Is Now the Right Time for a Planned Giving Conversation? Yes, and Here’s Why.

No matter what’s happening in the world, we humans are wired to seek connection, continuation and control in our lives.

So when clients or colleagues ask if it’s appropriate or “right” to continue talking about planned giving in light of the continued pandemic and societal unease, I say yes. Continue the conversations, but be completely in tune with what donors are saying, and not saying, with more sensitivity and empathy and less leaning toward gift acquisition.

Listen—really listen to them. Learn how they’re feeling during check-in phone calls, texts or emails, even through-the-door chats. Note if they mention a relative who’s been affected by the pandemic; respond personally, feeling what’s weighing on their heart genuinely.

Now’s not the time to push a gift or stay strictly to the planned giving cultivation “book.” Your role right now might be to do the weekly check-ins, a “how are you,” meant sincerely, or to send notes or video clips of the good work your organization is doing to help make others feel safer. Sometimes, just acknowledging a world in flux is enough to reassure donors. Show that you are continuing to make a positive impact on our communities and build a bond to the work you do.

Also, if you need to slow the pace, do so, but at the same time stay in tune with opportunities available to your donors. “I wish I could help right now,” may be a response you’re hearing these days. Follow up with something like, “I get it; I truly do. I do have a way for you to still help these kids and make a real, significant, lasting difference in their lives, and it doesn’t involve parting with current assets. Would you like to talk it through?”

A CONSIDERATION: Research from planned giving industry expert Russell James and others shows that life events drive estate-planning behavior, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Life events typically include death of a spouse or retirement. During the COVID-19 pandemic, life events look similar but could also include scenarios like spending months in the hospital themselves, losing a job, taking a pay cut or being furloughed, among other crisis situations.

A CAUTION: Our prospects aren’t numbers or annual goals; they’re people, likely experiencing many of the same concerns as we are. Refrain from capitalizing on current life events solely to promote a planned gift.

Remember, too, these five wise estate planning approaches that are easy to implement, yet softly advance the gifting process:

1. Percentage giving—Donors gift a percentage of their estate or specific assets. The gift remains proportional. So no matter how their estate fluctuates, donors provide for their loved ones foremost as well as the causes they care about.

2. Blended giving—Donors can give an outright gift of cash or other assets today, combined with a future gift in their will or beneficiary designation.

3. Retirement plan assets—Donors simply make a designation on their retirement plan’s beneficiary designation form. Not only does this support your organization but it also saves donors’ heirs from a significant tax burden.

4. Unused life insurance policies—Does your donor have a policy that they no longer need? They can name your nonprofit as a beneficiary.

5. Gifts that will give them an income—Donors make a gift of cash or securities and in return receive a fixed income amount for life to them or to them and another loved one; what’s left of the gift after their lifetimes goes toward supporting your nonprofit’s work.

Finally, it’s worth remembering why planned giving makes a difference in donors’ lives. And how to remind them of that.

  • Donors can make a real difference—Through their financial support, donors help future generations and protect the causes they love beyond their lifetime.
  • With a gift that reflects their values—A planned gift reinforces their own belief system and provides a sense of belonging. 
  • And inspires others—Loved ones may follow their lead and give to their passions with a planned gift.
  • Or honors loved ones—Gifts in honor of another person make donors feel good and serve as a lasting tribute to the special someone they love. 


How are you staying in touch with prospects and donors these days? Have they been open to discussing planned giving and making a positive impact for others at your nonprofit?

Learn more about the complexity of emotions donors are being faced with and what that means to your marketing. Watch our webinar, “Planned Gift Marketing During & After COVID-19: A Chance to Pivot or Truly Change?”, now on-demand. In it, I also discuss the subtle art of adjusting your planned giving messaging during the pandemic and economic downturn and which of these adjustments should inform your outreach and program goals going forward.

Leave a Reply