Planned giving is one of the most lucrative but most overlooked forms of nonprofit funding. Also called “legacy giving”, planned giving occurs when a donor makes a formal commitment to give to a nonprofit far into the future. Most often, the specifics of the gift are outlined in the donor’s will, allowing the organization to receive it after the donor has passed away.

Many nonprofits take a passive approach with planned gifts, treating them as simply nice surprises. But since planned gifts are some of the largest individual donations your organization will receive, it’s worthwhile to actively pursue them.

A data-driven strategy will help you find and reach out to the best candidates for planned giving, and your nonprofit’s constituent relationship management (CRM) software is a critical tool to develop this strategy.

In this post, we’ll walk through how to use your donor data to:

  • Conduct prospect research
  • Create targeted communications
  • Adjust your approach over time

Creating a planned giving program will help bring in more of these essential contributions, which can also improve your organization’s future financial security.

Conduct Prospect Research

Conducting prospect research for planned giving involves a similar process to prospect research for other major gifts. Your team will analyze the wealth and philanthropic data your nonprofit has collected to find indicators that a supporter may be able and willing to make a planned gift.

The difference is in the indicators you’ll be looking for—remember that a planned donor is committing to give many years from now, rather than making a major contribution in the near future.

Let’s look at some wealth and affinity indicators for planned giving prospects in more detail.

Wealth Indicators

Wealth indicators show that a supporter would have the capacity to make a large donation like a planned gift to your organization. Some data points to examine include a donor’s:

  • Net income
  • Stock ownership
  • Real estate holdings
  • Business connections
  • Past donation amounts to your nonprofit or other similar organizations

This last indicator is especially important for planned gifts. You probably have some donors who are passionate about your mission and would like to make major contributions but don’t have the financial flexibility to do so in their lifetime. It may be easier for them to give mid-sized donations now and arrange to make one major gift after they’ve passed away. So, don’t overlook mid-level donors as planned giving prospects!

To make the analysis run more smoothly, you’ll likely want to clean your CRM data before beginning the process. Removing lapsed donor information and ensuring that no data is duplicated will make your results more accurate, so you’ll know exactly which supporters have the capacity for planned giving.

Affinity Indicators

Once you know that a donor is able to make a planned gift, you’ll need to determine whether they would want to do so. “Affinity indicators” are data points that suggest a donor has an interest in supporting your cause.

A supporter’s past donation amounts indicate not only a capacity to contribute, but also an interest in your mission specifically.

Other affinity indicators for planned giving prospects include:

  • Frequency and recency of contributions
  • Additional involvement with your nonprofit, such as attending events or volunteering
  • Personal or professional connections to other donors in your database

One other indicator that’s specific to planned giving is a prospect’s age. In addition to having a longer philanthropic history, older supporters are more likely to have a will in place already or consider creating one, making it easier for them to arrange a planned gift.

Some of these data points will be easy to find in your CRM, while others will require more digging. CharityEngine’s guide to nonprofit CRM solutions suggests integrating your software with a prospect research database to help you easily identify your donors’ past philanthropic contributions, allowing you to discover more prospective planned giving candidates.

Create Targeted Communications

After you’ve identified prospective planned donors, start marketing your planned giving program. Because your supporters might not be aware that the program exists, it’s helpful to start with broader marketing appeals so that prospects are less likely to be blindsided when you reach out to them individually. For instance, you could:

  • Create a page on your organization’s website dedicated to planned gifts
  • Include a legacy giving section in your monthly email newsletter
  • Coordinate a series of planned giving posts for each of your nonprofit’s social media accounts

Once you’ve spread awareness of your program, personalized outreach is key to getting supporters to arrange planned gifts. To communicate with each prospect in a way they’ll be receptive to, segment prospective donors based on shared characteristics and tailor your messages to each group.

First, group donors by their preferred communication method. Some prospects might respond well to direct mail, some might answer a phone call, and others would like to receive an email invite to a meeting with someone from your planned gifts team. Knowing which donors prefer which communication methods will help you reach out to them in a more streamlined manner.

Most planned gifts require that your nonprofit use the funding for a program or initiative specified by the donor. Further segmenting donors by interests and values will help you make more concrete suggestions about where they could direct their contributions. For example, if an environmental nonprofit discovered that a planned donor was interested in education, the nonprofit could suggest designating a gift for their outreach program to teach elementary students about recycling.

Once you segment prospects, create a donor persona for each segment that will serve as a reference for communicating with those prospects. It can be challenging to market to a large group, so creating a persona allows you to focus your outreach by considering the preferences and motivations of one specific, hypothetical member of that group.

Adjust Your Approach Over Time

Acquiring planned gifts is a long process that often requires your team to have a relationship with donors for multiple decades. Your team will likely need to hold several meetings with each prospect and send many follow-up communications before they make a commitment to donate. Plus, planned giving commitments aren’t legally binding, so having a strong donor stewardship strategy is even more critical with planned donors to ensure they still want to give to your nonprofit for years to come.

As you promote your planned giving program, track engagement rates from each of your marketing channels. Then, use this information to prioritize the methods that get the most interactions. If more supporters like and comment on your Facebook posts about planned giving than on your tweets, consider creating more program-specific content for Facebook and less for Twitter to streamline your efforts.

In addition, make sure you’re continuously updating your individual donor profiles in your CRM based on new information you learn. You can then show you care about your donors as individuals by remembering the personal details they shared. For example, if a donor mentions in your first meeting that they enjoy reading, make note of this interest and ask them if they’ve read any good books recently the next time you talk to them.

Reaching out to prospective and committed planned donors regularly is important to keep them updated on your organization’s initiatives as well. As you learn more about each donor, send them not only your nonprofit’s annual report, but also specific impact reports about initiatives they’re likely to care about. If they see that you’re making consistent progress toward goals, they can be confident that their future donations will help your nonprofit continue to make an impact.

Your donor data is useful throughout the planned giving process, from finding potential donors to segmenting prospects to communicating after gifts have been arranged. With the right tools and a dedicated plan, your organization will be able to make the most of this essential funding opportunity.

If you have any tips on how to leverage planned giving, we’d love to hear them in the comments below!

About the Author

Dave Martin is the VP of Marketing for CharityEngine. He is a digital marketing expert with a unique combination of nonprofit and for-profit experience. Earlier in his career, Dave worked in global telecommunications marketing, product management, and product development both in the United States and Europe. Dave has a BA from the University at Buffalo, an MIA from Columbia University, and an MA from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Leuven, Belgium.