How to (Re)Launch Your Planned Giving Program

I was recently talking with a gift planning director at a global humanitarian nonprofit. He and his team are working with Stelter to build their planned giving program, which, as he puts it, has gone through years of stops and starts.

What makes this time different? Several factors: They’ve shored up their tactics moving ahead with a survey; received volumes of feedback for more accurate donor and predictive models; declared their commitment to growth by sharing results; and engaged survey respondents and new donors immediately.

Yes, new donors, as in many. The survey unveiled more than 70 undisclosed bequests. “It was exciting but also validating,” he told me of the finding. “We know there’s more out there.”

There’s always more out there, like this organization discovered, and more to be done—whether it’s your first time out with a planned giving program or your 10th.

Start with these 4 CRUCIAL STEPS to launch or relaunch your planned giving program in 2021.


Your foundation for program success.

Take your time in developing the survey. It must be appealing, both visually and in tone, so that people will want to get involved and answer the questions. Watch how you frame the questions to be sure they’ll yield substantive information to inform future efforts. Start by reading our blog about creating successful surveys. A few tips to get you thinking:

  • Keep it short. No more than 20 questions, with a mix of formats.  Use one open-ended question that elicits comments for every 10 closed questions.
  • Watch your words. Russell James offers an excellent example of a planned giving survey Q&A. Include phrases that allude to a planned gift: enduring, future generations, your forever gift, preserve what you value.
  • Test. Read your survey aloud to ensure questions flow. Have co-workers, board members or volunteers take it and provide feedback for improvement. Test over multiple web browsers and devices too.
  • Consult experts. Reach out to colleagues or other organizations that have deep wells of experience with surveys, especially if this is your first time surveying.

BONUS! Our client told us his organization’s survey “paid for itself 15 times over” with a 16% return in responses. Engagement value, he says, was also sky high.


Who are your donors? How can you find more like them?

Donor personas reveal overarching similarities in lifestyle and philanthropic attributes among groups of donors. These groups are categorized according to criteria like age, marital status and lifestyle and charitable inclinations, among other points of interest.

Essentially, donor personas provide a snapshot brought to life—a story, so to speak—of a group of individuals with similar characteristics and qualities.

Here’s an example of a donor persona, from The Modern Nonprofit:

Predictive modeling is based, in part, on donor personas, and helps you understand previous donor successes. It also helps create a profile of prospects who likely have similar or the same aptitudes for giving based on similar characteristics.  “Not only are you able to find prospects who have the greatest propensity and capacity to give, but you can also use models to predict when they’ll give and how much,” says Nandini Singh at WealthEngine.


Executive leadership needs to believe in planned giving’s potential.

In many cases, a grassroots effort—from the bottom up—is what it takes to create lasting change. That’s true for a planned giving program too. However, for the “lasting change,” to occur internally, executive leadership and the board also need to believe in the work to build the program and envision its future growth. A great place to start is the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners recently released National Standards for Gift Planning Success (NSGPS), wherein the first of the three pillars of success is aptly titled ‘Support From the Top’.

But getting buy-in requires more than just applying standards, it involves constant communication. At meetings, share poignant donor stories—why they gave, what it means to them. Also, present clear data showing growth potential. In our client’s case, survey data meant they could confidently do some modeling, proving that planned giving offered great growth opportunity. The team’s enthusiasm, backed by data, got leadership excited—and on board.

ANOTHER TACTIC: Demonstrate the case that 1) during economic and social volatility nonprofits must have diverse revenue streams and 2) the definition of fundraising success is not solely about cash in hand but also assets to secure the future. Read “How to Make the Case for Planned Giving: 3 Fundraising Truths” for more insight into these perspectives.


This IS a personal transaction, after all.

Your efforts come full circle: survey to rapport.

As you receive survey responses, connect with donors immediately. Refer back to their answers as a starting point for conversations. Did donors talk about why they support your nonprofit’s work? What do they wish you would do better? Are they interested in a particular gift vehicle? Use the responses that stand out to build rapport.

Most important, get to know your new supporters—their families, life stories and philanthropic dreams. Enjoy the moments as you build the bond.

TIP: Make one or two donor calls a day, and book more time than you think you’ll need. Our client and his team scheduled 20 to 30 minutes for each donor call. Most took 45 minutes or more!

Change Requires Commitment

Remember this if (when) you’re feeling in the weeds with your program launch or re-engagement. Change requires commitment, tenacity and ability to see success, even when the going gets tough.

ADVICE: “Establish a clear vision for the change management process. Paint a picture of where the organization will end up and the anticipated outcomes. Make certain the picture is one of reality and not what people wish would occur,” writes Susan Heathfield at The Balance Careers.

Do you have plans to launch a planned giving program in the new year? How about a relaunch? Maybe you have your own set of crucial musts in launching a successful program. Feel free to share below.

3 thoughts on “How to (Re)Launch Your Planned Giving Program

  1. Great suggestions! In terms of the survey, I would add a couple things: 1) Consider the quantity before you mail to ensure you can handle the volume of returns. In other words, if you don’t think your staff has the bandwidth to handle a 16% response from 10,000, then lower your mail quantity. 2) Plan out how you are going to respond! Have your acknowledgements and brochures ready, and think about how you will prioritize the responses. I know too many organizations that excitedly send out a survey, get a huge response, and then the surveys sit in a pile collecting dust because they don’t have time to process and follow-up properly.

    1. Sabrina, great points and spot on!

      It’s critical that fundraisers have a plan for follow-up before sending any survey, the worst thing you can do is get donors engaged and excited and then never follow-up with them. I go in depth on being mindful of how many people you should survey at any given time, the critical importance of creating a follow-up plan and even whom to communicate with inside your organization in my 2018 presentation Survey Says, Enjoy!

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