan plea that "gifts from estates are vital to our future."

I've had donors, particular older people who are prime targets of planned giving appeals, tell me they can't throw away stuff like that fast enough. And why shouldn't they?

It's the same old message about tax and income benefits from yet another organization that feels it doesn't have to bother to say why it needs and deserves planned gifts.

This brochure-driven, tax-and-income-centered approach to planned giving violates basic fundraising principles. It presents no compelling case, shows no commitment from key volunteers, and relies on impersonal methods. Worse, it makes beleaguered development directors think they have to become tax and legal experts before they can start a planned giving program.

Let me suggest another approach: put fundraising back in planned giving. Sure, you will need to find technical help if someone wants information on a charitable trust.

But most planned gifts will be simple bequests.

Five Things You Can Do:

1. Write a (short) case statement that appeals both to the head (specific objectives) and heart (the benefits to those your organization serves as a result of planned gifts).

2. Work the case statement draft through your volunteer committees, revising the statement as you go along. View each of these meetings as an opportunity to encourage planned gifts from those around the table.

3. Refuse to move the case statement to the next committee unless you have a volunteer from your current committee who has made his or her planned giving commitment. (That's what I do, and it works.)

By the time you reach the board, you should have two or three volunteers saying why they have included your organization in their estate plan.

4. Have the board of directors sign off on the case statement by formal board resolution. By now it should have a specific dollar goal, time table, and agreed upon objectives.

Again, the case statement should be presented to the board by you and at least one volunteer - preferably a board member - who has made a planned gift commitment.

The volunteer should encourage his or her fellow board members to consider making their own planned gift arrangements, with technical support offered to them as needed.

5. Now that your volunteers have something they can communicate comfortably - the case for planned gifts and their own planned gift commitments - set up appointments for them and you to talk with long-time supporters about including your organization in their estate plan.

I find that case-centered planned giving develops planned gift commitments fairly quickly--especially from volunteer leaders, provides personal stories for your newsletter that will, at minimum, be read by those who know the individual planned giver you are profiling, and makes the planned giving program something your organization's considers a serious board responsibility, rather than seeing it as "(YOUR NAME HERE)'s project."

The case-centered approach is seldom as tidy as I've presented it. Its only virtue is that it works better than using mailings, seminars, and newsletter articles - all useful tools - without having a fully developed and institutionally approved case statement to back them up.

If you want to go beyond these basic steps, then you'll likely need help.

Copyright 2007 Zimmerman Lehman.

Last modified: Monday, 4 February 2013, 9:49 AM