How to Write Planned Giving Materials That Engage Your Donors

Let’s be honest before we go any further:

The likelihood of directly receiving a planned gift because of what you write, in a marketing solicitation for example, no matter how eloquently presented, is, well, low. “Huh?” you might be asking yourself. “Then why am I reading this?!”

Stay with me.

Likely, the deeper reason you’re reading this is because you want to find a way to connect more meaningfully through your messaging. You want to “get the gift,” we all do, but that is a by-product of ongoing, thoughtful engagements with your prospects and donors. To include them in what really represents the inimitable heart, mind and soul of your organization.

How can simple words roll off the page to achieve so much? They do this when you weave them together into the unique, wonderful story that belongs only to your nonprofit.


Know who you’re writing to and what makes them tick. What motivates people, your prospects specifically, to do things, and not just say they will? Knowing this provides the “oomph” behind your writing so the words come alive and strengthen a sense of charitable affinity for your nonprofit.

In How To Get People To Do Stuff, author Susan Weinschenk writes about seven basic drivers that motivate us (humans). Here are those that, in my mind, relate most to writing about planned giving:

The need to belong

Have you ever felt left out or excluded from a group? Did it make you feel lonely or sad? It’s natural to feel that way because we’re social animals, says Weinschenk, wired to connect with others. “We need to feel that we have a place in the world where we belong,” she says.

To enhance people’s sense of belonging to your nonprofit—to your mission—use these writing strategies:

1. Use nouns rather than verbs when asking for something, Weinschenk says, because nouns invoke group identity. An example: “Our donors love to meet others who share the same passion for our work” versus “Donate now to support our cause.” The former implies group camaraderie; the latter feels singular and authoritative.

2. Be transparent in what you report, and how you show impact and future momentum. People are more likely to “comply with a request” (e.g., respond to a marketing piece) if they trust what you say and do, Weinschenk says. Transfer that to writing by:

  • Sharing quarterly efficacy stats about programs/people served, etc. in eye-catching graphics
  • Laying out the vision and the steps to lead you there (people want to know that you have a plan
  • Telling the stories of the people (with photos) who are contributing their time, talent and treasure to make that vision reality
  • And the stories (with photos) of planned gifts that impact both donor and recipient


We all have bad habits. (“I’ll get to it tomorrow” ring a bell?) Acknowledging and recognizing that fact prompts your writing to be empathetic but energetic and direct. With “bad-habit syndrome” in mind, your goal in writing is to sway prospects from “I’ll do it tomorrow” to “Yes! I’m doing it right now!”

Good news? Bad habits, like procrastination, can be unwired. Writing is one way to invoke that change. Key to creating a new habit, Weinschenk says, is to break things into small steps. So, try writing a call to action (the “I’m doing it right now!”) in small steps. Here’s an example of that kind of CTA (call to action):

Brighter Futures Begin Today

You can make a difference in our residents’ lives. Find out how in one easy phone call to (name, contact info.). You’ll be glad you did—and so will they.


Your nonprofit’s stories are like your family stories. No one else has them, and it’s a bonding experience when you share them. Write about your nonprofit’s stories, including the donors who created planned gifts and why. Or those who benefited from the gift and gave back in other ways. Remember: Stories create bonds.

Want to know more about the power of stories? May I suggest “How to Make Them Care: Inspire Donors Through Storytelling” or “How to Write Donor Stories That Make Prospects Take Action.”


Throw out the tech talk.

Bequests, charitable gift annuities, codicil—those terms are part of our business, but not necessarily what resonates with donors. It’s our job to not only know what they mean but also how to talk about them in understandable ways.

So a bequest becomes a “gift in your will.” A charitable gift annuity becomes a “gift that gives you income.” A codicil becomes a “document that you use to make changes to your will.”

TIP: Remember who you’re talking to as you write. Pretend you’re explaining the story or the mechanics of a planned gift to someone sitting right in front of you. (Maybe your mom or dad.) Literally see them as you “talk” and write about the subject at hand.

Keep it easy on the eyes—and fun!—to read.

Try these pointers to pull readers in and keep them in your story:

  • Limit donor/impact stories to about 250-300 words. That’s just long enough to share the facts with flair without fading to a yawn.
  • If you go longer, consider breaking up the story with subheads.
  • Consider the flow of a story. Give readers a break with shorter sentences or photo cutlines instead of all long paragraphs.


This is it. Your last chance to persuade people to do the thing that you want them to do. Follow these strategies for writing strong CTAs:

Make It Urgent—“Call today,” “For us to include your feedback in our plan, please respond by XXXX.”

Make It Meaningful—“You are the spark that can brighten a student’s future.” “Join our group of legacy donors who, like you, believe that every child deserves a warm bed.”

Make It Easy to Find—Guide their eyes with bold text or text boxes, an arrow or other simple graphic treatment.

Make It Work in Digital—Use short CTA buttons, like “Find Out First” or “Come With Us!” Don’t do a bait and switch, either. The button should be a direct, clear line to the payoff or intended action.

Make It Easy to Take a Next Step—Give them crystal-clear options on what they can do next. Ideally, you want them to contact your organization, but they don’t have a relationship with you yet. So give them options to request more information on the highlighted topic. Or try encouraging them to share the resource with their loved ones or trusted advisor, as those people will likely be part of the conversation at some point.

Wondering what not to do when it comes to CTAs? Avoid These 10 Mistakes in Calls to Action.

Write to Us

Have you read any strong CTAs lately? Share away; we’d love to hear them. How about any other tips for top writing to help get the planned gift.