Kurt Worrell, SVP Donor Engagement Team  ●  9/17/2021

Gift Planning Campaigns: An Integral Part of Your Fundraising Strategy

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According to Schervish and Havens at the Boston College’s Center for Wealth Philanthropy, we are in the midst of the largest generational wealth transfer in history. Estimates are that $59 trillion of wealth will transfer in the next 40 years.

That’s important information for fundraisers. So is this: currently, about 5% of donors make planned gifts. But 30% would consider it if asked. Gift planning options enable many donors to make a gift of a size and impact they would not be comfortable making in their lifetime. Chances are, your planned-giving program deserves more attention than it’s getting.

Gift planning campaigns in direct-response fundraising are often relegated to an article in a newsletter, a link on a remit device, and a microsite. All of these tactics are great and recommended, but don’t stop there. Put your planned-gift offer center stage. A targeted and donor-centric campaign can yield a wealth of leads and opportunities.


The path to planned gifts is paved with annual fund donors.

It is no secret that donor loyalty is one of the biggest indicators for gift planning. Giving USA’s special report, Leaving a Legacy, indicates that most planned-giving donors have given for 10+ years to the organizations they support. Bequests are the most popular instrument used. The study showed that most donors write their first will at age 44, and most make their first planned gift around age 53. The most common reasons for writing a will are life-stage events like having children, buying a home, retiring, gaining wealth, and getting married. More than 40% of survey respondents indicated that they learned about planned giving from a charity. What does this mean for you?

  • Prioritize educating donors on the gift planning options available.
  • Understand your donor’s state of consideration to know the best time to make a planned-gift ask.

Direct-response campaigns are an ideal way to learn more about your donor’s life stage, their intent, and their openness to making this type of gift either today or in the future.


Here are 7 tips to help you prepare for your next planned-giving direct-response campaign.

  1. Create targeted segments for gift planning appeals. Donor loyalty, number of lifetime gifts, age, income, and home value can all be indicators of gift planning potential. Also, consider longtime volunteers and donors making gifts from donor advised funds or family foundations.
  2. Survey donors to learn more about their state of consideration. This can be done digitally, through the mail, or, most effectively, through conversations. Calling a donor provides a tremendous opportunity to engage and really understand a donor’s life stage, intent, and state of consideration. As a channel, the phone will also produce your highest response rates. Use it with digital and mail to maximize responses and meet donors in the channel they prefer.
  3. Ask the right questions. Focus on donor intent, the legacy they wish to leave, the reasons they give, and why they feel your mission is critical for the next generations to come.
  4. Respond in a timely fashion. If a donor indicates interest in learning more about gift planning, it is important to connect around that interest in a timely manner. Make sure that as you generate leads through your direct-response processes, you have the ability and capacity to follow up to answer donor questions and identify the instruments of giving that are most attractive to your donor. It is ok to meter your outreach to match your capacity in order to create a positive donor experience.
  5. Track donors who indicate future interest in gift planning. Many donors will indicate future interest in the process. Keep a finger on the pulse of these donors so that when they are ready to engage, you are prepared.
  6. Create opportunities to stay in touch with interested donors. Consider annual appeals that focus on gifts from assets and DAFs, or focus on qualified charitable distributions. Incorporate a planned track of gift planning information into future stewardship activities.
  7. Have a stewardship plan for existing and new planned-giving donors. The Giving USA survey showed that donors were very interested in opportunities to continue to build relationships and community. They also shared that personalized and tailored communications were welcome. Perhaps most importantly, they indicated that focused reporting on impact was crucial. What was less desirable was constant future asks, impersonal or unwanted recognition, and use of premiums.

Many donors tend to actually increase their annual giving after making a future gift commitment, so don’t worry about cannibalizing annual giving. Almost everyone is capable of making a planned gift. Understand your donor’s intent and capability for giving, and nurture it.


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