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Planning ahead – Donor survey

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By Todd Cohen

With more Americans mapping their philanthropy, or simply thinking about it, charities face a big job in tapping the vast potential for planned gifts.

That’s the view of experts who helped oversee the biggest survey ever of planned giving among U.S. donors.

The survey by the National Committee on Planned Giving, experts said, underscores the need for charities to focus on their mission, work more closely with donors and professional advisers and scrap outdated stereotypes of donors who plan their giving.

“A lot more people are doing it,” says Bruce Bigelow, senior vice president for external relations at Hood College in Montgomery, Md. “The opportunity is that there are still a lot of people who are not.”

The survey, based on a sample of 170,000 U.S. households, gives both a snapshot of planned giving and perspective on its growth since the National Committee’s last survey in 1992. Key findings include:

* More than four in 10 Americans have made wills, and nearly six in 10 are considering making them.

* The percentage of Americans putting a charity in their wills has grown to 8 percent from 5.7 percent in 1992, and 14 percent are considering including a charity.

* One American in 100 has set up a charitable trust, up from only two or three in 1,000 in 1992 — small numbers, but showing big growth and suggesting a big untapped market.

* Younger people are making planned gifts. Forty-three percent of donors putting a charity in their wills and 34 percent of those creating charitable trusts were under 55. Donors on average first write a charitable bequest at age 49.

* Helping a charity is the main reason most people say they give, with a much smaller percentage saying they want to reduce their taxes.

* Nearly three people in 10 making bequests and nearly seven in 10 creating a charitable remainder trust say the idea originated with a legal or financial adviser.

* One-third of donors making bequests and one-fourth of those creating charitable remainder trusts say the idea came from the charity’s published materials, up from 5 percent and 13 percent, respectively, in 1992.

Bigelow says critical tasks for gift-planners are to target younger donors, emphasize their organizations’ charitable missions and treat gift planning as a team effort involving donors, professional advisers and charities.

“Donors don’t decide to put a charity in their will or set up a trust all by themselves,” says Bigelow, who helped oversee both surveys. “A major planned gift has lots of people around the table. That’s what really puts it all together.”

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