How to talk to donors about planned giving (and win them over!)

March 22, 2019 - 9 minutes read


Martha (a Major Donor): Hello?

You (a Non Profit Fundraising Professional): Hello Martha, how are you? How are the kids?

Martha: Good Jon, we are all doing great.

You: Happy to hear that. So, Martha, at our organisation, we have just launched a planned giving program. All you have to do is make a simple bequest to us and get excellent tax benefits. Can we talk about how to get you in?

Martha: Not right now Jon, maybe a bit later?

And then you don’t hear from Martha. Ever.

Sounds familiar? Then my friend, this article on how to talk to donors about planned giving is for you.

Requesting donors to come on board with your planned giving program is a major ask. It is tricky, takes time and is never easy. In fact, more often than not, it ends in a “No”. This article will help you there. You can learn how to talk to donors about planned giving and pick up a few tips that will increase your chances of winning those donors for your planned giving program.

STEP 1. Target the right donors

Before you reach out to your constituents, take a minute to check your list again. The right donor to approach about planned giving is someone who is:

  • Extremely invested in your cause (they should care, a lot!)
  • Interested in doing something special (and thus want to make a difference)
  • Capable of making a planned/large contribution (fiscally speaking)
  • At the right age to have already thought about it (even if it is for tax benefits)

So, let me ask you this. In the above scenario, was Martha really the best person to talk to about planned giving?

Nope. She wasn’t. Even though she was invested in your cause (as a major donor), it is very rare that a major donor also becomes a planned giver. Usually, once they have made a significant contribution, a major donor needs a lot more engagement and stewardship before another major ask. So, you would much rather focus your attention on other possibilities.

Pro tipTarget Annual Donors for planned giving. They invest in your cause every year and are interested enough to keep coming back. So, they are far more likely to consider a planned gift.

More importantly, Martha also doesn’t fit the profile of a donor interested in planned gifting. You see, according to statistics, constituents without children (or with children over a particular age), are much more likely to consider planned gifting. So, get your donor profile right and target the most likely prospect to approach with your pitch.

STEP 2. Build up to the Ask

Do you ask a girl to meet your parents on the first date? (That’s rhetorical. Please don’t say yes). So, why would you spring a planned giving pitch at prospect, right at the first interaction?

Ideally, once you have identified the right donor, you build up to the ask like this:

  • Publish a landing page on your website that is solely dedicated to planned giving
  • Add donor stories in Newsletters to highlight how their planned gift is helping the cause
  • Facilitate face to face meeting of prospects with planned gift donors at fundraising events
  • Reach out via phone call to ask for feedback/survey to subtly get a sense of their thoughts on planned giving
  • Set up personal meetings with the head of the organization to drive home the importance of your cause

Now, let us look again at how Martha was approached. The biggest problem with the interaction was this: It was news to her that her favorite non profit has a planned giving program.

If you had followed the above engagement outline, Martha would already know about the planned giving program. In fact, she would have met a few planned gift donors at your charity events and would be inspired to do the same (never underestimate peer-influence!).

Pro tip: If you want to encourage more major-ask prospects (like Martha) to come to your charity events, include SMS engagement to your existing donor stewardship workflow.

In fact, Martha would not be pitched the proposal over phone at all. You should have asked her over to your office or maybe a coffee shop, subtly tested the waters (to see how receptive she is), and then made the ask.

STEP 3. Appeal to their emotion

Don’t talk about tax benefits. 97% of people who make charitable bequests do so because they believe in the cause and want to make a difference. So take the emotional quotient into consideration and focus on their altruism. Here is how a conversation can go:

  • Thank them for their contribution thus far
  • Tell them how much you have achieved with their help
  • Outline the challenges ahead and tell them what you need
  • Make the transition – ask them if they would like to support the cause further.

Clearly, none of the above was used on Martha. She was blindsided with a pitch, that did not resonate with her, despite her being reasonably involved with your cause.

Pro tip: Find out why they are so involved in your cause. Knowing the ‘why’ will help you understand if the prospects are ready for a planned giving program.

During the ask, it was also not made clear why your organization needs the donation. “What has changed with your goals for you to approach Martha now?” “How will her contribution help?” “Why not another major donation, but a planned gift?” answering these questions will reiterate the impact her planned gift will have on a cause she cares for – a major win for you!

STEP 4. Show recognition

Once a bequest is made, the donors rarely (if ever) actually change it. That does not mean that you forget about those donors, or worse, not  recognize their contribution. Here are a few things you can do:

  • Name a cause/program after them
  • Make them a part of the legacy society
  • Host exclusive events to thank them publicly
  • Include their contribution in your newsletters

Such visible gestures also have the added advantage of inspiring other prospects to join the league. If Martha had known that she was approached to join an elite club of donors, she would not have declined the offer so hastily.

Pro tip: Send out hand-written/personalized cards to your planned giving donors on days that are important to them (eg. Anniversary or birthday). Show them you care and remember them.

Ultimately, getting a donor to commit for a planned gift, boils down to communication. Use it to build relationships, to get your prospects to believe in your cause and to inspire them to take a more active role.

Your Turn

So go back and take a look at how you approach and talk to your prospects. What has worked for you? What can you do to tweak it to add the above steps? Drop me a note and let me know!