Nonprofit Strategies

How nonprofits can start a planned giving program

Special to The TribuneMay 15, 2013 

Barry VanderKelen

More nonprofit boards and staff are asking if they should start a planned giving program, which may attract additional resources to the organization. Here are a few things to consider:

First, start a program only if it can be sustained. Consistency over time is essential to a successful planned giving program. Marketing experts say that people need to hear a message seven times before taking action. How can you be consistent in your marketing to have the message in front of your target prospect when she’s ready to see it?

The simplest way to start a program is to promote giving through wills and living trusts. More than three-quarters of all planned gifts are made through bequests. On websites and in newsletters state, “Please consider adding us in your will or trust.” This rather passive approach will keep your message out there.

Second, manage your expectations. The average charitable bequest in the United States is between $35,000 and $70,000 ( Everyone remembers the blockbuster bequests but they are rare.

Third, nonprofits have planned giving prospect pools. Review a list of donors to your organization who have given any amount for the past five consecutive years. Have a board or staff member meet with this person in order to accomplish two things: thank the donor for her loyalty; and ask what about the organization motivates the consistent giving. At the end of the meeting, ask the donor if she’d consider continuing her support into the future by adding the organization to her estate plan.

Finally, donors who say yes are deepening their relationship with the organization. Their stories will inspire others to join them in supporting the mission of the organization. They will become the most effective marketers of the mission.

Barry VanderKelen's Nonprofit Strategies column is special to The Tribune. He is executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Community Foundation. Reach him at

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