Planned Giving – What Are You Scared Of?

03/07/2022 11:54 AM | Elizabeth Duffrin

By Susan Kahan, ACN member

I used to be involved in a planned giving program, and I had a colleague from another department come over to my desk every once in a while and jokingly say, did anyone die recently, and did we get any money?

When the answer was yes, I would also say to them, this person that recently passed away cared so much about our work that they wanted us to be successful even when they were no longer around to see it for themselves. That shut him up.

So many fundraisers think planned giving is scary. You’re talking about death. AND taxes. AND trusts. And did I mention death?

But what if you flipped the thinking around? A donor is passionate about your cause. So passionate that they want you to be successful even after they are not alive to see the impact of their generous support. Can anything be more altruistic than that?

Yes, planned giving can provide tax benefits. But most importantly, it is allowing the donor to be remembered generously and positively. Their legacy makes them a hero. As noted planned giving expert Dr. Russell James says, allowing the donor to become the hero in their own story is the best gift we (the fundraisers) can give to the donor.

With this principle in mind, let’s start with the basics – what is a planned gift? It is a charitable donation that is intentionally planned out in advance, that is gifted either during lifetime or after the donor’s passing. So simple!

What else can we do to make planned giving less scary? Let’s look at the most common type of planned gift – the bequest. A bequest is simply when a donor writes into their will, trust, or codicil (a fancy name for addition to the will) that they want to leave (1) a set amount (i.e., $10,000), (2) a percentage (i.e., 2% of the estate or trust), or (3) a percent of the remainder of the estate (i.e., the first $5 million goes to the 3 kids, and then 10% of the remainder goes to a charity). See, not scary?

Let’s go even further, so you know what to say to a donor. If you hear the donor say –

  • I’m retiring.
  • I’m selling my business.
  • I just had my first child or grandchild.
  • This organization is so meaningful to me.
  • I’ve been thinking about what I’ve accomplished in my life.

THIS IS YOUR CHANCE! This is when you say to your donor –

Thanks so much for sharing this with me. As you think about how you want to be remembered, have you ever thought about including our nonprofit in your estate plans?


I’m with you. This organization has also changed my life. Where do you think the needs of this organization will be in 20, 30, or even 50 years from now? Would you consider a way to shape that future?

THEN STOP TALKING! Let them think about it.

So, stop being scared. Stop putting off the conversation with your donor. Give a gift to your donor and let them be a hero. Start the planned giving conversation now and imagine the power those planned gifts will one day have have in furthering your mission.

Susan Kahan is the Founder/Principal of Sapphire Fundraising Specialists, a fundraising strategy consulting business for small to medium-size nonprofits with a focus on major gifts, planned giving, capital campaigns, and solicitation training.

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