Planned Giving Coach

Marketing Overview

Develop a succinct, specific list of marketing activities to keep your planned giving program on track. Use Quick Plan, for a brief overview of typical marketing activities. Quick Plan also allows you to download more detailed explanations of key marketing activities.

You should, of course, discard activities that don’t apply to your organization, that you don’t have time for, or that you can’t afford. But force yourself to get some plan, however modest, in writing and with completion dates. Without a written plan, you will find yourself at the end of the year wondering why you haven’t done much to promote planned gifts, despite your good intentions.

Keep your basic marketing plan to one or two pages and refer to it at each meeting of your planned giving committee. Keep focused by asking whether the planned giving program is recruiting more donors to your Legacy Circle (see Legacy Circle under Promotions.) For additional information on Quick Plan activities, check under Presentations and Promotions. As the plan is implemented, check off completed activities so you, your committee, and your supervisor know where you’ve been and where you’re going. If you find your marketing plan bogging down, hire the Coach.

Quick Plan

No form of fundraising gets more lip service and less action than planned giving. The reason: it doesn’t have the inexorable deadlines of an annual appeal, foundation proposal, or fundraising event. Using Quick Planadds urgency to a program that is never urgent, just vital. Select from, edit, or add to the marketing activities listed in Quick Plan, filling in completion dates. The exercise will force you to be very specific about what you want to accomplish; and having agreed-upon deadlines creates urgency.

If you find any of the Quick Plan activities less than self-explanatory, download the Quick Plan Commentary and look up the item, or visit the Presentations, Promotions and Getting Started sections.

Quick Plan
Quick Plan Details


Brochures and newsletter articles help promote planned gifts. But personal presentations get the quickest results. In descending order of importance, the Coach ranks planned giving presentations as follows:

  1. Talking One-to-one
  2. Board Presentations
  3. Volunteer Groups
  4. Public Seminars

In practice, most nonprofit organizations reverse this order, enthusiastically planning estate planning seminars and neglecting one-to-one presentations. The reason for this is that planned giving programs are more often centered on estate planning and gift planning rather than the case. (Go to Getting Started for more about Your Case.) Once you shift from method-centered to case-centered planned giving, you will find it easier to put personal presentations first. But all four types of presentations have their importance, and are treated in detail here.

Meeting with Individuals One-to-One

Planned giving promotion requires us to talk to prospects one-to-one, and not just reactively, fielding calls stimulated by our killer brochures and newsletter appeals. You do need brochures and newsletter articles, but one-to-one conversations initiated by you and your planned giving committee members are the surest, quickest way to get donor attention and commitment.

Personal planned gift solicitation seems hard because it raises the delicate question of the distribution of the prospect’s estate at death. But there are two things that take the edge off one-to-one planned gift solicitation: you’re not asking anyone to take out a checkbook, and you have by now an attractive written case. (See Your Case under Getting Started.) Volunteers may get tongue-tied discussing annuity trust and unitrust, but they will be eloquent on why your organization needs and deserves planned gifts, with the case statement in hand and their own planned gift commitment made. It’s your job to assure them that they can get answers to technical planned giving questions quickly. If you don’t have technical backup, hire the Coach.

The Volunteer's Guide and Script to Soliciting Planned Gifts provides a warm-up exercise for your volunteer solicitors before they make calls. If some volunteers prefer using the phone only, use Phoning for Planned Gifts as a template.

Soliciting Planned Gifts
Phoning for Planned Gifts

Board Presentations

Some nonprofit organizations must deal with board members who don’t think any significant financial commitment to the cause is essential to their role, much less a planned gift. Other organizations have board members who give generously, but who have never thought of planned giving as a board responsibility. If either scenario is familiar to you, present the case for planned gifts to board members in three steps: education, motivation, and personal one-to-one solicitation.

If you’re tempted to skip this step, consider this: Would you ever consider a public capital campaign that has no board involvement and relies on brochures and newsletters to catch the eye of a solitary millionaire surrounded by cats in a crumbling Victorian? Okay, once in a while good causes benefit greatly by the out-of-the-blue bequest that comes from just such benevolent strangers. But that’s winning the lottery, not fundraising.

The planned gift commitments your board members make will not likely be the largest planned gifts your organization receives. But board commitments feed the planned giving program, giving it energy and integrity, grist for newsletter articles, and names for your legacy circle list. If all this-case development, board presentations, board motivation-seem too much for you to handle, hire the Coach.

Board Education
Board Presentation

Group Presentations

A planned giving presentation to your organization's volunteer groups, or to community groups interested in your cause, has many of the benefits of an estate planning seminar with little of the fuss or anxiety. Without having to print invitations, send out a mailing, and track responses, you find yourself in front of a group who was meeting anyway and whose members are committed to or at least interested in your cause.

