Identifying Planned Giving Prospects is No Mystery | npENGAGE

Identifying Planned Giving Prospects is No Mystery

By on Jul 20, 2012


Year-End Giving

The identification of planned giving prospects has long been thought of as a top-secret recipe, consisting of exact proportions of age, specific gift levels and wealth.  But the real strategy is actually more simple and it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out the answer.

Inclusion versus exclusion is key.  We’ve been taught to think of planned gift donors as those very few people at the top of the Donor Pyramid who are by chance or fortune the wealthy few.  Usually one of two images comes to mind when we think of these legacy givers.  Carnegie, Rockefeller and Gates may take on the persona of the Monopoly Board mascot with his top hat and tails, diamonds and jeweled cane.  At the other end of the spectrum we remember the unassuming laundress and tireless janitor who saved every extra penny, perhaps investing early in AT&T or Apple and reaping more than they imagined.    The truth though is in between and we can recognize the more common planned giver if we only look in the mirror.

More often than not, people who choose to make their largest gift at the end of life – the planned gift donor – is us.  Living comfortably somewhere in the middle are our prospects for planned gifts.  How have we overlooked ourselves, our neighbors, our loyal donor-base and organizational leaders, our volunteers and insiders, our alumni and faculty, our grateful patients and event attendees, our committed parents and grandparents, those funded by our direct assistance grants as well as bio-medical research grants, our development and programmatic colleagues, our community leaders and neighbors? And, that’s the short list!

Don’t let this inclusive inventory let you feel overwhelmed.  Indeed it could, but it shouldn’t.  Instead it should encourage and inspire you.   Similarly, it should alert you to the true fact that we have been overlooking all these prospects!  Finally, it should convince you to do something new – talk about legacy giving to everyone!  That’s right everyone.

I was asked to write a blog on identifying planned gift donors – but instead chose to write about communicating about planned gifts. Instead of looking once again to highlight a million dollar future gift in your next newsletter to a handful of other wealthy people, write a short story – maybe a two-line story – about a normal person, an average person, about you or about me.  Visit the Leave A Legacy website to get a first-hand idea of how easy it is to share a planned giving donor story. They have a handful of terrific examples at   In fact, the stories highlighted there can be reproduced by any organization and they follow my simple rules:

  • Describe the results of the planned gift and not the technical or financial benefits
  • Use a modest gift level story
  • Show a picture of the donor surrounded by mission elements to make the message more impactful
  • Use two or three lines to tell the story – no more!
  • Invite readers to request additional information
  • Publish your donor story in every organizational publication possible and use your other development vehicles such as a gift acknowledgement letter inserts as well

With the average planned gift in the U.S. hovering around $50,000 and $30,000 in Canada, the likelihood of attracting the “common” planned giver is high.  Concentrate your time and effort here.  Make your own planned gifts – at any level that is right for you – tell your own story to others and ask them to consider joining you in becoming a planned gift donor in your community.  That’s all it takes.  The secret is out and it’s a recipe that’s easy to follow.

*Katherine Swank is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at

Katherine has over 30 years of experience in the fundraising industry as a consultant, development officer and advancement team manager. As a member of Blackbaud’s analytics consulting team for over a decade, she facilitates strategic, client-facing content for Blackbaud’s custom modeling, wealth screening, and prospect research solutions to enhance clients’ development efforts with data-driven strategies.  Before assuming this role, she served as the national director of gift planning at
the National Multiple Sclerosis Society home office. Katherine has raised over $200 million during her career. She is a past president of the Colorado Planned Giving Roundtable, a former lawyer and also served as an affiliation faculty member at Regis University where she taught development-related courses at the master’s level for more than 10 years. She is a frequent speaker at BBCON, NACGP, Apra, AFP and other industry conferences.

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