How to Make the Most of Your Social Distancing Time: Planning & Education

By now, most of us are finding ourselves working from our homes. Perhaps you’ve carved out a quiet office space or turned the dining table into a desk over this past week.

True, our working-from-home situations are unconventional right now, like those breakfast dishes sitting on top of file folders. But this unusual time of isolation also provides bandwidth to think about those big ideas—for you, your work and your planned giving program.

Time by ourselves (even if the kids are running all over the place or your pets won’t leave you alone) can be powerful, if used appropriately, to think up new directions or the “what could be’s” for the future of your work and your program. Being away from the co-worker who tells you why something won’t work, or the continual interruptions of “You got a minute?” and impromptu office gatherings, frees you to think beyond everyday office duties.

Take advantage of the time to do some planning and prioritizing, deep cleaning as I like to call it. And yes, stare out the window and creatively imagine bold new ideas to spur planned giving and get donors back at your door, ready to re-engage.


This isn’t time to put plans on hold. It’s time to be bold …

In Your Planning

  • Envision your planned giving program in five, 10, 15 years. Write a vision statement for each of those highpoint years. Don’t put constraints around the statement; envision whatever you believe it can be and write it down.
  • Determine how many new donors you want in your legacy program. Each year. Five years. Within 10.
  • Consider how many prospects you want to have in your pipeline.
  • Determine how you’ll ensure that the pipeline is continually filled.
  • Think about how you’ll implement or grow your legacy society.
  • Put together a “dream box,” or online folder of creative ideas. Any clever opportunities for meet & greets? Unique ways to engage prospects in your mission’s work? An event or program that lights you up? It goes in the folder for inspiration.
  • Put away the voice that tells you the idea is silly or will never work. If it gives you goosebumps, go with it.

As You Prioritize

  • Be selfish—prioritize according to what you’d like to see become reality; hold the promise of the idea to yourself for a while and enjoy the excitement of the possibility; co-workers’ facial reactions or “but what-ifs” may dampen motivation.
  • Another effective way to prioritize—determine what’s the One Big Thing you’d like to accomplish on your big-and-bold list. Focus on that.
  • Visualize the endpoint of your idea, and work back from there to loosely put pieces into place.

TIP: While we’re in the big-and-bold zone, rethink how you get work done overall. Shift from daily to-dos to the daily One Big Thing.

A Bold, Proven Strategy: Running an Effective Legacy Challenge

Perhaps you’ve already done a legacy challenge or maybe it’s been something you’ve been contemplating. A legacy challenge can provide the incentive and urgency to inspire prospective planned giving donors to take action. In short, a legacy challenge is when an organization or donor pledges a certain amount of money for a certain time period, giving outright cash to a nonprofit for every secured planned gift.

If you haven’t yet engaged in a legacy challenge, you’ve likely heard something similar in concept, the public radio pledge drive: “We need 10 new donors within the next hour. If we meet that challenge, XYZ Company will match donors’ gifts up to $10,000.” While the public-radio “challenge” is geared toward an annual or one-time gift, legacy challenges, as the word “legacy” implies, are used to drive planned gifts.

Why legacy challenges are an appealing way to drive planned gifts:

They engage donors.

  • Donors feel like their gift makes a greater impact by helping kick-start the match
  • The organization or donor doing the match adds legitimacy and prestige to donors’ considerations (“If XYZ Company believes in them that much, I’m going to finally do it too.”)
  • There are tangible yet easy-to-understand parameters around the challenge

They generate immediate excitement.

  • Legacy challenges can stand alone or be incorporated within larger campaigns, like a special anniversary year (100 new donors to celebrate an organization’s 100 years) or as a campaign strategy to increase overall society members.
  • A time frame on the challenge motivates donors to document the gift more quickly.

Here’s some recent legacy challenge campaigns/language that piqued our interest:


Why we like it: Its language imparts immediacy, gives clear direction and offers a 2-for-1 donor benefit.

“The JDRF Global Legacy Challenge gives you the opportunity to help JDRF continue to fund the most promising research in the world by including JDRF in your estate plans. Take part in the Challenge by (date), and one of our generous sponsors will honor your commitment by donating $1,000 directly to JDRF. You’ll also be invited to join the JDRF BETA Society, our exclusive community of donors who have made a lasting commitment to T1D research by naming JDRF in their estate plans.”

George Washington School of Law

Why we like it: It doubles the impact of donors’ investments (document your gift and get to give to what matters most to you).

“When you document a planned gift to GW Law, you can immediately direct 2019 GW Legacy Challenge matching funds to a purpose that resonates with you—such as scholarships or support for a specific school or program. For every $10 of your pledged planned gift, $1 of Legacy Challenge matching funds (with a cap of $10,000) will be directed to the GW Law purpose you select.

Make an impact now by documenting your planned gift today! As of (date), we have a pool of $1,000,000 in unrestricted matching funds that are available on a first-come, first-served basis to any donor who documents a planned gift. The GW Legacy Challenge program will end on either (date), or when the matching funds have been depleted, whichever comes first.”

Want to know more about legacy challenges? Look forward and plan for donor communication now and in the future. Take a break from the headlines and sign up below.

Break away from today’s stress with a complimentary one-hour webinar on proven ways to engage donors and stimulate new gifts. With guests John B. Kendrick, CAP ®, Assistant Vice President, Planned Giving, and Courtney L. Tsai, JD, CAP ®, Executive Director, Planned Giving, George Washington University, who share how they did it and what they learned.

You’ll discover:

  • Why legacy challenges are so effective at stimulating new gifts and getting donors to reveal existing planned gifts
  • The key variables in fielding a successful challenge
  • How to sell a program to your management that is customized to your needs
  • Why you may wish to field a subsequent legacy challenge if you have success with your first one

Spots are limited; reserve your seat here.

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