How to Make Your Board See the Value of Planned Giving

Do either of these scenarios sound familiar?

#1—A Case of Nearsightedness

You’re the executive director of a small community nonprofit and have just finished your presentation about the need to start a planned giving program. A board member raises her hand and asks, “Why are we even thinking about this? It’s not something we’ll see a return on anytime soon. We have special events that raise what we need and offer great publicity, as well as a strong annual campaign. We should focus our efforts on what’s working and not what might work in the future.”

#2—Where’s the Bang for the Buck?

Three years ago, your board greenlighted a planned giving program. In that time, you’ve been careful to do everything right, developing gift acceptance policies and marketing materials, as well as identifying prospects and scheduling meetings.

But you’re pulled in all directions as both the planned giving and major gifts officer. In year two of the program, you’re at five planned gift intentions, two of which are from your board. You’ve got a list of top prospects but it’s difficult to schedule meetings, much less follow up without rushing the gift. At the last board meeting, a board member questioned if this investment is worth it.

How do you address this kind of doubt and combat a board’s “we need the cash now” mindset?

First, let’s be clear: There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, because there’s no one-size-fits-all board. People bring vastly different personalities, backgrounds and priorities to the board table. That’s a strength or a weakness, often both.

But let’s start from a few universal truths about why planned giving is worth the investment and the wait, and why it’s worth fighting for.

It’s worth the investment because:  

  • The largest wealth transfer in history is happening now. In the next 30 to 40 years, $30 trillion in assets, according to Accenture, will pass from boomers to their heirs in the U.S. As boomers create their estate plans, they’re also thinking about their legacies, and it’s the case of, “If we don’t ask for it, other nonprofits will.”
  • Historically, according to Blackbaud, planned gifts have increased nearly 5% every year even in recessions, while other sources of revenue decline in times of economic struggle.

It’s worth the wait because:

  • The average planned gift, says Blackbaud, is between $35,000 and $70,000.
  • The average time from when the gift is made to its maturity is 7-10 years, says WealthEngine, only a few years longer than most campaign pledge periods.

It’s worth fighting for because:

Just as we encourage prospects to consider their legacies, we must insist that board members do the same.

Fifty years from now, will your nonprofit’s future board look back and wonder why today’s board abdicated responsibility for long-term planning? We must require our boards to not only advise and advocate for today’s needs but also for what tomorrow’s vision will require.

Your board must understand that they are the visionaries who will provide for their “loved one” (your nonprofit) for future generations. The buck starts with them.

The “how” to begin tackling these board concerns is a multifaceted answer—but begins with two overarching concepts: vigilant education and continuous motivation. Both of which include time in conversation, individually and as a group, with board members.

Key pieces to the education component are:

  • Your organization’s strategic plan. You’ve already got the roadmap for growth in place with a strategic plan. Use it and refer to it to back up why your nonprofit must be multidimensional to meet today’s needs and plan for the future. Fortify the strategic plan with community growth stats and anticipated programming and staffing needs to reinforce the case for a planned giving program. Ongoing education could include sharing 3rd party research, data and stories that reinforce the importance of diversifying your funding revenue with planned giving.
  • Planned giving moments with the board. This includes, but is by no means limited to, success stories, tips for initial prospect outreach, mini practice “ask” scripts and practice sessions. Also discuss the gift vehicles your nonprofit currently accepts, so board members understand how they work and can make an informed decision about which type of gift is right for their situation.
  • A board planned giving “ambassador.” This is a board member turned cheerleader for the planned giving program. This person should be the first, or among the first, to make a gift, and be willing to talk about why he or she gave and encourage others to do the same. Ideally, this person is liked and well respected, someone others look up to and follow.

Most importantly, make planned giving a clear expectation, not an option.

Be sure to remind and reinforce with the board of the ‘ease’ of making a planned gift (e.g., percentage designation of their IRA, 401k, etc.). Your board members likely serve on other boards and are quite busy; showing them simplistic options can pave the way for a commitment. Shape this conversation positively; try “sponsoring” it by your board ambassador and present it as an opportunity to create a forward-thinking legacy.

TIP: Name this internal campaign, something like “Fund for the Future,” “Giving to the Future” or “My Gift. My Legacy.” A name helps develop spirit, camaraderie and accountability. It also adds legitimacy by providing legs for a larger planned giving campaign.

Keep Their Eye on the Future

Because you can’t do it all, your board must be your staunchest ally, the everyday doers who open doors and help shepherd prospects to action. Together, you are a mighty tribe—and they need to know that. Show the value of working together to promote planned giving with these ideas:

  • Send a short video to board members, like a “quick note,” when you hear an impactful personal story (with the donor’s permission, of course).
  • Send donor-story texts: “I just met with someone who’s in the process of making an estate gift to our organization. She has such an inspiring story. Can’t wait to tell you more about it at our next meeting.”
  • Keep meeting with board members—a lunch, coffee, facility tour, campus walk. During that one-on-one time, you can personally thank them for their involvement and vision, address concerns and remind them of the mission by immersing them in the setting.
  • Above all, show value, value, value. Why is planned giving worth it? Disseminate stats whenever you can, perhaps as a quick email or add-on to the meeting agenda: “I just came across this article about boomers’ motivations behind legacy gifts. We’ll be talking more about it at our next meeting. Please come with thoughts, because your insights are helpful.”
  • Share community visioning information. What will community needs be in five, ten or 20 years, and how will your nonprofit meet those anticipated needs? Planned gifts provide a safety net and alleviate stress for future staffers and boards so they can focus on the work ahead.
  • Prospect-turned-donor stories also show value and motivate other board members to participate in the success.
  • Looking for more ideas: Find out how to get your board on board with planned giving or check out these 5 reality checks to re-engage your board in planned giving.
  • COMING JUNE 2020!! Bookmark this page on the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners’ website, as the first-ever National Standards of Gift Planning Success (NSGPS) will be released. Starting with the critical pillar of gaining ‘Support from the Top’, the NSGPS will provide guidance, data and tools to ensure your planned giving program is setup for success. The new national standards will help you in making the case, assessing your ability and capacity for success all while focusing on metrics and KPI’s with a donor-centric focus.

Do the scenarios at the beginning of the blog ring true? Ever been in a similar situation? We’d love to hear how you got your board to chime in on the value of growing a planned giving program.


Leave a Reply