Planned Giving Prospecting

There’s a planned giving prospect convention we’ve all heard: your planned giving prospects are people who give loyally to your organization every year. They may not give much, but they always give. Eeeeevery year. And it makes sense that it’s not much, right? Planned giving prospects were fiscally conservative and responsible in their lifetimes so they’ve built up a pile of resources to benevolently pass on. We can probably all find examples in our database to support it.

But is it true? Like, “statistically meaningful” true?

The head of our planned giving program recently told me that, anecdotally, he’s been feeling like this conventional wisdom isn’t really spot on. He’ll call upon a loyal donor to talk about how they can make their yearly contribution last forever through their estate. More often than not, they think he’s crazy – the pitch doesn’t resonate. If not loyal donors, then who? Infrequent donors? Non-donors? Well, we can find anectodal evidence for that too. You’ve read those stories… Remember the one about the $125 million gift to LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco? They’d never even had contact with the donor, let alone a consistent giving history when $125 million drops from the heavens. (

My organization is really interested in planned giving this fiscal year. We’ve been making preparations for over two years to ramp up our program. We’ve put quite a bit of work and resources into it and gotten some good results. But, the thirst for more refined prospecting and identifying the lowest hanging fruit continues. I’ve started some research on what everyone else in our wonderful field is doing and am seeing a ton of diversity…

Blue Avocado says that most legacy gifts don’t come from major gift donors: I think my database doesn’t really reflect “the norm” then… then again, we only tend to ask major gift donors for legacy gifts… They are the people we have relationships with. And you don’t ask for a legacy gift without a relationship in place. (“Nice to meet you; let’s talk about your imminent demise.”) Maybe the real data point is that most legacy gifts are asked for? I think we can all agree that most legacy gifts are not $125 million that come from the blue (though, really, it doesn’t need to be “most” when it’s like that – just one of those would be great). But, clearly, it’s time for me to get a handle on my own data…

So, here’s what we’ve done so far in our efforts to increase our planned giving program:

  • We’ve evaluated planned gifts that we knew about but had never “counted”. We only began “counting” bequest commitments toward our giving totals in the last few years. But prior to the counting, we’d had quite a few people commit a gift to UW in their estate… We had copies of wills, signed letters or endowment agreements describing future allocations, contact reports describing verbal commitments, proposals in our database that were relics of previous data-entry policies… And we pulled them all together and had them prioritized and assigned to a development officer to follow up. As a result, in less than a year we’ve had two gifts close for a total of $550,000 in “new” commitments.
  • We’ve paid for data modeling scores from a vendor with planned giving models. The first time we did this was 2011. We liked it so much we did it again in 2016 to get refreshed scores. We use this data in everything related to our prospects. It is the core of our prospecting.
  • Two years ago our awesome call center students began calling people with high planned giving modeling scores to ask them if they wanted to learn more about planned giving. The program has refined in a few calling sessions and has identified hundreds of prospects who want to learn more and resulted in several documented gift commitments.
  • We evaluated and upped our fundraisers’ metrics for planned giving. All of our fundraisers have a responsibility to submit and close planned giving proposals each fiscal year. We realized that our submitted-to-close goal ratio was much tighter than our actual output. We upped the ratio of planned gifts submitted to closed from 2:1 to 3:1. Now that fundraisers have a more realistic goal for submitting proposals, we’ve found that more of them are meeting and exceeding their goal of planned gifts closed.
  • We will be launching a thoughtfully-marketed initiative for planned giving with our athletics program supporters. Our athletics fundraisers haven’t previously spent much time in planned giving, so we have an untapped segment of our donor pool to explore.

But we’re not done yet! So what’s next??

First, I’m going to start glossing over the research that’s out there, panic at how diverse and sometimes even contradictory it is, and then write a blog to see if anyone else out there in CPRA-land is doing this too. Check.

Next, I’m going to look at our documented and realized planned gifts and start looking for data trends. Unfortunately, our sample size of planned gifts is not statistically significant; however, I used to be an archaeologist so insignificant sample sizes just feel like a pair of old familiar jeans (sorry, data analysts). While we won’t be making any recommendations for change based off this data, I still think there’s a lot of potential for valuable insight.

Once I have a better feeling of our own data and where our victories have come from before, I’ll be diving back into the research. As researchers, we all know that’s the way to go to start turning questions into insights.

Is anyone out in CPRA-land also doing this? (I really, really want to know!!!!) Have a story to share? Want to feature your amazing organization? Contact Colleen to blog about it (or if you just want to muse with me):

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