Starting Up a Planned Giving Program

Dear Kim,

We’re interested in developing a simple planned giving program for our organization. We are lucky to have many life-long activists and long-term supporters among a donor base that is very committed, so it seems like planned giving would be a good fit. Do you have suggestions for simple ways to start?
—Simple Steps

Dear Simple,

It sounds like your organization is a great candidate for planned giving. Long-term supporters are a key element for this strategy. It is easy to start a planned giving program. First, make sure you already have a gift acceptance policy in place, and a policy about what your organization intends to do with bequests or other estate gifts, when you start receiving them. Both of these policies require some discussion with the board so that you have clarity about what you are entering into. The first one is developed because once in awhile someone gives you something that you cannot handle or do not want, and you need to have a policy in place that allows you to turn it down. (This applies to all gifts, not just estate gifts.) The second is developed because estate gifts are one-time only gifts and generally need to be used for capital or endowment–not simply dumped into annual income. Donors will ask you what you intend to do with planned gifts, and you want to be able to say something besides, “Spend them.”

Once that is taken care of, start with bequests, which are the vast majority of planned gifts. Do some or all of the following:

a) In your newsletter, put a small box that says, “As you are making your estate plans, please keep (Name of your group) in mind. Our full legal name is____, and our address is ____.” That box appears in every newsletter.

b) Develop a brochure about bequests. Many planned giving firms will put your name on a brochure they have developed which has general bequest language in it.

c) Add a box to your reply device cards which allows a person to check, “I am interested in making a bequest to ____. Please send me more information.” When people check that box, you send them that brochure and any other information you have about your long term plans.

d) Once a year you send out this brochure or other information on planned giving. Be sure you make planned giving information available to everyone regardless of age or wealth.

e) As you find out that some of your supporters have included your organization in their will, ask them if they would be willing to share their story. These stories are then published in your newsletter from time to time. In general, planned giving professionals are very sharing and helpful, so look around at what other groups are doing and ask them what works.

f) For more information on planned giving firms and planned giving in general, check out the website (and links from there) of the National Committee on Planned Giving (

Good luck.