Identifying planned-giving donor prospects

Timothy D. Logan
Timothy D. Logan

Timothy D. Logan

When I talk with clients about planned giving, the question that I am asked most often, and the one that is the most important to answer for your program, is: Which of my donors are the best planned-giving prospects?

Think of your own planned-giving marketing program. You know all the techniques to help you get your message to prospective planned-giving donors.

Who do you send information to? Are you relying on donors to “raise their hand?” What about those qualified planned-giving prospects that don’t raise their hand?

You can analyze your donor file to identify planned-giving donor prospects and become proactive in your planned-giving marketing.

When you consider analyzing your file for planned giving, you should consider two things: Identifying the most likely planned-giving prospects; and controlling your planned-giving direct-marketing costs.

Planned-giving file analysis and segmentation

Many clients choose a data-analysis package or a scoring service. In my opinion, using these services alone represents a “quick fix.”

Sound planned-giving data analysis is built on three levels: Giving analysis; enhanced data scoring; and segmentation. 

Giving analysis

You should focus on frequency of giving – the single most important gift indicator for planned giving – to produce giving frequency trends.

Group and rate your donors based on their age and the number of gifts they have given over specific periods (for example, seven gifts in the past 10 years).

Once you have rated your donors, you are ready for the “art” of planned-giving donor segmentation.

Are there donor behaviors that are unique to your institution that signify affinity: Graduating from a particular school or program, attendance at program or sporting events, donations directed to a specific area, service on boards, committees, etc.

Enhanced data scoring

The widely known ratings for wealth and planned-giving scoring are designed for working with individual donors.

The process described here takes these scores into consideration, if available, but it is important to note that this process is designed to form calling pools or direct-mail segments. These are groups of individuals who are more alike than different.

Naturally, the ideal segment is a segment of one. Think about being in a donor’s living room. Our process is an intermediate step in finding your ideal “segment of one.”


By combining giving results and enhanced data scores you can develop two segmentation models: One is created based on the type of planned gift you are marketing (gifts of age vs. gifts of wealth); the other is based on the prospect’s life stage.

  • By targeting the right message to the right audience, the gift-type segments allow you to control costs when sending a mailing about a particular planned-giving subject.
  • The life-stage segments help you ensure that your planned-giving marketing and educational messages are geared appropriately for your donors.
Planned giving matrix

By combining these three data strategies, you will create a dynamic, useful and highly effective tool for marketing planned gifts. Using any one of these strategies alone produces less than complete results. 

You will be able to proactively select the right audiences for planned-giving direct mail and phone programs or for donor qualification.

Qualifying donors – creating donor clusters

If you rely on data analysis alone, you run the very likely risk of missing important potential planned-giving donor prospects.

You can use the results of your data analysis to determine donor groups who would benefit from a phone call to qualify their planned giving interest.

By talking with donors you can determine their interest, ability and willingness to make a planned gift, whether they have made similar gifts to other organizations, etc.

Once you talk with donors you are able to move beyond the world of direct response and use psychographic factors to create planned-giving cluster groups.

Examples of clusters include:

  • Donors who indicated a concern about income who have requested information on charitable gift annuities
  • Donors who have left a charitable bequest for you but are not their own decision makers

Defining these clusters, you are able to better personalize your messages and steward your planned-giving donors.

Timothy D. Logan, ACFRE, is vice president and senior consultant of Planned Giving Services and Nonprofit Healthcare Fundraising for RuffaloCODY.

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