Scheduling an appearance before your organization’s volunteer groups takes patience. They also have to trust that you’re not there to make a hard-sell pitch. You will also have less time to speak than in other forums and you’ll have to shape your message to meet the interests and time schedule of your audience. The group may give you ten minutes or an hour to speak. Take a look at Two Presentations for a few suggestions as to how to proceed:

Two Presentations

Estate Planning Seminars

Find below typical handout materials and promotional pieces for an estate-planning seminar with separate sessions for married and single people. Offering the two sessions will increase your attendance. Have all the seminar participants meet for a five-minute joint welcome. Use this time to talk about your organization’s mission and its need for bequests. Then have either the married or single folks move to a separate space with their own attorney/speaker.

In certain markets, estate-planning seminars seem to be at the end of their cycle. Sponsored by a few venturesome charities years ago, they are now regularly and widely promoted by both nonprofit and for-profit organizations. In these overexposed markets, seminar attendance is not what it once was. A lot will depend on the size of your mailing list, the convenience of the seminar site, and above all the vigor and timeliness of your promotion. If you think you’re ready, Staging an Estate Planning Seminar covers many of the materials and details that make seminars successful.

Staging Estate Planning Seminars


The cultivation of estate planning professionals, including attorneys, financial planners, accountants and real estate professionals, is considered essential at some community foundations, universities and other large, high profile nonprofit organizations. They offer experts on planned giving and continuing education credits to attract these busy professionals to their institution. For most nonprofit organizations, an occasional less formal gathering of a small number of estate planning professionals makes better sense. The document below gives some suggestions of how to carry out such an event.

Presentations to professionals

Planned Giving Promotion

Promotion is not marketing. It’s part of marketing. Planned giving marketing starts with a compelling case that tells your supporters why your organization deserves to be in their estate plans. (See Your Case in Getting Started.) Promotion presents some portion of your case that you hope will appeal to a segment of your supporters.

The tools typically used to bring focused attention on one or another part of your planned giving program are ads, newsletter articles, and web site information. Recognition programs also fit under promotion. Recognition both honors those who have made a planned gift commitment and encourages others to do the same. This section offers examples that will help you improve or create ads, articles, web site information, and recognition programs.


My clients get the most response from ads that offer broad estate planning information to their donors. Charitable trust and gift annuity ads get far fewer responses, but serve notice that you are serious about meeting donor needs as well as your own. The document below offers a few examples of planned giving ads.


Writing Newsletter Articles

If you want to promote planned giving through your newsletter, tell stories. Case-centered planned giving (see Your Case under Getting Started) produces planned gift commitments quickly, providing human-interest stories for your newsletter. These stories get far more attention than abstract summaries of gift vehicles. (One exception to this general rule is the gift annuity, where a simple listing of annuity rates for different ages often gets good response.)

If you need a few tips on interviewing donors for your newsletter, the document below provides them.



Check your organization’s web site. Does it offer the visitor a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about planned giving? The FAQ format allows visitors to focus on specific areas of interest to them. This format also takes advantage of a web site’s ability to give lots of information. With the help of your web master, you can present the FAQs in a way that allows your visitors to click on the planned giving question of interest to them and find the information they want quickly. The document below can get you started. If you need someone to answer more detailed questions your web site visitors may have, hire the Coach.

Planned Giving FAQs


Your planned giving recognition group is important for three reasons:

  1. it shows donors you appreciate their planned gift commitments;
  2. it forces you to keep in touch with them at least annually;
  3. it gives you a simple way to evaluate your planned giving program.

Evaluating planned giving programs can be slippery business. Asking planned giving staff to get immediate dollar results from their efforts borders on dark comedy. But staff recitation of the “We’re planting seeds” mantra is too vague. Focus your and your planned giving volunteers’ attention on the recognition group and count heads. Is the group growing or not? That is, after all, a key purpose of your planned giving program, and one of the easiest to measure. The document below provides a few tools for using your recognition program to promote planned gifts.

Legacy Circle


If you have developed a strong case statement (see Getting Started, Your Case) you have almost all you need to write a general planned giving brochure. Consider publishing your planned giving brochure as a bold, four-page section of one edition to your newsletter. That saves money and solves the problem of distribution. Don’t expect your phone to ring off the hook, though. Brochures of this kind seldom get immediate response. The document below gives you a brochure template that is simply a case statement put into a four-page form, the same size as a standard newsletter. If you need help formulating your case and writing your planned giving brochure, hire the Coach.


Other Promotions

Insert Cards and Emails: Sometimes a simple insert card or a brief email promotion gets better response than a fancy brochure. A pointed message to a loyal donor can be an effective and inexpensive way to stimulate a conversation about planned giving. The following provides a few examples:

Insert Cards and Emails