Why Planned Giving Isn’t Just About Fundraising

Have you realized this yet? You, as a planned giving professional, are not a fundraiser. You’re a marketer, brand builder, experience and legacy creator.

No doubt you’ve got to know the ins and outs of the business—the gift vehicles, how they work, how they benefit donors and so much more on any given day. It’s the bedrock of what you do.

But getting stuck in technical weeds, worrying about when to use CGAs vs. CRATs vs. CRUTs or keeping your planned giving site “fresh,” keeps you from seeing opportunities to grow donor relationships.

Relationship building is the core of what you do. It enables your nonprofit to flourish. To do that effectively, the relationship-building process can’t be limited to the end goal of getting the gift. Really, that would come off as inauthentic and manipulative—and no one wants to feel like they’ve been in a relationship for their money.

Instead, your goal is to create experiences for donors that play into your nonprofit’s “lifestyle brand” based on what your nonprofit means to donors, its impact on their lives and, moving ahead, how a relationship with your nonprofit enriches their lifestyle choices.


Appreciation events, like luncheons and gala events, will certainly always have their place. What we’re talking about, however, is building a brand for your nonprofit that goes deeper, linking donors’ lifestyle identity aspirations with your nonprofit’s work.

Emmanuel Probst, in “How To Create A Lifestyle Brand,” says this:

A lifestyle brand fulfills its consumers’ way of life. That is, it evokes an emotional connection between your consumer and his or her desire to affiliate with a group. In other words, a lifestyle brand becomes a part of how we define ourselves.

In our line of work, your nonprofit’s brand becomes part of how your donors wish to define themselves to family, friends and the public. Their planned gift is the ultimate expression of how much your nonprofit means to them and has enriched their own life—and lifestyle.

Lifestyle brands also “command extreme loyalty, up to devotion,” Probst says. Align your nonprofit’s brand with how donors envision “branding” their lives and you’ve got a match made for life.

Another great way to think about building your nonprofit’s own lifestyle brand:

Ferrari, Rolex, and American Express have one thing in common: They promote a lifestyle, and not the features of their products. You should be using the same principle with planned giving.


Think beyond the annual gala with these ideas to enhance your nonprofit’s lifestyle brand:

Keep track of life’s little moments. Note donors’ birthdays, gift anniversaries and other important personal dates. Reach out with a phone call or handwritten card to acknowledge donors’ special days. The personal touch is what they’ll remember.

SUCCESS BUILDER: Track donors’ important dates with a content management system. An Excel spreadsheet, Google Sheet, whatever your preference is, use it. Monthly or every other week, search birthdays, anniversaries and other dates you deem important. Block time into your calendar to write notes/cards. Keep these cards in envelopes, ready to go, stored in a visible location and send on appropriate days. Perhaps an intern or assistant could help with this task. The key is implementing the discipline to make it meaningful over the long-term.

Bring donors into the experience. Repeatedly. The Sierra Club, for example, offers environmentally friendly wilderness excursions to study wildlife in Cuba, smaller outings to learn about local wildlife and ecosystems, as well as other options. Talk about an immersive, life-changing experience—and building donor devotion. Other idea starters:

  • A community garden project—Invite donors/legacy circle members to get dirty and “plant goodness” (the veggies, the herbs) with staff/volunteers. Afterward, host a luncheon loaded with fresh foods and home-baked goods. They’ll see the impact of their gift right on their plate!
  • A no-kill animal shelter—Ask legacy donors to walk pups or pet kittens at your shelter. Send the email ask from a kitten for a more lighthearted, “purr-sonal” approach. Or host an exclusive afternoon “meet & greet,” where legacy donors can spend time with friendly animals waiting for adoption, then snack on “people treats.”
  • A college or university—Invite legacy society members to spend a day with a student. They can attend a class of their choosing and have lunch with students afterward.

Try lunch and learns. Think outside the (lunch) box. Host at area businesses (which helps your nonprofit build corporate/community partnerships too) or on-site. A Memphis nonprofit, for example, brings in renowned local chefs to guest teach inner-city students cooking and serving skills. These budding chefs could certainly serve up delicious food as part of a lunch and learn and thereby demonstrate impact.

Rotate lunch and learn topics; not every one has to be about philanthropy or estate planning either. Keep it light sometimes.

  • Host at a local art museum with a low-stress lunchtime painting class. The gift is their art on canvas and the takeaway is a fun, bonding experience among those who’ve already befriended your nonprofit.
  • Offer mini health & wellness events, including yoga and a breakfast yoga bar, light exercise (consider your donor age profiles when planning this portion) and healthy meal planning ideas. Partner with a local gym or hospital on this event for easier planning and promotion.

ABOVE ALL, remember this: When building a “beautiful” lifestyle brand, naming your legacy society something meaningful and historic and having a beautiful logo and equally moving donor giving stories, doesn’t necessarily translate into more planned giving donors.

What counts is the face-to-face, the authentic relationship built upon it and creating moments that link your nonprofit’s brand with donors’ own lifestyle aspirations. BONUS: This “real” approach often leads to more organic gift intentions and substantive, longer-term donor relationships.

Calling all brand builders and experience creators (yes, that’s you planned giving pros): Think about how you’ve evolved your nonprofit into a lifestyle brand. Any events or marketing strategies you’ve adopted that speak to this idea?

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