Yes, You Can Measure ROI in Planned Giving. Here’s How.

For some time, many of us have worked from the belief that success in planned giving is all about realized gifts. One of my favorite quotes about this idea came from a long-ago conference speaker noting the lack of control we have over this metric: “The best time to be a planned giving officer at an organization,” the speaker began, “…is 10 years after a really good planned giving officer left.”

Certainly, securing planned gifts is critical—and fundamental—to your nonprofit’s sustainability, but planned giving is also about cultivation. Successful programs know that defining return on investment (ROI) is layered.

Does the mere thought of figuring out your program’s ROI provoke sweaty palms? Heart palpitations? 

ROI validates—to your board, boss and other fundraising departments—why it’s a smart move to dedicate manpower to planned giving. ROI also justifies to you that what you’re doing matters.

While calculating ROI for the long game of planned giving can be challenging, there’s good news: Enter the National Standards for Gift Planning Success (NSGPS). They are the framework for advancing your program and ensuring accountability to donors and the public. Our Stelter team is also personally invested in these standards. I’ve been a board member for CGP and am co-chair of the NSGPS Task Force, and Lynn Gaumer, JD, Stelter’s senior gift planning consultant, has been involved as the vice chair of CGP Leadership Institute.

So yes, we believe in ROI.

The place to start for ROI measurement tools is the page on Ability and Capacity to Execute.

Leading ROI Indicators

Are you in the habit of tracking leading indicators? These can help you feel short-term gratification in our long-term business.

Some leading indicators to add to your ROI toolbox:  

  • Your contact plan. Document your marketing touches monthly, quarterly and annually. This includes multichannel marketing efforts, calls and visits (both remote and in-person). How many times are you in front of individual donors in a time span? Remember, frequency makes your marketing more effective.
  • Identified/engaged planned gift prospects. Track those who have indicated a general interest in planned giving. Reply card responses, prospect-initiated outreach (calls, emails), and repeat traffic to your legacy society page represent great news.
  • Planned gift intentions. How many intentions are you recognizing each year? How many prior revocable intentions are you stewarding? How many, if any, gifts were rescinded? How many new members did you add to your legacy society? These are all important questions to track and tackle to improve your fundraising effectiveness.

ROI 2.0

More advanced ROI measurements provide deeper insight and proof of planned giving success. You can study prospect pools, who’s making a gift, how they’re interacting with your nonprofit and types of gifts. 

Strategy 1: Divide ROI into age segments/generational groups. Looking at baby boomers, especially, may be a productive exercise. Why? The largest transfer of wealth will occur among boomers as pass their earnings to younger generations. In the next 30 to 40 years, $30 trillion in assets will be transferred. It’s worth your time to assess how your planned giving marketing and stewardship efforts resonate with this group. (Psst: But don’t overlook Gen X and Millennials!)

Strategy 2: Divide by channel. Include direct mail, email, website traffic and social, plus add in survey responses. How did each channel fare? Where are your donors interacting with your brand the most; where are you generating the most leads? These can help you plan your budget and commit your time.

A Stewardship Note

Stewardship should always be a component of your ROI calculations. This critical communication can be with legacy donors or planned giving prospects and is usually summed up with two words, “thank you.” The work isn’t explicitly gift-oriented and may include impact reports, phone calls, birthday/anniversary cards and face time.

The Main Point to Ponder Even if you don’t go into advanced reporting methods on your first (or fifth!) time out, start somewhere. Develop key measurements—of dollars, of touches, of movement within the funnel—that show indisputable metrics that your boss, board and team will appreciate. You’ll feel pride too.

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