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4 Signs That You Have a Good Planned Giving Prospect

Here’s the conundrum we face, staring back at us as numbers.

  • 69% of Americans age 30 and older expect to leave an inheritance.1
  • Only about 5% of estates leave a bequest today.2

See the gap in giving? Most who expect to leave an inheritance aren’t including a gift in their estate plans. While some might see this news as disheartening, others see opportunity.

Good news? We’re fully in control. We can close that gap by honing our ability to identify good planned giving prospects using, among other tactics, four indicators.

A caution, however. It all starts with solid, reliable donor data. Two notes about the importance of properly maintaining it.

1. Keep donor data relevant & relatable.

Survey, survey, survey. We continually mention it because it’s worth it. Surveys not only elicit valuable donor feedback, anecdotal insights and identify themes, they also help build bonds with donors. Even if your supporters don’t complete the surveys, the mere sight of seeing one in their inbox reminds them that your nonprofit values what they have to say.

Remember: Surveys must be donor-centric—ask about their life stories and what’s important to them rather than how their values and experiences align with your nonprofit’s work. Need tips to design better surveys? Check out “How to Make Your Surveys More Successful.”

2. Keep donor data clean.

“Dirty data leads to poor results.”

—Stelter Client Strategist Renee Durnin, CFRE

Think of donor data as your second in command, a trusted “advisor” to help, not hinder. Knowing your database is up to date and reliable can even build confidence, because you know you have accurate data behind you to inform your outreach efforts and case for support.

Tip: Commit to data “refreshes” on a consistent basis. (Discipline is key!) Purge lapsed donors and run a National Change of Address search annually, for example.


1. Affinity/Loyalty

The two go hand-in-hand. Affinity is a supporter’s natural bond or empathetic feeling toward your nonprofit. It’s at the heart of every decision he or she will make about your work. If prospects are nurtured, their affinity evolves into loyalty.

These affinity/loyalty indicators, say Stelter Client Strategist and blogger Renee Durnin, suggest good planned giving prospects: 

  • Donor has given a gift (outright, in-kind, etc.) or volunteered for 5+ years
  • With this number of lifetime gifts:
    • 15+ for most nonprofit organizations
    • 5+ for higher education or other organizations with less frequent (yet often higher value) giving

2. Age 60+

Renee also tells us that historically, people ages 60 and up are the most prolific planned giving marketing responders.

Makes sense. They’re more apt to be thinking about end-of-life plans and their legacies. Surely, younger generations, like millennials, are increasingly giving with the idea of wanting to make a lasting impact. However, the idea of making an estate gift through a lifetime of working, saving and accumulating assets is still largely driven by the 60+ generation. Note that it’s wise to incorporate broader planned giving education messaging to those 50 and up.

3. No Children

No matter how loyal donors are, family usually (not always) comes before personal desires to create a legacy.

Philanthropy researcher Russell James tells us that by far the most dominant predictor of estate planning (or those who were most inclined to make a gift) was the absence of children. Among current donors over age 50 who already had completed a will or trust, only 9.8% of those with grandchildren included a charitable component. For similar donors without any offspring, 50% had a charitable estate plan.

Two True Stories of Giving

(excerpt from Giving USA 2019, The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018)

Washington state social worker Alan Naiman left gifts totaling $11 million to children’s charities when he died of cancer at the age of 63. Naiman, who was not married and did not have children, donated to organizations and causes with which he had personal connections. For example, Naiman worked with the Pediatric Interim Care Center, to which he gave $2.5 million, during his time as a social worker. A former foster parent, Naiman brought children to the Treehouse foster care organization, to which he contributed $900,000.

Also unmarried and childless, Jane Kesson was well known to the Philadelphia Orchestra, which announced a $4.7 million gift from the retired music teacher in 2018. The orchestra will name a series of teacher workshops and student concerts after Kesson, who resided in the same house she shared with her parents since the 1950s.

Family and friends of both Kesson and Naiman reported that they did not know of any accumulated wealth of either individual.

4. Given in Last 3–5 Years

Donors who’ve made their last gift within three to five years are likely good planned giving prospects.

Even better news, when donors decide to make a legacy commitment, they typically continue giving during their lifetimes. While 45% of donors increased their annual giving to the recipient organization, according to a study from Giving USA, 47% maintained their annual giving rates from before making an estate gift.

Simply put, your planned giving donors are all in, helping strengthen your work today through financial giving and other support. They’re the best of both worlds for your nonprofit—living (and supporting) the here and now and planning for what lies ahead.


One of the most significant changes in donor motivation, according to the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, is the increasing influence of professional advisors.

Think about how you can partner with a trusted advisor to add deeper value for prospects considering a planned gift.

  • Develop relationships with vetted advisors to use as referrals
  • Host “combined” seminars on a special topic along with estate planning


Any other indicators you’ve seen in your work with donors? Let us know. Scroll down and leave us a reply in the comments section.

1 2009 Stelter Donor Insight Report™: Donors on the Move

2 Giving USA 2019, The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018

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