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A Year or Longer… How Gift Planning ROI Takes the Long Road

by Andy Ragone

When starting a planned giving program for any organization, the timeline to attract donors can take a while. Building Donor Momentum can take a year or longer before seeing any notable interest.


“That’s it,” you think. “We're done here.”


After having literally thousands of conversations with organizations aiming to run their gift planning programs, I have repeatedly seen many start their planned giving efforts with great enthusiasm, only to stop six months into it due to a lack of both bandwidth and patience. Metrics run differently with planned giving than with any other area of fundraising. However, helpful indicators of creating Donor Momentum appear along the way. These indicators of interest will materialize once donors see the intentionality of an organization's pursuit of a planned giving program.


The secret? Keep at it... consistently.


The ROI? Significant if not transformative. It’s not uncommon for an organization’s gift planning program to be responsible for 40-60% for annual donation revenue over time.


It takes time to build. What kind of time frame is realistic to produce any ROI?


I thought it might be helpful to provide you with a realistic time frame to help set expectations for those in leadership. What initial work should you expect to do when aiming to gain momentum with your donors?


  1. First 3 Months - Develop Infrastructure:

    • Set up the necessary structure for your planned giving program. Who is spearheading the effort? Do you have a gift acceptance policy in place yet?

    • Do you have leadership buy-in from key board members? Because gift planning has a lengthy onboarding process, your leadership team must be agreeable to the initial investment time without immediate ROI.

    • Create marketing materials, update your website, and establish tracking systems.

    • Ensure your organization can handle planned gifts, considering the legal and financial nature of non-cash asset giving. What additional education does your gift planning officer need to secure complex gifts? If not internally, have a plan to outsource certain areas of your program to competent vendors who can seamlessly fill in the gaps.

2. Months 4-6 - Market Campaigns to Build Awareness:

  • Focus on making people aware of your planned giving program.

  • Educate your staff, board members, and key stakeholders about the benefits of planned giving.

  • Start including messages about planned giving in your usual communication channels. We recommend between 25 and 30 touchpoints per year. Seriously!

  • After identifying and engaging your target audience for a few months, run a survey.

  • Reach out to professional advisors in your community who are interested in your mission and willing to help.

3. Months 7-9 - Train and Engage:


  • Train your staff, board, and priority volunteers to talk about the advantages of planned giving. Consider creating a small ad hoc gift planning committee to call on when a complex gift situation happens.

  • Engage with current donors through targeted campaigns, events, and personal outreach.

  • Host estate planning seminars or other giving vehicle sessions or webinars to educate donors about planned giving options.

4. Months 10-12 - Cultivate Relationships - Practice Donor CPR:

  • Concentrate on building relationships with potential donors interested in planned giving.

  • Communicate personally, arrange one-on-one meetings, and build KLT (Know, Like, Trust).

  • Identify individuals likely to make a planned gift and customize your approach and proposal.

5. Ongoing - Track Progress - Stay Consistent:

  • Continuously monitor your progress throughout the entire process.

  • Keep an eye on how people respond to your communications, track engagement, and evaluate the success of your outreach. Always be marketing!

  • Be ready to adjust your approach based on the feedback and data you collect.


It's important to note that this timeline is a general guide, and the actual duration may depend on your organization's specific circumstances, donor base size, and available resources. Gaining trust and credibility in planned giving takes time, as donors often need careful consideration for significant contributions. Patience, persistence, and a well-executed strategy are crucial for attracting donors to a new planned giving program.




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