Planned Giving basics for nonprofits

| by Tom McGuire

Let's get started with a topic that we’ve found to be intimidating for many nonprofits, especially smaller agencies with limited (or no) development staff: planned giving. Most nonprofits managers instinctively understand the value of a planned giving component in their overall development program, but many fear that they simply don’t have the specialized knowledge necessary to propose the idea to a potential donor.

Our advice to these managers is: keep it simple..and get started. The Executive Director of a small agency doesn’t need to learn the legal intricacies of a charitable remainder trust, for example. What she does need to do, however, is put the basic elements in place—starting with a Planned Giving or Endowment Committee of board members with whom she can, (1) create a plan, (2) develop policies for gift acceptance, investments, recognition, and communications, and (3) begin to develop the case for a legacy investment.

All these basic steps are within the scope of experience that a good nonprofit manager should have, whether she has specialized knowledge of the various financial vehicles or not. She can also begin to identify the individuals who will be most likely to respond to a planned giving proposal; typically these will be long-term volunteers and supporters. As we illustrated in a recent email to subscribers, the nonprofit manager should also pay careful attention to her most consistent donors. In the vivid real world example we used, an agency received a seven-figure planned gift from an individual whose annual gifts had been modest---but who had made them faithfully, year after year, thereby demonstrating her interest in the agency’s long-term success.

Once these building blocks are solidly in place, it’s time to add planned giving to all the activities that make up your diversified streams of philanthropic support...annual giving, major gifts, events, grants and so forth. Remember, you don’t have to start with a complex explanation of how planned gifts can be made—the lawyer or accountant on your board committee can do that. You simply have to let your constituents know that planned giving is one more option for them to fulfill their philanthropic goals---and make a significant impact on your organization at the same time.

In future blogs we will explore more ways to enhance your organizational capacity and fulfill your mission. Let us hear from you…we would love to include your experiences or questions as part of PhilanthropyBiz.

Look for our next blog on February 2.


  1. philanthropybiz (Armstrong McGuire & Associates)'s avatar
    philanthropybiz (Armstrong McGuire & Associates)
    | Permalink
    <p>Congratulations to the Armstrong McGuire team!</p>
  2. 1d1dchicago's avatar
    | Permalink
    <p>This is great. I look forward to future posts. I am looking towards starting a non-profit, but there is so much, of which, I am unaware. This will serve as a useful tool for me during my journey.</p>
  3. Thomas Millisor's avatar
    Thomas Millisor
    | Permalink
    <p>So true. I would add that you may have someone already on your board who if not an expert, has already had a planned giving conversation with someone who is. Engaging your board in this long range planning activity spans other discussions such strategic planning, time value of money, and cultivation. </p><p> Great work Tom and Bert!</p>
  4. Meg Revelle's avatar
    Meg Revelle
    | Permalink
    <p>A great example of how simple, "baby steps" can yield positive long-term results! Your perspective is always valuable – thank you AMA!</p>

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