By DonorSearch

Building anything from the ground up takes serious effort and endurance. There is no way to snap your fingers and make things happen.

You need the proper tools, materials, and know-how to take an idea from the abstract to reality. This is true of real life construction, and it is true of program development.

Your planned giving program will be beneficial. It can be a huge success. You just need to begin with the right building plan.

The five steps below will help guide you through your planned giving program’s start.

Start strong and stay strong.


They tell you that you need to walk before you run. Those same people caution you to look before you leap. What do these expressions have to do with planned giving?

They apply to how you should approach starting your planned giving program.

If your organization is looking to succeed with planned giving (which it should of course be doing), it needs to prepare for the launch with research and dedication to fully understanding the topic.

How your nonprofit goes about making itself acquainted with prospect research will vary depending on how you see your program playing out.

Ask yourself and your team:

  • What do we already know about planned giving?
  • What kind of planned gifts are we going to be after?
  • How much is in our budget for this program?
  • Can we bring on a planned gifts officer?
  • Will the board approve of all of these decisions?
  • What policies do we need to put in place to handle any influx of planned gifts?

This pre-start research and preparation is about learning about planned giving, while also learning what it will mean at your nonprofit.


Great news! You are going forward with your planned giving program. You know the kinds of gifts you’ll be accepting. You’ve hired a planned gifts officer. You have a budget in place. Your board is behind your decision and excited about the potential.

What’s next?

Now it is time to transfer the program from your organization’s think tank to your supporters’ minds. How so? With ample marketing.

You need a clear strategy in mind to ramp up your marketing materials.

You’ll have two main areas to build your marketing around. You will need to address how you will be working planned giving into your pre-existing marketing. And, you’ll also need to decide what additional promotions to bring into the picture just for planned giving.

Map out your marketing for a variety of materials, such as:

  • email
  • newsletters
  • direct mail
  • pages on your website
  • email signatures
  • informational brochures

Think through what your staff had to do in order to feel confident and well-educated about the topic of planned giving. Your donors need a way to get to that level too. Your marketing materials will be the start of that learning curve.


You can plan and plan and plan until you cannot plan anymore. Then you can organize and strategize and a whole bunch of other “izes” for the foreseeable future. And you should…to an extent.

At a certain point you have to move the planned giving program from on-deck to at-bat. And the best way to get to the plate is by looking for planned giving prospects.

That’s right. You can and should be screening for planned giving prospects.

Planned giving prospects are typically loyal donors who are part of an older demographic. Beyond those two details, there are many other factors to use to highlight planned giving prospects in your donor pool.

With factors like age, loyalty, financial situation, familial situation, and interest in philanthropy in mind, you’re ready to find the best candidates.

Perform a prospect screening to do so.

You’ll want to promote your planned giving program on a broad scale, but if you know your main prospects, you can spend additional time developing those key relationships. A one-on-one lunch meeting with a planned gifts officer could secure a donation that otherwise might not have happened.

Promote to everyone, and zero in on the prospects most likely to convert to donors.


Extra, extra, read all about it. It is that time. The time to put all that planning and marketing to good use. It’s it time to talk all about your shiny, new planned giving program.

Make your planned giving program the buzziest program on the street. Spread your marketing materials far and wide.

Now is not the time to be shy or modest, promote your program for all to hear. In the marketing materials section, we briefly touched on the various places that you’d be able to promote. You should have tons of opportunities to talk about and share your planned giving program.

If you want it to reach as many people as possible, the little marketing moves, as well as the big ones, will make a difference. Maybe you decide to include planned giving details in your email signatures. Or you could include planned giving language as part of your Facebook posts.

The more formats that you promote in, the better chance you’ll have of acquiring donors for the program.

You’ll have the general promotions for people who are less involved in your organization, but you also need to make more catered asks of your most active and loyal donors. Those donors will prefer, and therefore respond better to, a personal ask.

Planned giving might be in its early stages at your organization, but fundraising is not. Seasoned fundraisers understand how to balance quality and quantity when it comes to making asks, so take those skills and apply them to your planned giving promotions.


By its very definition, planned giving is a long game. There is a lengthy window between someone deciding to leave a planned gift and that planned gift coming into play for that organization. Your stewardship strategy regarding these special donors has to reflect that.

First of all, as is standard with any fundraising method, you have to thank your donors. How do you know to thank your donors if they don’t tell you that they’re including you in their will?

Some will inform you through bequest intentions. Other times, the terms of the gift will require your nonprofit to know about the donation ahead of time.

For the remaining circumstances, you’ll want to build a planned giving program that encourages people to announce their participation. The best way of doing so is by branding the program.

Planned giving programs are most often given the “legacy” moniker. Your legacy program will be comprised of all the donors who have made their planned gift arrangements known.

The group gives your organization a way to track the gifts and properly acknowledge them. It also gives your program credibility in the eyes of those considering making planned gifts.

When you’re organizing promotions after your initial launch, you can ask members of the branded group to provide testimonials explaining their own experiences with your program.

After you’ve completed these five steps, your program should be up and running. There will always be room for tweaking and improvement.

As you go along, you’ll better understand the kinds of gifts and types of donors who most commonly participate in your planned giving program. As long as you track your development, you’ll have no issue navigating a constantly improving path to planned giving.


How do you Start a Planned Giving Program?