Planned Giving For Everyone

When I started fundraising way back in the 1980’s, Planned Giving (always capitalized!) was a very specialized field.  Planned Giving officers were almost always lawyers or CPA’s Pink Piggy Bank On Top Of A Pile Of One Dollar Billsand their jobs were mainly to help donors who had already decided to make a planned gift do so. Because of the complexity of it all, most nonprofits didn’t even think about planned giving.  Those that did were the larger ones.

Today, I have clients with operating budgets under $500,000 who I have worked with to implement a planned giving program—and those who did so three or more years ago, are starting to see the fruits.

These programs are, like the organizations themselves, small, with an emphasis on bequests.  None of my clients have a planned giving officer on staff.  Indeed, many of my clients don’t even have a development director!  But they do have a good list of lawyers, CPAs, CFPs and the like who are ready, willing, and able to help should the need arise.

The biggest part of putting together a planned giving program is having a well thought out gift acceptance policy.  You can find lots of samples of these on the web, but I strongly urge you to create and not just copy your policy.  As you create the policy really consider what type of gifts you will accept, and what you will do with non-cash gifts once they are given.  Give really hard thought to what you will not accept and what you want to recommend for pre-consideration.  That is, what you won’t give an outright yes or no to but will bring forward to a well-constructed committee to consider.

The make-up of that committee, and its roles and responsibilities, is another critical reason for crafting your gift acceptance policy.

Once crafted—and accepted by the Board—your job is start cultivating donors for those gifts.  But what donors?  Who is a great planned giving prospect?

My answer is everyone.  I disagree with those who think that only the wealthy and elderly deserve your attention.  For starters, most planned gifts (90%!) come from bequests, and most of those bequests come from the ranks of your annual donors.  As for old people, well research shows that 60% of the best prospects for planned gifts tend to be younger—aged 40-54. Only 10% of those aged 70 and older are expected to make a plans for a planned gift.

And besides, where is it written that only old people die? I admit that when I was very young, I thought that the last 4-1/2 years of my life would be horrid because my beloved sister, who was 4-1/2 years older than I would be gone.  But then a boy in my 3rd grade class died, and reality set in.

Besides, focusing on younger people serves several additional purposes.  For starters, people who commit to a planned gift generally become larger annual donors.  And it gives the organization the wherewithal to keep in touch without asking for a gift on a regular basis every year.

Other vehicles, like life insurance, work really well for younger donors. People under 40 can purchase large policies for little amounts.  By making the organization the owner of the whole life or universal life policy, the donors get immediate tax deductions for premiums paid.  These policies carry a cash value pretty early on, so even if the donor ceases to pay premiums, the organization can cash in the policy or use dividends to pay premiums.

In short, planned giving is not just for the old—nor is it just for large organizations.  It is for everyone who cares about the future of their nonprofit and wants to ensure that that future is bright.


Janet Levine works to ensure that her clients have a bright future.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and for a free, 30-minute consultation