Planned Giving--Not Just For the Elderly or the Rich

When I was a young child, the thing that frightened me most about the future was the last 4-1/2 years of my life.  My sister, who I adored above all else, is 4-1/2 years older than I, and to my child’s logic, that meant  she would die, exactly, 4-1/2 years before I would.  And those would be lonely, scary years. Of course, I soon discovered that life isn’t quite so linear or fair.  People die at all ages.  And so I am constantly surprised that so many fundraisers think that they should only ask the elderly to consider leaving a nonprofit in their will.

Likewise, when I talk with clients about a planned giving program, most insist on focusing only on their wealthiest donors.  But those are not necessarily the most likely planned givers.

Think about it.  If you are going to give a gift but not be around to see how it is actually used and what/if  any impact it has, then the qualities you possess are vision (so you can see into the future) and loyalty.  Loyalty to the mission and the organization.  And a strong belief that this is the place where your vision will come true.

Wealth?  Surely there is nothing wrong with being a wealthy donor.  But if you are going to make a deferred gift—one that occurs after your lifetime—there are many, many ways that the not-so-wealthy can arrange for substantial support.

When I started in this business years ago (as a child fundraiser, of course), planned giving was all about those vehicles.  Today, it is more about helping donors achieve their dreams.

Instead of leading with CRT’s (be they CRAT’S, CRUTS, LT’s or any other such acronym), insurance policies, gifts of real estate with life tenancies or any other such mechanism, the focus today is on what is really important:  What does the donor hope to accomplish with his, her or their gift?

And to find out what the donor wants, you must engage.  You must build a relationship, and that takes time.  Deferred gifts, of course, are all about time:  Time to develop, time to mature.

And because these gifts happen later on, it is really important that the vision is broad.  You really don’t want a gift today that supports buying typewriters for girls studying to be secretaries.  Or for a program you no longer do.  In other words, you want to avoid a vision that ceases to be visionary.

And this where a loyal donor—someone truly committed to your work and your future—makes the most difference.

Wealthy donors who don’t have a history and a passion for what you do tend to want what they want.  Loyal donors at all socio-economic levels also want what they want, but they want it to mesh with what the organization will need.  They understand that needs change, and therefore, their deferred gift.

So if  you are looking for those few donors who will make what has often been called the “ultimate” gift, look longitudinally.  Who are the people who regularly—over long periods of time—support your organization?  It doesn’t matter if their gifts are uniformly small.  What matters is that they uniformly make a gift.

Meet with them; dream with them.  What kind of legacy would  they like to leave at your organization?  Don’t talk dollars at these first meetings.  The thing about planned giving is that you have time to figure out with them (and their advisors) how to make that gift.  That’s where all those marvelous vehicles come in.  But later.  Later.

First comes the commitment.  Then the dream.  And with that dream will come the desire.  And then the idea that they can make a difference not just now but forever will take hold—and the method will be found.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity and ensure not just today but also tomorrow.  Learn more at