Why Bother Finding Hidden Planned Gifts?

Planned gift disclosures are the beginning, not the end

Recently someone told me that their organization’s leadership placed a very high value on finding hidden planned gifts.  All of their marketing encouraged planned giving donors to come forward.

I’ve heard that before (of course) but this time a simple yet powerful word jumped out of my mouth before I could stop it.

“Why?” I asked.

A bit stunned by my curiosity, he paused for a brief moment and replied, “So we can thank them and include them in our Legacy Society.”

“Fair enough,” I thought.  That’s what I expected to hear.  But then it happened again and I asked, “why?” once more.

This time the conversation took a sudden strange turn.  He answered by saying, “Well we have to reach our goal.  We have to find a certain number of hidden gifts.”

“That’s it?” I replied.

And he said, “Yes.”

So, according to him, the only reasons his organization wants to unearth hidden gifts are:

  1. To thank the donor(s)
  2. To include the donor(s) in the Legacy Society
  3. To reach the organization’s yearly goal

I think there should be more to it.  I think the correct answer to my second question “why?” should be,  “so you can build a relationship with the donor and assure them that their gift will be used to support the mission they care about so dearly.”

Planned giving donors don’t want a robotic thank you message and membership in your Legacy Society.  And they certainly don’t want to be a notch on your scorecard.  They want a relationship with your organization and assurance that their gift will make a difference.  Research shows that, if you build a relationship, develop trust, and assure donors that their gifts will be spent wisely, they will increase the size of their gifts tremendously before they pass on.

Does your organization’s leadership agree?  Do they see the gift disclosures you unearth as the beginning or the end?  If your leadership doesn’t understand that this is the beginning and they just want to reach a “goal” for some report, then they’re missing out on the true power of planned gift marketing.

Most smart businesses target their current customers for repeat purchases.  Nonprofits should do the same.  Planned gift donors are ripe for engagement.  The size of their bequest can grow.  And, you can make that happen.

Plus, planned gift donors make fantastic major donations.  So think of the disclosure as the beginning, not the end.


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Lorri Greif
10 years ago

You are so right, Greg! Your best planned gift prospect is someone who’s made one already. And people who make planned gifts often increase their donations and volunteering during their lives.
So knowing the deed is done is important for ongoing stewardship. It’s all three of the reasons listed in your post, but ultimately it’s growing the relationship.
It’s also good marketing to let other prospects know that people are making these types gifts. You can also urge donors to make testimonials. And since it’s often easy to change estate plans, you want to be sure these supporters know you think they’re special.

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