4 Fundamentals to (re)Launch a Planned Giving Program in the New Year

We’re knocking on the door of 2020, a new year with lots of new beginnings. Does that include your planned giving program?

Typically we see planned giving programs in one of three phases: new, lagging and growing. While these are broad categories, and there are definitely variables that may differ in each, all three phases include unique opportunities and challenges. But if you happen to be in the phase of launching a new program or even re-launching a lagging program, there are some key fundamentals to remember.

Hopefully you’ve spent the last year (at least) getting buy-in from your board, making the case to your stakeholders and laying the groundwork of the appropriate polices and procedures to ensure success. Now’s the time to take a breath, remain focused and build the foundation for future years of growth. Count down to “launch” with these 4 fundamentals to kick off your 2020 planned giving program.


Mine your donor database.

Pull loyal, long-term donors, those who have given smaller, annual amounts of $50, $100, $250 for 10 to 20 years, for example. (Set donation amounts and years according to your organization’s own barometer.) Loyal giving behavior serves as a good predictor of willingness to entertain a planned gift.

But know this too: Thanks to the rise of today’s self-directed donor, some of your prospective planned giving donors may be as much as 60% down their decision-making path around making a planned gift before reaching out to you. Your key to success with this changing dynamic? Get the planned giving message out in front of them in ways that compel and nudge them to complete the gift (see #2). Also, make your communication personal and your nonprofit’s relationship with them a partnership, not simply a transaction, to maximize success.

Find their stories as well as their names.

Pull from your list anyone who has already completed a planned gift. Reach out to them to make proper introductions and ask to meet to learn more about their giving story. Refrain from immediately jumping into an ask; this is simply a meet-and-greet. Use your best judgment: Is this someone you can call on in the future to share their giving story? How else might you use their story?

  • In a newsletter (print/enews)—promote planned giving and convey simplicity of gifts and attainability of legacy dreams
  • Digital/social—regularly share testimonials, perhaps in your monthly planned giving enews or regular social posts; include donor photos to build reader interest and connection
  • Public testimonials—share “why I gave” stories during planned giving/financial planning seminars hosted by your nonprofit
  • Board/staff testimonials—motivate your team and board to support your planned giving efforts (so they see the value of planned giving, not just for your nonprofit but also for donors)

PRO TIP: A great way to (re)launch a program is to engage your top prospects with a simple, no-obligation survey around their passions, their connection and their vision for the future. Read further here on how to create a smart survey.


Certainly, “easy” is subjective, especially when you’re starting something new. What we mean by “easy” is launching your program with gifts that are easy for you to explain, and for others (e.g., top prospects, the board, the general public) to understand and put into place. Launch your program by talking about these gifts, none of which requires you to be a gift planning expert:

  • Gifts in a will (bequests)
  • Beneficiary designations (of all or part of a life insurance policy, IRA)
  • Gifts from a donor advised fund
  • Gifts of appreciated stock

Language Alert! Use relatable language that shows benefits to the donor when you talk about planned giving. Stay away from industry jargon.

  • “A worry-free way to support our cause”; “create a lasting legacy”
  • “Use your will to invest in the causes that are close to your heart and create a permanent testament to the values that are important to you.”
  • “If you are ready to include a gift to our organization in your will, ask your estate planning attorney to add this suggested wording to your will or living trust: I give to [Organization Name], [City], [State], (the sum of $_____ or _____ percent of the rest, residue and remainder of my estate) for its general purposes.”


No need to reinvent the wheel at this point. Add planned giving language into existing marketing and communication materials. The idea is to consistently repeat the planned giving message.

Create a recurring planned giving column or section in your newsletter, enews, magazine, mailings and annual report. Keep the language easy to understand and emotive. (Again, resist the urge to use industry jargon.)

Try something like this: By leaving a gift to our organization in your will, you ensure that we can continue to carry out our mission and create lasting improvements that benefit our people for years to come.

But NOT like this: Create a bequest to our organization as part of your planned giving strategy and to give to our organization. (They’ll be asleep before the punctuation mark. Besides, bequests and planned giving are industry terms not well known to prospects or the general public.)


Not just involved. Kick up their participation by creating heartfelt buy-in from your board.

Have your case for support ready to go.

This should lay out, upon mutual agreement, why your nonprofit needs and is worthy of planned gifts. Set annual goals with quarterly tactics. Detail purpose and use of gifts after they are received. Define the details in clear language. One to two pages should suffice.

Use relatable language and start with those “easy” gifts we mentioned earlier.

Talk about planned giving in terms that fire them up, not quell their motivation to make a planned gift. “Planned gifts help ensure our security, so that we can make decisions about our future from a proactive, strategy-led focus instead of reacting to unknown issues or situations that will certainly come our way.”

Also, meet with each board member individually to discuss the merits of making their own planned gift. Challenge them in the first few months of launch to put the wheels in motion and/or attend prospect meetings with you.

BONUS: Here are 5 ways your board members can raise value without asking for money.


  • Always know what you’re talking about. If you need a refresher or clarification on planned giving terms, consult 17 Planned Giving Terms Your Team Should Know.
  • Designate ahead of time a team member to be the planned giving point of contact for marketing collateral.
  • A must-do: Draft a gift acceptance policy before. The National Council of Nonprofits provides guidance and points to consider when developing an acceptance policy.
  • KISS often. (Keep it simple & s.) Use easy, meaningful words when talking about planned giving. Be upbeat and engaged when talking with donors. No matter the strategies for success, if you can’t show thanks or enthusiasm, you won’t connect and close, as easily.

Are you launching (or re-launching) a planned giving program in 2020? Let us know what your fundamentals for success will be—and know we’re here to help.

2 thoughts on “4 Fundamentals to (re)Launch a Planned Giving Program in the New Year

Leave a Reply