The Long Game: Here's What It Really Takes to Win These Large Gifts

 photo:  ptnphoto/shutterstock

photo:  ptnphoto/shutterstock

To protect planned-giving fundraising programs—to which donors make the biggest contributions of their lives—charities need an “internal case statement,” according to Robert E. Wahlers, vice president of development at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey, and Brian Sagrestano, a planned giving consultant.  

Having such a document, they said, prevents the damage that frequent turnover among fundraising staff causes in a charity's efforts to seek bequests, charitable gift annuities, charitable remainder trusts, charitable lead trusts, and other planned gifts such as life insurance policies.

Unless charities maintain a focus on such planned gifts, which can take years to realize, and good relations with the people who make them, organizations risk losing donations that make up to 40 percent of contributed income, said Wahlers and Sagrestano in a presentation for the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners in Baltimore.

The two- to three-page internal case statement for planned gifts, they said, should include such information as statistics on the wealth transfer occurring when the huge baby boom population passes away, benefits of planned gifts such as how they cushion charities from economic downturns when cash gifts decline, and examples of previous planned gifts that have aided the organization. That keeps successive fundraisers (and board members) focused on the critical importance of planned gifts, they said.

Wahlers and Sagrestano offered other suggestions to improve fundraising for planned gifts:

Change the Metric. Because a charity cannot control the dollar value of planned gifts, the performance of fundraisers who seek them should be judged on the number of planned gifts they bring about rather than their monetary value.

Get the Right Advice. Create a council of professional financial advisors who can answer donor questions, and be a resource for those experts in return—when they have questions about planned gifts, for example. Wahlers said he has found it beneficial to spend a third of his time with financial advisors, a third with existing planned-giving donors, and the final third with potential planned-giving donors.

Know Your Donors. Use surveys of existing donors to ask if they have included the charity in their estate plans, or if they would be willing to, but don’t be too pushy. Wahlers and Sagrestano shared the example of one donor who rewrote a will to remove a charity after the organization pressed that person repeatedly for a copy of the will.

Create Goodwill. Some financial advisors with whom a charity works may not be at liberty to divulge the name of one or more clients who plan to make a planned gift to the charity. In that case, Wahlers said he has found it beneficial to give the financial advisor a modest gift such as a book related to the charity’s cause that he or she can pass along to the anonymous donor, creating goodwill.  

Stay Focused on the Mission. For special events and other efforts to honor and maintain relations with planned-giving donors, it is best to focus these gatherings around the organization’s charitable mission.