Less Staff, Same Goals: 6 Tips to Do More (With Less) in Planned Giving

A survey released by Statista in February 2023 revealed the top three challenges nonprofits must grapple with:

  1. Rising operating costs (43.37%)
  2. Limited staff capacity (41.07%)
  3. Difficulty recruiting and retaining quality staff (40.11%)

You know the story behind the survey. Heck, you live the story almost every day. 

Numbers two and three center squarely on staffing issues, while the top challenge (rising operating costs) certainly factors into creating the other two issues.

A plot twist makes the story more intriguing: the pandemic. In the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic, “nonprofits lost a conservatively estimated 1.64 million … jobs, reducing the nonprofit workforce by 13.2% as of May 2020.”

Does all this sound familiar? Maybe you’ve felt the repercussions firsthand.  

Whether you’re a mighty team of one or on a team that feels stretched thin, turn to these six tips when you need support for your planned giving program.

1. Focus on popular gifts.

By focusing on giving options that are well-known and liked, you’ll raise the most funds—without having to be a gift planning expert:

  • Gifts in a will
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Gifts from a donor advised fund
  • Gifts of appreciated stock

When speaking with your donors, remember to:

Use relatable language that shows the benefits of a gift to your organization. Stay away from industry jargon like “making a bequest in your will”. Instead, use language that inspires them to become part of a powerful narrative of change and support for your organization.

Repeatedly connect them to the advantages of making a planned gift. A good idea? Set the three words below to memory; use them in all prospect touchpoints. Don’t worry if you feel like a broken record. It takes, on average, seven times for a person to hear something before they remember it.

  • Simplicity. “Just one sentence in your will can spark transformational change in the work we do.”
  • Flexibility. “Remember, you can change your plans as needed to reflect life’s changes.”
  • Versatility. “You have options! You can donate a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events, or even a percentage of your estate.

2. Leverage your network of partners and/or engage independent contractors.

With nonprofit staffing at critically short levels, leveraging partners or using independent contractors is a great alternative. Why?

  • Agencies that specialize in planned giving (like Stelter) can do the heavy lifting for you, providing expertise without the expense that comes with hiring full-time or part-time employees—like employer-provided benefits, office space and equipment.
  • Independent contractors provide greater flexibility. You can hire an independent contractor for a specific task or project, without facing the expense and potential legal trouble that can accompany firings and layoffs.

3. Lean into data to inform priorities.

Start here, with these core elements that determine a donor’s readiness for planned giving. Each leads you further toward a prospect’s inclination to give.

One note worth remembering whether you’re starting to use data more intentionally or have been for a while now: Simplicity and discipline rule the day.

There is so much information out there and all of it seems useful at first glance. But the failure of many data projects is they go too deep, too fast.

Bottom line: Know your limits. Know what you, as an organization, can realistically commit to and deliver on. Use a crawl, walk, run approach. Managing data gets easier if it becomes part of daily life.

4. Avoid the trap of thinking only about meeting targets. Instead, build relationships.

Anyone in donor development or retention must be a person who genuinely likes to listen to people and cares about their stories—about their families, about their life’s work that led them to your nonprofit.

Seemingly small but genuine gestures of gratitude can make the biggest impact too. A simple thank-you card or phone call can have a powerful effect. In her research, Penelope Burk found that first-time donors who received a personal thank-you within 48 hours were four times more likely to give again. 

5. Emphasize donor retention over acquisition.

Although estimates range (from 2 to 3 times more than the donation itself to 50 to 100% more than the dollars given), everyone agrees: It costs more to acquire a donor than to retain a donor.

Tip: Not sure what your donor retention rate is? Use this handy calculator from Bloomerang.

6. Stay positive.

A relative I have long admired would ask her family at day’s end, “What was the best part of your day?” The lesson: Even amid the worst of days, there’s something to be grateful for.

A workplace tip: Send weekly virtual “high-five” emails that call out completed gifts, fundraising milestones or measured advancement toward closing a gift.

Doing more with less definitely presents challenges. But what if you didn’t have to? Build your case for planned giving marketing by demonstrating ROI. Read “How to Secure a Budget for Planned Giving (Psst: It Pays for Itself)” for a how-to.

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