I was recently asked the question, “What do you see as the future of planned giving?” during a development professionals’ educational session.  Because the answer would have taken much more time than allotted, I promised to give the query some thought and respond through my blog.

I’ve been in the business of raising deferred revenue since 1994, when I accepted the position of Director of Planned Gifts at the American Heart Association’s California Affiliate office in Orange County and I see both signs of change and signs that other things will stand.  While considering the question, it occurred to me that there are many ways to answer it.  I could consider an external look at tax legislation, demographic trends or movements in giving.

I chose, rather, to look internally at ourselves: At the professional of planned giving and at those of us who specialize in raising these types of gifts.  I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re a divided lot.   The veterans tend to stay the course, while the newbies are lusting for change.  In the end, I think that rather than make predictions, taking a pulse would be more worthwhile.

The Future for the Veteran

If you’ve been in planned giving for 10 years or more, you’re a veteran!  You’ve got life experience and stories to tell.  You’ve been there, done that and can go into auto-pilot easily.  You know what to say, how to say it and have mastered any possible fear of reaching out to talk about planned gift options with strangers.   Your strategic plan is set in place and you’ve been following it for years.  You know what to track, how to gather your information and to whom to report it.

To you, the future of planned gifts might look something like this:

  1. Stay the Course – you promote bequests through wills and trusts by using stories of donors, both living and deceased, offer gift annuity options to your oldest prospects through targeted mailings and with ads in your organizational newsletter and, describe the benefits of charitable remainder trusts in one or two page articles published in a specialized newsletter program.  Your marketing effort is firmly rooted in traditional blanket marketing and the responses you receive provide you steady and consistent lead generation.
  2. Educate the Masses – your role is as educator or advisor.  You are ready, willing, and able to discuss the technical components and tax-advantages of charitable gift planning through a large variety of techniques.  You direct interested inquires to your planned giving webpages that offer articles, donor stories, tax calculations and other tools by which a potential donor can learn about the techniques.
  3. Supplement Annual Revenue – deferred giving is revenue over-and-above traditional fundraising efforts such as direct mail/annual fund, special events and individual giving.  Both you and your leaders view planned gifts as supplemental income and report it “below the line”. It’s great when you receive it, but you don’t count on receiving any particular revenue level with any uniformity.
  4. Don’t Rock the Boat – you’ve been doing this for so long, you’ve stopped attending the local planned giving roundtable; you’ve heard it all and prefer to spend your time in the office reading the most recent study on the wealthy or perusing articles on the latest tax-law changes.   You’ve mentored some people new to the industry along the way and enjoy your status as a community brain trust on all-things-planned giving.  Day-in/day-out, you’ve got it under control.

The Future for Those New to Planned Giving

If you’re new to planned giving, you’re  probably a bit nervous, but mostly excited about the road ahead that you have yet to travel.  You’re open to change and welcome it enthusiastically. You see obstacles as temporary and look for the way over, through or around them.

To you, the future of planned gifts might look something like this:

  1. Changing Times – you’re looking to change things up – revive a stagnant program or reach out to a younger prospect pool.  You’re interested in learning all there is to know and have made appointments with every conceivable vendor to understand and assess the products they offer.  Your budget is tight or smaller than it was 5 or 10 years ago and you’re looking for new ways to get the word out and seek out information on new ways to market planned gifts to your organizational constituents.
  2. Educate Individually – your role is as friend, or you’re “in the circle”.  You’re comfortable with “tweets”, “likes” and “posts”.  You’re happy to respond to a request for information at the speed of light and wonder if there’s a better way to communicate than through direct mail.  Frustration might be mounting as you look to vendors to get with it and develop cost-effective and easy to implement communication products that engage rather than preach to your constituency.
  3. Sustain Annual Revenue – deferred giving has potential… big potential!  You see it as the best thing since online friend-to-friend fundraising and may be frustrated that it’s seen as a second tier revenue source.  To you, everyone is a planned gift prospect and you’re certain it’s just a matter of time (a short time) before it competes for the largest share of the budget dollars.  You’re looking for ways to better track, report and rely on these gifts to further the organizational mission.
  4. Lean In – keep your eye on the prize means taking your eye off other options.  Paperwork, reports, meetings and more meetings are consuming your day and you’re beginning to wonder if this is what’s expected.  In the back of your mind you’re sure that you’re supposed to out of the office, posting messages and engaging your loyalist constituents no matter what their age.  You see no boundaries to what you can accomplish and believe that no two days should look exacting alike.  You’re itching to prove what you can do and hoping to get the resources and maybe a little mentoring on how to do it.

Choose Your Future Path

Do you see yourself on one of these paths?  Maybe I got your experience wrong or you’ve read a little cynicism or over-optimism in my words.  Truth is, you did!  I work with over a hundred nonprofits each year to review and perhaps transform their planned giving programs, seeking to help them go from the statically routine to the vividly engaging, but the effort isn’t always successful.

While you may not agree with all of my observations, I’m okay with that.  I encourage you to put pen to paper or stylus to screen and comment where I’ve been spot-on and respond where you think I’ve missed the mark.  Truth is, the programs that will be the most successful will be somewhere in between these two extremes.   They’ll give things a chance to take root, while also assessing what’s not working and make changes.  They’ll take the best of what they do and do more of it.  They’ll continually seek out the changing face of the planned gift donor and they’ll try to meet them where they are.  Predicting what’s really going to happen in the area of planned gifts reminds me a little of a Tarot card reading.  It’s fun to ponder the cards that turn over, but ultimately, I’m the one who decides what to do next.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Katherine Swank, JD, senior consultant at Target Analytics, a Blackbaud Company, helps nonprofits apply statistical analytics and donor research to their fundraising efforts with an emphasis on planned gifts. She has raised nearly $250 million for mission funding during her nonprofit development career. Katherine is an affiliate faculty member of Regis University’s master of Global Nonprofit Management degree program, teaching courses on wealth and philanthropy.  Along with writing for publications like Advancing Philanthropy and Philanthropy Journal, she is also a frequent presenter for industry conferences such as NCPG, AFP, APRA, and bbcon. Having grown up in a tourist destination in Colorado, Katherine has become an avid world traveler and is exploring her way through the 1,000 places to see before you die, albeit slowly.  Connect with her on Twitter @KatherineSwank.

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