Connecting the Dots: Planned Giving, Metrics and ROI

If you’re like any of the other thousands of fundraisers around the country with ‘planned giving’ as part of their job description, you’ve no doubt had the conversation around planned giving ROI with your boss (probably a former major gifts officer), your CFO (the numbers guru), your board (the ‘bottom line’ people) or even your direct response team (immediate gratification marketing at its best).

These conversations can be tough depending on the knowledge base and exposure of those groups to planned giving, as well as the age and maturity of your program. You may feel like it’s you against the rest of the development team.

But, have no fear! We’ve compiled a variety of ways that planned giving professionals, like you, have shared their planned giving ROI stories over the years. We’ve touched on this in the past, but we wanted to dive into deeper metrics for this post.

It’s important to first understand that your marketing efforts can prompt many types of donor responses—some may be obvious, and others that may not be on your radar. With only 34% of all planned givers ever notifying us of their planned gift intentions prior to the gift ‘maturing’, how do we then show the ‘powers that be’ in our offices that our efforts are making an impact?

There’s the ‘obvious,’ the ‘not so obvious’ and the new ‘digital donor engagement’  insights that we can glean from email, digital surveys and our websites.


  • Matured Planned Gifts: We’ve all heard the phrase ‘cash is king’…and when those planned gifts are realized (whether we knew they were coming or not) everyone takes notice! Unfortunately, this metric is typically unpredictable year-over-year, unless you’ve been cultivating donors for years and can conservatively predict a pipeline.
  • Disclosed Planned Gift Intentions (Legacy Society Growth): This is the typical metric that most people look to—and a good one, as it allows us to forecast potential future gift revenue and provides an open door for stewardship. However, we know through our research that a ‘society’ alone isn’t going to prompt people to action, but it is a good tool, nonetheless, to prompt those ‘on the fence’ to share their intentions.
  • Responses to Marketing: This is also a typical metric that people track, but it’s not as straightforward as you would hope. For years, planned giving direct mail (and the corresponding response cards that would flood our offices) would be the only ‘measure of success.’ However, in the age of the self-directed-consumer, this has changed. No longer are we (in the development office) the ‘holders of the keys’ for information, as our interested donors, and their trusted advisors, can visit our website and learn about planned giving opportunities without ever notifying us.


  • Increase in Phone Calls: And not just to you! It’s critical in any planned giving outreach to make it personal, and that includes providing your name, email, phone number and photo…yes, people do want to see who they’re reaching out to! However, you may not necessarily be the one (or the only one) that has the trust of your donor, so it’s critical that you always tell your team and staff when a mailing’s going out so they can be aware of any apparent ‘unsolicited’ calls from your donors.
  • Unprompted Letters, Response Cards or Emails: As noted earlier, planned giving decisions and subsequently some responses to marketing are based on your donor’s timeline and not yours. You don’t always know when a donor is going to put the ideas that you gave them into action, and that’s why It’s important that you always code your marketing pieces and response cards so that you can identify and track what prompted somebody to action.


First, the don’ts: 

  • Don’t track hits. I heard someone say years ago that hits stands for ‘How Idiots Track Success.’ While that may seem a bit harsh, it truly is not a good indicator of success as it can be skewed by so many different things.
  • For that fact, do not track open rates either. These do not show you true donor engagement and can be skewed by preview panes.


  • Pay Attention to Your Web Analytics:
    • Clicks
    • Unique Visitors
    • Time Spent on Site
    • Content Viewed –this can help inform your outreach efforts!
    • Requests for Information
  • Utilize Your Email Reporting: By now, you should be able to track which people are viewing your targeted emarketing campaigns and engaging with your content. Many people don’t realize how valuable this information can be, but as we all know, planned giving is largely about timing! If you can engage with an interested donor when they’re finally at the point of taking action, the opportunity for securing a commitment goes up. See how our friend Tom used email analytics to close a six-figure gift!

Did we miss anything? Are there other metrics that you’ve found valuable to track? Let us know. And if you’re looking for more metrics, be sure to catch our webinar Metrics That Motivate with Anne Melvin.

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