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Planned giving: Keep it simple, make it human

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Eileen R. Heisman

Eileen R. Heisman

Eileen R. Heisman

It’s easy to talk about planned giving in dry, technical and financial terms, leaving out the heart-felt motivation of the philanthropist.

With a roller coaster economy, it’s important for development professionals to connect with their donors on many levels.

As we all know, your organization’s mission is paramount to all you do.

The good news? As complex as planned giving conversations with donors can be, the marketing of these programs can be made simpler by following some basic guidelines.

Here are seven highly effective marketing approaches that are tried and true techniques:

Tell a story

You may lose your prospective donor’s attention by leading with the technical aspects of a planned gift, so tell a donor story instead.

Case studies using real donors are a powerful way to connect emotionally with prospective donors. You can focus your case studies on the donor’s reasons for giving and on the impact planned gifts (deferred or life income) have on the mission.

Be sure to match donor stories with the type of planned giving gifts you wish to raise. Include photos of your donors (if they give you permission) in your case studies so they see they are real people.

And remember to highlight how the gift will impact your charity.

Market to your donor pool

Market to your current donors. They’ve already demonstrated that they like your organization and support your cause. In almost all cases, they will be open to hearing about additional ways they can help.

Though you may not believe this, it is true: Your marketing efforts will mean more to donors who make only small annual donations – these consistently loyal annual donors may surprise you with generous bequests.

Give potential mega-donors the personal touch

Your largest donors need to be treated with customized approaches. At all costs, avoid boilerplate materials when reaching out to “mega” donors.

Spend time doing research on these donors and prepare customized information about how a planned gift might benefit them and your organization’s mission.

This may mean involving planned giving legal counsel to help you offer the most appropriate vehicle for your prospective donor.

Reach out frequently

Plan to market your planned giving programs two to four times a year. It’s okay to combine a marketing message with other development communications, such as in a thank-you note to your annual giving donors.

If you host estate-planning seminars, be sure to include a planned giving “pitch” at the beginning or end of it.

You can include a postcard about planned gifts with direct mail or other types of solicitations. If you do, ask donors fill out and return a card to receive more planned gift information.

Use multiple marketing avenues

Direct mail to your existing donors is still the best method to reach prospective donors, but support your direct mail messages with other communications on your website, via email, in your electronic newsletter and in social-media outlets when appropriate.

And watch for changing methods to attract new donors — especially as our world is becoming more electronic.

Pre-packaged planned-giving toolkits

If you know nothing about attracting planned gifts, these toolkits can provide general guidance, but be very careful to customize them to suit your organization’s mission, voice and planned giving vehicles.

If you’re the planned giving officer or director at your organization, you should be very involved in customizing the copy from the companies that give you pre-written letters and brochures.

If you don’t have time to customize it yourself, enlist the help of a qualified planned giving consultant. It will be money well-spent.

Take advantage of available resources

There’s a wealth of materials and information available online through sites like TaxWise Giving, Planned Giving Today, Charity Channel, the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Philanthropy Journal, as well as professional associations such as Partnership for Philanthropic Planning and local planned giving counsels.

Before you launch a planned giving marketing effort, study the information provided through these sites and organizations to learn how other planned giving and development professionals have succeeded. This will help you avoid making expensive mistakes.

Whatever tactics you choose, you must always maintain your nonprofit organization’s integrity and credibility.

Every planned giving communication you send, whether print or electronic, needs to capture your organization’s mission, while tapping into both the heart and brain of the donor.


Eileen R. Heisman is president and CEO of the National Philanthropic Trust, a provider of donor-advised funds, founded in 1996, that has been among the 100 fastest growing charities since 2003 and is one of the top 25 grantmakers in the U.S.

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