How to structure and staff your planned gift shop for the 21st century

staff for a planned giving department
Jim Collins, author of the best-selling book Good to Great, has three big recommendations for all organizations:

  1. Get the right people on the bus
  2. Get the right people in the right seats
  3. Get the wrong people off the bus

So what does this mean for you?
I think nonprofits tend to fail when it comes to “getting the right people in the right seats.” Too often they make people do things they don’t want to do and/or aren’t good at doing.

For instance, most Planned Gift Officers are great at helping donors employ myriad techniques to enhance their giving so everyone wins. Many are attorneys or estate planning experts who don’t enjoy cold or warm calling to set meetings with donors. Yet most nonprofits force them to perform those tasks.

I recommend aligning your staff properly with the following structure for the shop of the 21st century.
In the late 90’s, the private sector (thanks to a guy named Aaron Ross) figured out that sales teams (like fundraising teams) were set up wrong. He was responsible for the massive growth had back then thanks to his staff realignment ideas. You can learn more about them here. But below you will find how I’ve adapted them for the nonprofit sector.

The basic concept relies on having “the right people on your bus.” Then you need to optimize each person’s performance by organizing what they do according to their unique skills, interests and talents. Doing so will yield focus and specialization that deliver much better results.

This is something I’ve been telling a lot of people all around the country and world. Some very smart people (like Richard Perry at Veritus Group) are buying-in to the concept and recommending it to their clients.

The structure of the properly aligned team looks like this:
Lead Outreach Associates – These people should only concentrate on setting up calls and or meetings so the PG Officer (technician) can spend most or all of their time helping donors, prospective PG donors, volunteers, staff, and others. Let’s face it, many PG Officers that dislike outbound calling and emailing shouldn’t be doing those tasks. Instead, why not break that part of their job off to let passionate, tenacious Lead Outreach Associates call the leads (and even make cold-calls to people too!). Lead Outreach Associates should become experts at engaging with donors relevantly and contextually at the right times.

Skills – Amiable and friendly people-person who is happy to do what skilled PG officers might be less interested in doing such as:

  • Call, email, and connect on social media, etc.
  • Provide value
  • Build rapport and trust
  • Collect information
  • Further qualify the leads
  • Set meetings and appointments with the Planned Gift Officer

Stewardship Associates – The biggest planned gift gains can happen fastest if Stewardship Associates provide Legacy Society members and (major donors) with first-class, red velvet rope, priority service … stewardship! This is especially important for the wealthiest people in the group because, when it comes to planned gifts, at least 80% of the dollars of any PG program will usually come from less than 20% of the PG donors. Therefore, Stewardship Associates should work a strategic “customer service” plan aligning their limited efforts with the best opportunities. Remember, these gifts have not been realized yet and donors can change their minds at any time. Strategically placing service-minded staff here will ensure that gifts that have been disclosed and/or closed already will not be removed. Also, Stewardship Associates should always be on the lookout for new opportunities since the best place to get more planned gifts is from current Legacy Society Members. Like the Lead Outreach Associates, they should become experts at engaging with donors contextually, relevantly and at the right times.

Skills – Also amiable and friendly.

  • Enhance the Legacy Society experience for the donors
  • Generates leads for “upsells” (second and third legacy gift opportunities)
  • Ensure that planned gifts become realized gifts
  • Call, email, and connect on social media, etc.
  • Provide value
  • Build rapport and trust
  • Collect information
  • Attend to needs
  • Deliver service
  • Set meetings and appointments with the Planned Gift Officer

Planned Gift Officers/Technicians – The Lead Outreach Associates and Stewardship Associates are there to serve the donors and “tee-up” opportunities for the technical experts— the Planned Gift Officers. These people are usually amazing at taking opportunities (appointments set up by the Lead Outreach Associates and Stewardship Associates) and turning them into big bucks. Therefore, it’s essential that they do what they are good at doing and they are not forced to do what the Lead Outreach Associates and Stewardship Associates can do much better. They should be booked! Their calendars should be filled (by the efforts of the Lead Outreach Associates and Stewardship Associates) with calls and face-to-face meetings every day from morning to night.

Skills – Exceptionally skilled at helping donors make gifts (especially big gifts)

  • Work with each donor or their attorney or estate planner
  • Handle technical details

Bottom line: Nonprofits should never try to combine and mash-up these roles. Doing so gets people doing too many things they’re not good at. Putting people into “specializations” is the key to exponential gains and tremendous effectiveness. It’s been proven effective in the private sector and I’m convinced it will work in the nonprofit sector too.

What do you think? Do you agree with my concept? Think it will work?


Related Posts:

>>Has your organization put you in a position to succeed?
>>How to break the most vicious cycle that hamstrings your organization’s growth

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Mike Cowart
6 years ago

I like your recommendations. We (Thompson & Associates) are continually amazed at the number of planned gifts coming from “strategic donors”, who are best described in The Millionaire Next Door. They have given small gifts for +5 years and have always been asked for gifts from discretionary income instead of asking for gifts from discretionary income and net worth. We know planned gifts increase annual giving.
33% of our clients’ planned gifts are first time gifts!
Currently, 102 nonprofits are raising $2-$5 million per year in new planned gifts with an average ROI of $75:$1. I’ve recently completed our review and recommendation process for five couples/individuals for one of our clients.
Results: $4.6 million to charity and $1 million in tax elimination.

Sharon Wangman
Sharon Wangman
6 years ago

My motto is “Connecting with donors is a joy and very rewarding experience”. I think some planned giving officers think it is more of a task/challenge. If you dont connect with the donor, then you will struggle to obtain the future gift. Build rapport and trust and the gift will come. I also agree stewardship society are a must. I host 2 functions (one afternoon tea, one sit down lunch) a year and they are always very well received by the donors.

Rod Riggins
Rod Riggins
4 years ago

Greg – you are completely correct! As someone who was in wealth management sales for 25 years, then in development for a CF, I understand and applaud your concepts. There are a few exceptions, i.e., technical gift planners who enjoy and are good at prospecting and developing relationships, but even their time is spent more productively by working directly on structuring gifts. Of course smaller organizations may have to outsource some or all of the tasks that you discuss, and smaller nonprofits can still benefit tremendously from discussing planned giving with donors!


[…] How to Structure and Staff Your Planned Gift Shop for the 21st Century […]

Katherine McKay
2 years ago

I like this breakdown but you have missed a critical element of a planned giving office – who does all the paperwork, the marketing, etc.? Between estate administration, managing loyal society mailings, working with vendors to create dynamic marketing, office management, etc., I believe there is a case for top-notch office manager & estate administrator staff. Far too often, small shops rely on planned giving fundraisers to do this work which means far less time raising dollars.

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