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Are you scared to bring up planned giving with donors? Instead of putting it off for now (or forever), get started talking to donors about estate gifts.

Across all sectors and organizations within nonprofit fundraising, the feeling of hesitancy to talk about planned giving is deeply woven into the mindset of fundraising professionals.

These feelings are symptoms that point toward the greater underlying cause of this phenomenon: fundraisers don’t feel like they understand planned giving.

If I were given the task of helping someone decide which brake pads they should install on their car, I would be able to share a few rehearsed facts and sentences to coax them in a certain direction. As soon as I entered a conversation with a person who understood cars and wanted to go deeper, though, my confidence would wane and I would feel exposed.

The same can be said of how fundraisers feel when tasked with talking about planned giving. All too often, fundraisers think that a well-written script or a few good talking points about planned giving are the golden ticket to overcoming their trepidation. They rehearse conversational techniques and language that sounds incredible during a role play! But when it comes time to apply those techniques in conversations with donors, they feel uneasy or never get around to mentioning planned giving at all.

Organizations host countless planned giving trainings that inundate fundraisers with information on how to talk about planned giving with donors, but fundraisers almost always walk away feeling just as uneasy about the potential complexities that can be associated with planned giving.

If this describes you, you are not alone!

If you want to get more comfortable with talking to your donors about planned giving, start by being honest about where you find yourself today.

You have come to the right place, and the solution is much simpler than you think.

Adopt a “Fiduciary” Mindset

The first and single most effective thing you can do to readjust your attitude toward planned giving is to examine and reframe your mindset. How do you view yourself and your role in a conversation with a donor? Be honest. Do you feel like a pest, a salesperson, or an inconvenience?

If so, you need to realize that your role as a charitable advisor is not only important, it is also beneficial to donors who are passionate about charitable causes and want to make a difference.

You are uniquely positioned to help the donor make decisions that are in their best interests. Often, you may be the only one at the table who safeguards the donor’s charitable passions and interests.

Let me explain what I mean by “fiduciary.” A fiduciary is a person or organization that is legally and ethically obligated to put their client’s interests ahead of their own. They are required to act and make recommendations that are in the client’s best interests.

Financial advisors are legally required to uphold this fiduciary duty and I would argue that the same is true of your responsibility as a fundraiser. Your donors have placed their trust in you to help guide them and suggest ways that they can most effectively give to causes they care about.

As a charitable fiduciary, you are required to look out for the best interests of your donors, always.

For example, if you know that your donor does not have enough cash to pay their living expenses this month, then your request for a $10,000 cash gift is not in their best interests.

Along the same lines, if your donor is about to make a $20,000 cash gift and you know they could save more in taxes by giving appreciated stock from their investment account, but you decide not to mention it, you are letting your own discomfort keep you from sharing information that might greatly benefit your donor.

It is your responsibility as a fundraiser to help your donors decide what they are passionate about and where to give most effectively. But your role doesn’t stop there. As a charitable fiduciary, you are also called to help donors navigate HOW to give most effectively.

Your duty is to help them best plan each gift—i.e., “planned giving.”

Master the Basics (. . . and Maybe Even Stop There)

After you adjust your mindset, turn your attention to learning the planned giving basics:

  1. Estate Gifts
  2. Gifts of Public Stock

Estate gifts make up 90% of all planned gifts and gifts of public stock are the second most common, so by mastering these two topics, you will likely be equipped to handle almost all planned giving opportunities that cross your path.

To sweeten the pot, these two topics are also the simplest to understand and execute.

When it comes to learning about planned giving strategies, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Before you even consider learning about the difference between a charitable remainder annuity trust and a unitrust, make sure you know what options a donor has to leave your organization in his or her estate. It may not ever be worth your time and effort to learn the difference between an annuity trust and a unitrust. You can bring in an outside planned giving professional to assist in those infrequent conversations.

Skip rehearsing the eloquent planned giving language that you may, or may never, use in a donor meeting, and put yourself in the donor’s shoes first.

  • If you were asked to include an organization in your estate, how would you do this? What are all the options you would have? What information would you need from the organization?
  • If you were asked to give appreciated stock, how would you do this? Which stocks should you consider giving and why? How could you benefit from giving stock?

In Summary

When you see yourself as a charitable fiduciary—one entrusted with safeguarding and honoring the interests of donors—your dread about planned giving can change to feelings of excitement and importance. Though you may not be an expert yet, you can share the different ways donors can make a gift that benefits them as well as your organization.

In addition, when you familiarize yourself with how these two strategies work—what it looks like for a donor to make an estate or stock gift—you will be surprised by how much more easily the language flows from you in donor meetings.

What an honor it is to be entrusted with the role of fundraising—one in which lives can be transformed by your direct efforts to promote wise and intentional giving.

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