By Ret Boney
The field of planned giving, a staple for large charities for the past half-century, is quickly becoming a fundraising mainstay across the nonprofit sector.
And while gift planners and planned-giving programs differ widely, successful programs have certain elements in common, experts say.
Mature programs understand planned giving as a process, rather than a set of products, says Joe Bull, director of planned giving at Ohio State University.
Ohio State’s last campaign raised $1.23 billion, and Bull estimates that, of the funds raised from individuals, almost 50 cents of each dollar came from a planned-giving vehicle.
That included a large trust, but planned giving likely will drive a substantial part of individual giving in the school’s upcoming campaign, now in the planning phase, says Bull, a 20-year planned-giving veteran.
The National Committee on Planned Giving, the association of gift planners that Bull previously chaired, defines planned giving as “the process of cultivating, designing, facilitating and stewarding gifts to charitable organizations.”
“Some of the gifts are used by the charity today and some aren’t used until years from now,” he says of the process. “I’m a firm believer that if you do this work right, you’ll have a lot of current gifts. Planned giving doesn’t equal deferred giving.”
Established programs have a full array of vehicles, including annuities, charitable-remainder and -lead trusts, pooled-income funds, bequests and gifts of non-cash assets like real estate, says Frank Minton, founder of Planned Giving Services, a Seattle consulting firm and division of software provider PG Calc.
They also have a professional staff that understands those vehicles, meaning at least one full-time professional gift planner and a support staffer, both focused on planned gifts, Minton says, though universities and other large charities can have many more staffers.
“Planned-giving professionals don’t necessarily have to be lawyers,” says Minton, a veteran gift planner and former pastor and professor. “But they must have the ability to comprehend technical material, a natural empathy for people, very good interpersonal skills, the ability to elicit trust, and they must be self-starters.”
Bull’s staff at Ohio State includes five full-time planned-gift officers, three of them lawyers, one a paralegal and one a former trust officer from a bank, but he agrees that a legal background isn’t necessary.
“The term renaissance person may be a bit strong, but it’s not far off,” he says. “You have to be a really good listener and be comfortable with people. And you have to have the type of intelligence that allows you to absorb, understand and process technical information.”
Minton adds that an ongoing comprehensive marketing campaign is critical in educating potential donors and encouraging them to request information.
“A planned-giving program doesn’t have a beginning or end,” compared to a campaign, he says. “A planned gift is in response to something happening in a person’s lifecycle. Always give them the opportunity to hold up their hand and request more information.”
In a university setting, where fundraisers can be scattered throughout the organization, gift planners often spend the bulk of their time consulting with development officers, helping them design and propose planned gifts and meet with donors, Bull says.
Ohio State has more than 20 units, each with its own development officers, he says, with planned giving centralized in one office and serving as a resource to the units.
“We spend the vast majority of our time helping those people,” he says. “From helping design a proposal to actually sitting down with donors.”
Strong major-gift officers should be trained to identify an opportunity for a deferred gift, he says, and planned-gift officers should secure current gifts whenever possible, both working with the best interests of the donor and the charity in mind.
“I don’t see much difference between planned giving and major gifts,” says Bull. “The traditional division is really more focused on timing of the use of the gift by the charity. That line is getting really blurred and to some extent obliterated.”
In addition to working with development officers, Bull says, gift planners should develop solid relationships with other coworkers, including the charity’s attorney, business office and program people.
Minton adds that regardless of the skills and background a planned-gift officer might have, few planned gifts can be arranged or executed without involving a donor’s professional advisors.
Those advisors can include accountants, money managers, lawyers, and other people donors rely on for advice, he says.
“When you’re making a gift of capital assets, you have to look at tax aspects, legal documents, investment options,” says Minton. “It’s a team effort where often the planned-giving officer is like the quarterback coordinating the effort.”
Bull adds that, given the complex nature of many planned gifts, assembling the right team from the beginning minimizes the chance of something going astray in the process.
“It’s not uncommon for us to work with the same financial planner for several clients,” he says. “People trust us because they know the quality of our work. That trust continues to grow and is beneficial in raising more money.”
And while gift planners have a responsibility to the charities they work for, they also have a responsibility to help prospects and donors fulfill their financial-planning goals, Bull says.
“It’s not the role of a planned-giving officer to plan a person’s entire estate,” Minton says. “But the gift has to be an integral part of the overall estate plan.”