Planned-giving software: Part 1

By Todd Cohen

Steve Leimberg was “screaming and yelling.”

The year was 1984 and Leimberg, then an estate-planning professor at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., had spent two days working on calculations by hand to illustrate how a charitable remainder trust would work under specific assumptions involving a donor and a gift.

“I discovered I had made an error and it was going to take me another full day to go back and correct my mistake,” recalls Leimberg, now CEO of Leimberg  & LeClair, a software firm in Havertown, Pa.

“Charitable calculations are horrendously complex,” he says. “There are a lot of labyrinthine rules. And it’s very easy to miss a rule.”

Leimberg says his frustration led him and a fellow faculty member to form their company, which developed software to make planned-giving calculations.

In 1984 and 1985, two other firms also were formed to develop calculation software for gift planning.

Those two firms, Crescendo Interactive in Camarillo, Calif., and PG Calc in Cambridge, Mass., now roughly split most of the planned-giving software market, industry experts say, while several others, including Leimberg and LeClair, and PhilanthroTec, formed in 1983, hold the remaining market sliver.

Planned-giving software, which nonprofits typically integrate with other database software they use to track and communicate with donors and prospective donors, provides graphics and narratives to illustrate the implications for donors from a variety of planned-gift options and scenarios.

More sophisticated software also includes documents such as letters and contracts that nonprofits can use, along with explanations and reference materials designed for lawyers, certified public accountants and other professional advisers.

And more recently, some internet applications have been developed, mainly targeted to donors.

For nonprofits that are serious about planned giving, experts say software that crunches numbers and produces illustrations for donors is critical.

“I would not consider even trying to do it yourself,” says Glenn Pittsford, assistant vice president for gift planning at the Texas A&M Foundation in College Station, Tex.

Because it provides illustrations and details not available in more general tax and legal-planning software, says Emily Cummins, planned giving advisor at the Wachovia National Center for Planned Giving in Winston-Salem, N.C., planned-giving software is critical for nonprofits actively pursuing planned gifts.

Other stories in series: 

Part 2: Consulting, tools available for nonprofits mulling planned giving. 
Part 3: Several firms dominate market for software calculators. 
Part 4: Crescendo Interactive offers desktop and online products. 
Part 5: PG Calc software calculates, illustrates, manages data.
Part 6: Smaller vendors market calculators.

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