Planned Gifts as Fundraising Stability

By Pamela Bennett and Lori Lasson

In today’s competitive fund raising environment that challenges all charities, especially those in the Jewish world that are competing for relevance among so many other worthy causes, we must foster a consistent, recession-proof source of income – planned gifts. As we approach the High Holiday season, they become even more relevant as we reflect on our past year, and what we hope to achieve in the year ahead.

Did you know that on average, planned gift remainders account for approximately 8% of all development income? Ideally, such trust and estate income should account for considerably more income in a healthy nonprofit fund raising program. How do you make such a leap?

Here are four basic ground rules, all of which are critical to succeed:

Commitment: A planned giving program takes time to grow and produce results. Your Board must agree to support your program for the long term, even when the economy is challenging. This means hiring a planned giving professional and retaining a law firm to help administer trust and estate matters (or for larger programs, you might consider hiring an estate planning lawyer as part of the planned giving team). You also need to provide your planned giving staff the tools to succeed, which include an annual age overlay of your database. This is often surprisingly inexpensive and enables your organization to save money by targeting your mailings to older donors, who are more likely to leave a bequest or other planned gift. You will benefit from using a database to track planned gift donors and administer estates.

Marketing: You need regular paper mailings – planned giving donors like to open envelopes. At the outset, your mailings should focus on bequests – the most common planned gift. While you can send emails, understand that they can run into firewalls and donors are much more likely to open an envelope. A number of companies provide legally vetted and up-to-date booklets that you can customize. The mailings should be at least once a year, and remember, if you skip them, the competition will sweep in, your pipeline of planned gifts withers, and you are back to the beginning. Be sure that your planned giving staff takes time to follow up on inquiries, close gifts, and keep records of communications with donors.

Stewardship: Many charities drop the ball by failing to quickly thank and steward donors who have made planned gifts. Regular annual contact is needed, even if it’s sending the latest annual report or a holiday card. Ideally, there should be a planned gift recognition society, which includes invitations to lectures, luncheons or other events. And always, the best way to cultivate donors is to visit them. A donor who has elevated your charity to the status of a family member by including your charity in his/her estate plan, needs and deserves your attention. Failure to steward such a person can lead to the loss of an estate gift by a donor who was invested in your work and organization’s future.

Administration: Finally, all of your efforts will be for naught if you don’t receive what a donor provided for you in his/her will or other planned gift. This is where it is important to have a law firm on retainer or an attorney on staff. Your planned giving professional can do the follow up with the estate, life insurance company or IRA provider, but you need a dedicated trust and estate attorney to review complex wills and trusts, estate accountings, and other legal documents. In addition, occasionally an estate is litigated, requiring outside counsel. It is a disservice to your donors if your charity does not receive the full gift they intended.

Remember, you don’t have control over how much planned giving income you receive each year. In some years there will be only small estates, and in others you may receive several $1 million-plus bequests. But if you keep your program in place, the trajectory will be upwards, and you will be helping your organization to have a more stable financial future.

That legacy, and the enduring trust of those who have put their faith in your organization, is priceless.

Pamela Bennett is the director of gift planning at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and Lori Lasson is national director, planned giving & estates, at Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. This op-ed is based on a presentation they made at Fundraising Day 2017 in New York City.