How Do You Know You’re Good at Planned Giving?

Think you’re good at what you do? Some days perhaps even great? While other days…leave you questioning.

Then you know that no two days are alike in planned giving. The highs, the lows, the in-between’s and the not knowing. You’ve been through them all, sometimes within minutes.

You can handle whatever challenge comes your way. But how do you know you’re truly good at planned giving?

From our experience working with nearly 1,500 nonprofits of all shapes and sizes, the following are the qualities that tend to elevate planned giving professionals from average to outstanding among peers and prospects.


You keep your office dark. Because you’re not in the office! You’re out and about, meeting with prospects and donors. Emails, texts and phone calls certainly have their place, but when the opportunity arises, you choose face-to-face every time.

You genuinely like people. You build community by bringing together people who share a common vision and goal. They’re not simply prospects and donors (or dollars) in your eyes. You listen intently when they share a story. You recognize those unexpected moments—and are moved—when they’re being vulnerable and appreciate them giving their time, gifts and service to move the mission forward.

“Serving with honor in a way that nurtures relationships with our planned givers and providing stellar service with added value—these are key to strengthening relationships that are transformational. Being part of the story behind such gifts helps donors experience the joy of giving, and makes for lifelong, satisfying relationships.”  

−Robert Peterson, Gift Planning Director, New Mexico State University Foundation

You know it’s not about you. Instead of thinking about the next thing to say to sway their minds and nail down the gift, you stay in the moment, seeking to understand why they’re making a gift and what they seek to achieve through it. Then you get to work, making that vision a reality.

You have integrity. You do the right thing even when no one is looking. The AFP Code of Ethical Principles guides your professional conduct, as does The Donor Bill of Rights. Try this: Give your supporters a copy of the bill of rights. Review it with them in person. This shows transparency. More important, it shows that you have their best interest at heart, and on paper.

Plus, tenacity. Planned giving is a marathon, not a sprint. Train accordingly. For you, that means setting quarterly and annual goals to measure success. You know you’re good at what you do because these benchmarks—approved by your ED and the board at the beginning of the year—provide the framework for you to show clear, data-led achievements in each area. Sharing mini planned gift success stories along the way lifts spirits and drives momentum.

“Careful listening is the number-one priority. Second, asking questions that determine the donor’s giving preference. Third, a personal touch is important in donor correspondence. Fourth, and rather obvious, is simply, good communication.”

−Ken Boss, Director of Planned Giving, Trinity Christian College

You know what you’re talking about. Planned gifts can be simple to explain (bequests) or tricky to explain (CRUTs). Keeping up with ever-changing tax laws and donor implications also seems like a full-time job these days. But you take time to attend seminars and conferences, and network with respected authorities. You’re on top of news, laws and tax changes so you can keep your supporters on top of their philanthropy.

But you know when to call in the cavalry. The best “experts” know they are not know-it-alls. They recognize when added insight and knowledge are needed, especially for nuanced or complicated transactions. You know when to call in vetted advisors, like estate planning attorneys, financial advisors and real estate professionals for sound advice.

You plan with passion. Loving what you do is great; it spurs the motivation. But you’re faithful about setting up a framework for success with daily to-do lists to get that ONE BIG THING done every day. Weekly actions and quarterly and annual goals guide your achievements.

You pay attention until the very end. Because the best things can happen in the littlest moments. Over a lifetime, these “little things” can add up to a significant legacy.

“Do not ignore stewardship! Once a donor commits to a planned gift, stewardship becomes a priority. Remember, a bequest is revocable! Examples include birthday cards with a personalized message, personal invitations to campus events and yearly events to recognize and thank your planned giving donors.”

−J. R. Andrews, JD, Director of Planned Giving, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Rate yourself. Where can you improve? And how do YOU put the “pro” in planned giving professional? Let’s help our community grow. Share your best practices or some qualities of those you consider to be top-notch in your field with our readers.

Leave a Reply