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Eight Secrets to Know When Marketing for Planned Gifts

by Andy Ragone, CGPP


It's true... 


Donors contribute because they support your mission and are confident in your organization's ability to be the "hands and feet" that carry out their values and beliefs. This holds for donors who engage in gift planning as well. Like traditional cash donors, those who donate non-cash assets are driven by their desire to see your organization thrive.


For these prospects, however, there's another important factor to consider. Donors contemplating giving from non-cash appreciated assets, such as real estate, business interests, stock, retirement plans, etc., are also motivated to reduce their tax burdens. Donors want control of their assets and are reluctant to watch the government seize such a huge share of what has taken a lifetime to earn. 


When state and federal income tax rates exceed the 40% mark (potentially reaching upwards of 48%) and capital gains rates go beyond 28% (potentially rising to 35%), donors with substantial income or greatly appreciated asset wealth, including real property, are looking for serious tax relief. Fortunately, philanthropy in the United States can greatly reduce a donor's tax burden.


Few organizations pursue complex planned gifts as a fundraising strategy

Those organizations that are "open for business" in the gift planning space have a sizable advantage compared to those not pursuing complex gifts. If you are familiar with Dr. Russell James's research, then you have likely heard him explain the problem of going only after cash gifts. According to his research, your organization's five-year total donation growth will hover around 11% if you pursue only cash gifts. If you secure non-cash gifts, including real estate, business interests, retirement plans, and appreciated property, your five-year total donation trajectory is closer to 70% growth.*


Most of your gift-planning prospects already have an affinity towards you and your organization. They like your organization and what it stands for! Your donors may have SEVERAL organizations they like and support. However, many of their favorite organizations do not have the resources to educate or secure complex planned gifts. Consequently, their marketing messaging will not encourage these types of giving strategies. Furthermore, development officers may not feel confident in such a legally involved space, so these types of giving solutions remain buried. If you can pursue complex giving opportunities for your organization, then an essential first step is to let your people know what is possible. Yes… Marketing for planned gifts is a vital first step! 


An important side note: Developing a successful gift-planning program takes time (plan on five years or so) and requires routine attention in several areas. It begins with leadership "buy-in". Your leadership has to see value in its investment for developing a program. That said, "buy in" is only the beginning of your program's journey. Competency to secure gifts and how to generate interest are two other main areas to develop. If you still need to become familiar with the National Standards for Gift Planning Success by the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, please click here to learn more about them.


Who are we targeting?



A strong portfolio of gift-planning prospects takes time to build. As mentioned earlier, we know your primary prospects already have an affinity towards your organization. They already Know, Like, and Trust you and your cause. They have likely donated in small or large amounts over a longer period. They may have significant disposable income, or they may have very little income yet are property rich. Without your marketing efforts, you don't know their interest in learning more about giving from their asset wealth or maximizing their tax savings. A good marketing strategy will help you learn who these donors are.


As a place to start, I recommend marketing to a target audience primarily of retired people. Why? In most cases, retired individuals are actively living off of their estate wealth. They have spent their entire lives building into this estate and now have enough to work with. Furthermore, many have chosen to retire because they can live off a fixed percentage of income without the fear of running out before their life's end. Saving taxes is vital for retired people. Living off of a fixed income with an increasing tax burden can be seen as a threat to one's lifestyle, no matter how modest or extravagant, and be a source of great anxiety.


In these instances, being charitably minded is no longer an interest for many donors. They have more important struggles with which to contend. Donors with "income anxiety" due to an increased tax burden, inflation, or other unforeseen matters are generally not interested in donating their limited income to their favorite charities. They are unwilling to give up their lifestyle to make a big gift.


That is... unless they can see enough tax relief to consider a more complex gift strategy. We can provide valuable tax-saving solutions and relieve a significant "pain point" that many of our retired donors feel. 


When we market our gift-planning messages, we would do well to target these individuals. 


How are we marketing to these donors?



Your donors support you. They love your organization's mission and the vision you have cast for things to come. Given the brief description of your planned giving prospects and aiming to solve their "pain points," I would argue that our marketing needs to reflect the following principles:


  • The point of marketing for planned gifts is to start a conversation. Due to the complexity of these types of gifts, planned giving marketing is only the first of many steps to secure gifts. With time and interest, we will begin to see who our key prospects are. 

  • Have a gift planning website or web pages in place. Gift planning details can go deep, so it's helpful to have a website to link (QR code with print) when sending out otherwise simple messages. Individuals can click through an email to get into the details. These click-throughs are also helpful when tracking interest. 

  • Market for the greatest ROI. In the first year or two of building a gift planning program, your primary task is to build your bequest and beneficiary designation gift reservoir. Yes, these are revocable gifts, so providing follow-up tools and professional advisor support will be a part of this process to secure estate gifts. These types of gifts will make up for around 90% of your planned gifts in the first five years, so it makes sense to go after these first and foremost.

  • Market the most commonly used complex gifts. Charitable Gift Annuities, Charitable Remainder Trusts, real estate giving options such as Life Estate Gifts, CRTs or Bargain Sales, Qualified Charitable Distribution gifts, and gifts of stock will likely be the most commonly sought-after complex giving strategies.

  • Market with your target donors in mind. Remember, we aim to relieve a "pain point" held by our retired donors. This means our messaging should include people who look like them and those who are in a similar situation as they are. Images, simple language, font size, and relevant life-stage articles in print and online formats are important to these individuals. 

  • Be strategic in using only a few mediums first. Then, grow from there. Be mindful of the media platforms these donors access as a part of their daily routines. Do retired individuals use Facebook instead of Instagram? Then, market on Facebook and deal with Instagram later (maybe a bad example, as there is overlap between the two). Do your retired donors like print pieces to read? Then, offer them key pieces to work through when they sit for their morning coffee. I recommend email marketing with a brief message on the email itself and a click-through to your planned giving website. You have limited resources, so invest most where your existing retired donors routinely function. 

  • Market with the calendar in mind. Since gift planning deals with tax savings, the annual calendar offers a certain predictable rhythm for your marketing. Late Q3 and early Q4 marketing should reflect end-of-year outright gifts of non-cash assets. QCDs and gifts of stock may take time to process, so begin to message those gifts heavily beginning in September. To add, I like to send messages for QCD gifts throughout the year about once a quarter. Some donors schedule their QCD gifts at the beginning of the year or when meeting with their CPAs. 

  • Market simply; market often. I prefer not to create one large, often expensive, print piece that details all the giving options. Instead, I give single messages multiple times throughout the year, upwards of 25-30 touchpoints. Again, we are solving a "pain point" for our donors when we market. The right audience will appreciate knowing their options.


Marketing among your retired donors is an important place to start when identifying an interest in gift planning. Identifying your target audience and how best to market to them will allow you to move your program in a robust direction. 


* James, R. N., III. (2018). Cash is not king for fundraising. Gifts of non-cash assets predict current and future contributions growth. Nonprofit Management & Leadership. 29(2), 159-179.

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