Surf Your Planned Giving In 5 Steps

Ocracoke53/120701 -- Boogie boarding on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.


This summer’s vacations on Block Island, RI and Belmar on the New Jersey shore gave me a chance to watch surfers. They ride just ahead of breaking waves, staying in front of the cresting water. I’ve been in Planned Giving for 13 years, and I’ve been thinking: how can you surf your Planned Giving program and stay ahead of it?  I’ve got five ideas.

  • Have a fat pipeline of new prospects. Use direct mail reply devices to get people to self-identify as being interested in including your nonprofit in their estate plan, or wanting additional information on how to do it. These people are your newest prospects. Train all your fundraisers to identify prospects and bring them to you so you can work together to cultivate a planned gift. Fundraisers include your CEO, vice presidents, board and volunteers who are on the front line of the service you deliver. You want as many people as possible knowing the fundamentals of Planned Giving, sharing basic information with potential prospects and feeding leads back to you. When I teach our clients, we cast a wide net within the organization to bring in anyone who has contact with possible planned gift prospects.
  • Unburden yourself from distractions. Look critically at the time you spend that isn’t related to identifying prospects, cultivating prospects to become donors, closing gifts, and stewarding donors. These are your most relevant activities and they best enhance your value to your employer. When you’re not engaged directly in this work, you are distracted. What distracts you? Pro bono committee work; compliance filings; additional assigned duties; additional duties you volunteered for; office gossip; internal reporting; office politics; or other things? Whatever your distractions, get yourself out of as many as possible. You’ll be a more effective fundraiser and more valuable to your organization, which helps secure your future there.
    Businessman Surfing on Conference Table

  • Get out of the office. With more time to spend on relevant work, use it to meet prospects and donors. Fundraising is a relationship business, whether Annual Fund or Planned Giving, and the strongest relationships are built on face-to-face meetings. I previously had something to say on the value of meetings. Having a monthly goal will help. Get out of the office and meet people!
  • No excuses. Uncertainty around the estate tax. Recession. No direct IRA giving. Obama’s deduction cap proposal. I read about it and people tell me, how so many things are working against planned gift fundraising. There are legitimate reasons why you might not raise as much this year as you did last year or before. But I also read, and people tell me about, nonprofits that are still raising money and fundraisers who close gifts. Did you see the $100 million gift to Human Rights Watch this month? (HRW is a former client, but I had nothing to do with that gift.) Even if you can’t match last year’s giving, don’t give in to the excuses. Stay active, focusing on your most important activities (above).
  • Use social media. Use among the 50+ set is rising steeply and that has promise for Planned Giving. I am intrigued by the possibilities.

That’s what I’ve got for surfing your planned gift program and staying ahead of the wave. (I was not watching surf boarders solely from the beach, but also while I body surfed the same waves. I’ve got bruises from the boards to prove it. Next post: Avoiding surf boards in your Planned Giving program.)

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