Reshape the Planned Giving Conversation

What You'll Learn

Planned giving, also known as gift planning or legacy giving, is paramount to the financial health of any organization, allowing individuals to make more substantial gifts to charitable organizations than they could make from ordinary income. Oftentimes, these gifts do not go to the organization until the donor is near or has reached end of life so they can come at any time, which also means that they are unpredictable. This is why organizations must continuously put planned giving in front of their donors because donors can be reviewing their wills at any time.


Since the pandemic began, organizations have actually seen a surge in new bequest intentions. 

  • According to Chronicle of Philanthropy, many charities have seen a steep increase in bequest commitments and other legacy gifts.
  • Fundraisers who continued providing information about legacy giving found significant success securing new bequest commitments.
  • Planned giving site FreeWill saw a 600% increase in bequest giving during the week of March 23-30 as compared to the same time in 2019. Since the start of March, they’ve raised more than $230M in new planned gifts from 6,000 individual bequests.
  • Google searches for online will services peaked in April 2020 and have steadily tracked higher compared to 2019.
  • According to Giving USA 2020, charitable bequests account for 10% or all charitable giving.
  • From Blackbaud, we are in the Largest Intergenerational wealth transfer in US history with $88 trillion in U.S. household net worth from 78 million people categorized in the Baby Boomer generation.


Bequests come from across the giving pyramid. Remember, donor loyalty and commitment drive bequests intentions – not giving level.   Important factors to consider when looking for prospects in your existing donor base include longevity, consistency of giving and age. And in your planning, don’t forget that you will need to build multiple approaches for this group and unique plans for different donor segments.  Read on to find a multitude of ideas of how to reach these audiences.

Those most likely donors to respond to an ask are those that love you and have been consistent givers.  Factors to consider include:

  • Longevity on file: the longer they’ve stayed committed to your organization, the more likely they will think of you when finalizing their will.
  • Age: While anyone can be making a will at any time, people who are older are making their final plans so you always want to get in front of them during this critical period.
  • Lapsed donors (with prior consistency of giving): donors who stopped giving may still be interested in supporting an organization, but they could be planning their legacy and allocating larger gifts to their favorite charities.
  • Monthly givers: They are generally one of the most loyal groups for a charitable organization and would be prime prospects for planned giving.
  • Multi-donors: We often find that donors who give through different channels like mail, online or phone have high retention rates and demonstrate strong affinity to the organization.  

Keep in mind that your best planned giving prospects are not your large donors. In fact, the majority of bequests come from your lower level donors at $25, $50 or even $10. Many individuals may not have large amounts of assets in cash, but could be holding onto other high-value assets like real estate, securities, life insurance, retirement income, and others, so don’t discount these donors.


As you start your planned giving communications keep these objectives in mind: 

  1. Create awareness and interest in legacy giving opportunities.
  2. Help uncover existing bequest commitments.
  3. Allow for mutual pathways of engagement with your supporters.

People are willing to talk about planned giving and they want to do something to shape their legacy.  The first step is to acknowledge that and not be afraid to discuss it.  While only 5.3% of surveyed donors said they had made a charitable bequest, 33% said they would be willing to consider one.


To be successful with planned giving, you need to create a culture internally as well.  Everyone counts when it comes to planned giving and it should be an all-hands-on-deck – Front line fundraisers, volunteers, marketing, donors services, board members, and communications should all understand the importance of this opportunity and be on board with the goals.

But you may ask: “How will I convince my organization to help and to give me the budget?”

We all have annual goals, but planned giving as we know, is a long-term goal. Some common refrains we hear are: 

  • “I don’t care because I need to make my annual goal, and I won’t be here when the results come in anyway.”
  • “Great. I’m in charge of planned giving, but my development director won’t let me solicit all of her prime donors. I won’t get the budget”

Don’t let this dissuade you from building a program. The good news is: People Who Pledge A Bequest Give More As a Result.

Reshape the Planned Giving Conversation 2


There are multitude of ways to communicate planned giving to your audience and a lot of them can be low-cost or at no cost if you use the resources that are already in place. Some areas to consider are:

  • Postcards – postcards are a nice way to reach out to donors with a straightforward message about how leaving a legacy and how easy it is.  A recent mailing we did for a client generated a $200,000 bequest within 2 months of the postcard being mailed.   
  • Brand your planned giving society – a name for this group encourages a sense of belonging and special branding helps to make your communications stand out. You can then promote this on your website and across all types of printed and non-printed communication pieces.
  • Prepare sample gift language and promote it across all appropriate communications.

    If you’d like to continue your support for [Org Name] by giving a gift in your will, please consider using the following language:
    1. “I give and bequeath _________ (dollar amount, a percentage of residuary estate, etc.) to [Org Name] (Tax ID #), located at [Org Address].
    2. There are many other giving options you may consider to meet your specific goals and interests. Please contact Planned Giving Officer at [email] or [phone]
  • Bangtails & Buck Slips: There is usually opportunity to add messaging in pieces that are already being mailed.  This is an in expensive way to share your messaging with a wide audience.
  • Newsletters: These are a great way to reach out with more information for your prospects.  Things to include:
    • A Heartwarming story
    • A case for giving
    • Knowledge on which to action
    • Call to action
  • Brochures: This is a great, in-depth way to share your case and also an opportunity to share stories and quotes from current planned givers. The best advocates for you are existing committed donors.  
  • Surveys and Challenge Grants: Surveys give you great insight into what your donors are thinking about and can also subtly influence the importance of leaving a legacy.  Challenge Grants involve having one donor pledge to give an additional gift for each commitment you receive.
  • Planned Giving Page or Microsite: It is important to have a dedicated place for your planned giving prospects to find more information on giving and have a contact in case they have questions about how to add your organization as a beneficiary to their bequest.

As a final take away, please don’t forget general outreach and ease for donors to contact you.

  • Phone is one of the most personal interactions besides a face to face meeting.  When a donor calls and leaves a message, return the call within 24 hours. 
  • Make sure your travel arrangements don’t conflict with a mailing that increases the amount of phone calls you will get. 
  • Make your direct number available.
  • Keep up with your stewardship of potential prospects.  
  • Communication and Gratitude are key!

If you need advice on planning giving, please reach out at

About the author
Corinne Servily
Founder and President of Faircom NY

Corinne provides strategic guidance for every client—based on decades of experience in the fundraising industry. Her successes have led to her being recognized as the sixth best fundraising consultant in the US.

Beginning with the establishment of Doctors Without Borders’ US fundraising program, her expertise in supporting overseas organizations entering the US market has made her a highly sought after authority in the fundraising world.

Corinne has been the keynote speaker at many fundraising conferences, including the King Baudouin Foundation Conference in New York, the Swiss Fundraiser’s Conference in Geneva, and the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Paris.

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