create a planned giving program

What You Need to Have a Successful Planned Giving Program in 2019

Is this the year that it’ll happen, when your planned giving program grows into what you always knew it could—and should—be?

Yes, with a little planning, of course.

First, Be Clear About What It Is

As a refresher, planned gifts are essentially larger gifts that donors plan to make either during or after their lifetime to provide support to their nonprofits of choice. They also enable donors to create extraordinary legacies at organizations that hold meaning to them—a gratifying gesture in and of itself.

Planned gifts may provide immediate support to an organization, along with tax benefits to the donor, among other incentives. Others may provide lifelong income to the donor and a future gift to the nonprofit.

Planned giving is an industry term, so take care to refer to it with donors and prospects in relatable terms with language like “legacy giving,” “creating your legacy at XYZ” or “plan your forever gift to XYZ.”

A Cautionary Tale

Unlike other fundraising programs, like annual gifts or capital campaigns, where you know how much was raised in a certain amount of time, planned gifts typically take more time to nurture. They evolve. Most often, they occur on the donor’s time frame, not the nonprofit’s timetable. Realistically, it could take years—decades even—to realize a donor’s planned gift.

It’s crucial to remember that difference, so you can manage expectations, yours as well as staff and board expectancies. You’re continually building what will secure your nonprofit’s work in the future.


1. Set accurate, attainable goals.

A smart strategy at any stage in planned giving is to develop goals and attach numbers, where possible, to specific actionable items. This should happen every time you formulate or update your planned giving program.

Minimally, do a 12-month action plan, broken down into six-month “chunks” of specific actionable activities. Think big idea to small tactics, or an outline of goals and steps to reach those goals.

For example, in addition to annual and monthly goals and objectives, include how many gifts and the size of each of those gifts that are required to get you to your goal, along with how many prospects must be cultivated.

Back to Goal-Setting Basics

Because planned gifts are not linear in nature—moving directly from making the ask to receiving the donation—sometimes a more accurate measure of success is developing goals that quantify activity, not dollars received or documented bequests.

These activities include: determining how many phone calls, personal visits, meetings, number of asks made or commitments received, or tactics developed for a marketing plan to promote the program to donors and public.

Hitting monetary goals are also priority. But it’s equally important to spend time cultivating your planned giving infrastructure, including prospect pipelines and stewardship activities. Here’s an example of how you and/or your team could build and track activity goals. While certainly not exhaustive, it may help generate ideas.

2019 First-Quarter Goals:


  • Meet with board president to present evidence for support (continue as needed to report progress and gain feedback)
  • Continue education on planned giving at weekly staff meetings
  • Research and evaluate gift acceptance policies and procedures
  • Research and evaluate acceptable gift options


  • Begin one-on-one meetings with specific board members (TBD with board president input) to present case for planned giving program and prospect for planned gifts
  • Conduct marketing materials assessment to integrate planned giving language
  • Investigate new or updated financial management systems and databases
  • Conduct review of donor base to identify existing planned gifts & prospects for new gifts

2. Stay on track with your progress.

Incorporate every activity into a plan or on a calendar, so you can track and monitor progress, assess where modifications need to be made, and gather concrete evidence to support reporting results.

For example, if your goal is to solicit six new prospects over a 12-month period, get it on a calendar when you will initiate contact and record notes for your database or in your files about subsequent meetings. That way you can easily check and recheck the status of each solicitation.

Seeking more expertise or working as a team of 1?

Consider forming a planned giving advisory committee to meet regularly and help with promotion, education and technical gift assistance (and keep you on track and accountable).

This group can serve as your “boots on the ground” by helping identify prospects, make phone calls and assist in presentations. They also can attend prospect meetings with you or other staff to show support and help explain more complex gift structures.

Look to recruit lawyers, accountants, financial or estate planners, realtors, stock brokers and others who share passion for your nonprofit’s work and can provide detailed, knowledgeable expertise about planned giving.

3. Do the work. Stay the course. Nurture the growth.

Armed with reasonable goals, a calendar of tactics to guide your work, invested advisors, and a board and staff that supports the initiative, you will see results over time.

And think of your planned giving efforts this way: Working with donors to establish their planned gift also gives back to them. They get to create a meaningful legacy and support your nonprofit’s future work and its future generations.

A planned giving program is absolutely worth building up, working for and believing in.

Any thoughts or other tips you’d like to share for growing and maintaining a successful planned giving program? What’s worked for you, whether your program is young or established?

Leave a Reply