This 1 Thing Encourages Donors to Tell You About Their Planned Gift

Looks like we’ve got work to do.

Most donors aren’t telling us if they’ve made a planned gift. According to a 2019 Giving USA special report, only 52.4% of donors report always telling organizations about their planned gifts, while 38.7% sometimes inform the organizations.

Here’s the other, perhaps larger, issue of why donors aren’t telling us: We’re not asking them! Among donors over 30, only 22% say they’ve been asked for a planned gift.

First, let’s revisit the traits of the most common legacy donor. Typically, he or she has:

  1. Given to your organization regularly for at least five years
  2. Made their most recent gift within the last three to five years
  3. Reached age 60+
  4. Has no children or has financially mature heirs

Dig deeper into these indicators in “4 Signs That You Have a Good Planned Giving Prospect.”

Building Relationships Makes the Ask Easier

The first two legacy donor traits (giving regularly and giving recently) make me think of one word: relationships. The donor sees your nonprofit as benefitting a deserving and valuable cause. Your relationship-building efforts are working.

Because you’ve built your donor relationships on mutual trust and respect, stem the urge to feel like you’re “pushing it on them” or being too aggressive in making the ask about a planned gift. Make the ask with good intentions, like ensuring donors’ gifts are used exactly as they’ve intended.

Legacy donors’ top motivations for making a planned gift are:

  1. “The cause is personally important to me” (78.8% of donors)
  2. “Belief that the nonprofit makes a significant impact” (75.5% of donors)

Source: 2019 Giving USA Leaving a Legacy report

So how do we can craft messaging that motivates a donor to tell us about their gift? The answer may be in our brains. Psychologists have identified three elements that people need to feel motivated to take action. These elements are:   

  • Autonomy: Having a choice; being in control of one’s actions and behaviors
  • Competence: Feelings of mastery; being good/effective at what you do
  • Relatedness: Feeling connected to others; a sense of belonging

Key Takeaway: It’s more than just marketing! Every touchpoint—whether a phone call, visit, impact story, eNewsletter, social media post or other—helps donors and prospects engage emotionally with your mission and feel motivated to make a difference.

How to Find Out If Your Donor Has Made a Planned Gift

Again, just ask. If you’re not able to do it in person, or within the appropriate course of a conversation, make it a call to action in at least one place in every planned giving marketing piece. 

For example, copy like this could be a sidebar to a story in a digital or print newsletter:

“It’s critical to let us know about your gift because many retirement plan administrators assume no obligation to notify a charity of your designation. The administrator also will not monitor whether your gift designations are followed. We would love to talk with you about your intentions to ensure that they are followed. We would also like to thank you for your generosity.”

Or this could become a call to action at the end of a story to emphasize continued gratitude and a sense of partnership:

“Please let us know if you’ve made a gift to save national forests in your will or other estate plan, so that we can thank you during your lifetime.”

Or include language like this on a checkbox reply card:

“Yes, I’ve chosen to carry on my commitment to saving our national forests by including a gift in my estate plans.”

Important Tip: Remove your nonprofit from the equation. Connect the donor’s gift directly to impacting the mission.

The point is just to ask.

Let Me Ask You This

How do you find out if a donor has made a planned gift to your organization? Do you include an ask in your planned giving marketing materials? Let us know in comments below.

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