Planned gifts hinge on relationships

Linda Burr

Linda Burr

A “planned gift” can mean many things.

It could be a current gift of an asset other than cash or publicly-traded securities, or it could be a stream of income from an asset that will eventually be returned to the donor’s estate.

It could be a deferred gift that generates income for life, or a nonprofit could be named beneficiary of a donor’s estate.

Regardless of the type of gift the fundraiser or donor is contemplating, there is no one “correct” way to approach a donor. 

As with any human interaction, it will depend a great deal on the circumstances of the particular situation and even the unique personalities of both the donor and the fundraiser. 

A learned colleague of mine once told me, “I approach a donor the way I would want and expect a fundraiser to approach my elderly mother.”

The typical planned-giving prospect will have had a relatively long and consistent relationship with your organization. 

This is because without having put that relationship to a test over time, donors will seldom be inclined to turn over significant family or business assets, or be willing to comply with minimum gift amounts set by most charities for deferred gifts. 

So ask yourself: How good are you at “donor service?”  How long have you been in business?  How compelling is your mission?  Will you be around for the long term to be able to use their gift?  Does your organization have a good fiduciary record? 

You should know the answers to these questions and more before you embark on that first donor visit.

As with any kind of fundraising, what consistently works well is to first build a strong and close relationship with the donor. 

Get to know them within the context of their personal situation and in their “natural” environment. 

This means visiting them in their homes and engaging them in conversations about their values and their passions, and why they contribute to your organization. 

Then help the donor translate those values and passions into the language of your organization’s mission and vision. 

Find the connection, nurture it and the gifts will come. 

Planned gifts can help donors actualize their philanthropy and solve a problem, whether it is disposing of an asset they no longer need or want, or managing their estate in such a way as to fulfill their personal, social or family values. 

Approach them as a professional, trusted and ethical philanthropic partner. Then work together with them, their family and their advisors to help the donor make a difference for your organization’s mission. 

Use this approach, and your organization will most likely, over time, be elevated to the status of a “family member,” ensuring in most cases that the donor will make that ultimate bequest as well.

Linda Burr is national director of planned giving for CARE.

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