Are you in a small shop? Have you been holding back on doing planned giving because you’re just too strapped for time, or have too little budget. Here’s this month’s tip: a planned giving program doesn’t have to cost very much, and if you don’t get started now, you might miss the boat.

According to Dr. Russell James’ research (which you can read all about at his website), the oldest boomers will start reaching age 72 and up in about five years’ time. In Canada, life expectancy is 80 for men and 84 for women. Are you ready for the wealth transfer uptick that will start happening when boomers start passing away?

So what’s a small non-profit to do, even with very little budget? The answer is, lots. This month’s tip is to follow these steps to get started:

1. Make the Case

Often the hardest step is convincing your leadership to jump on board with a planned giving program. Let them know that bequest dollars to charity are multiplying; that planned giving might increase your total revenue by 50% or more in the next ten years (if you commit to starting now); and, finally, let them know that donors are unlikely to leave you a planned gift unless they’re asked.

2. Do some Prospect Research

Go into your database and pull the following four groups: those who go by the honorific, “Miss;” monthly donors; loyal donors; and major donors. Check out the article I wrote called “Finding diamonds in your database” for more detail.

3. Crunch some Numbers

To help make the argument for a small investment in planned giving, crunch some numbers. Take the total number of prospects you came up with in step #2 above and multiply it by 0.5%. Now multiply it again by whatever your organization’s average bequest is (or use $35,000 if you’re unsure). How’s that for a nice number? It’s also a very conservative number: with a good planned giving program in place, you should expect 1% to 2% of your file to leave a bequest to your organization. Always better to be conservative and exceed expectations, though.

If you want to go a little farther in terms of prospect identification, you can also look for some of Dr. James’ indicators of bequest likelihood:

  • Childlessness is the single strongest predictor of including a charitable bequest in one’s estate plans (and childlessness is increasing);
  • Higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of bequests;
  • Both giving and volunteering are indicators;
  • Bequests most likely at ages 55+;
  • The unmarried have less wealth, but generate more bequests; and
  • Don’t discount those who have stopped giving. Dr. James found that most bequests come from donors who hadn’t given regular gifts in more than a year.

4. Know your Marketing Basics

Here’s what we know about marketing to these groups:

  • 95% of planned gifts are bequests, so focus on bequests in your marketing;
  • Only 37% of people over age 30 know what ‘planned giving’ and ‘legacy giving’ mean (2009 Stelter Donor Insight Report), so remove that language from all your marketing materials (instead, talk about ‘making a bequest in your will’);
  • Focus on why donor should make a bequest to your organization, not how (they already know how);
  • It’s a very personal decision, so don’t be aggressive;
  • Use big, serif, fonts;
  • Use black text on a white background; and,
  • Simple design is better.

5. Marketing for Free!

Do you have a website? Yes, we thought so.  Guess what? Donors who are considering a bequest will go to your website for more information. Make sure that information on leaving a bequest is easily found. At a minimum, let people know that you accept bequests and give them information on a specific person to contact (no info@ email addresses please). Include stories and testimonials, or even photos and videos.

Take advantage of materials you’re already sending out to donors: newsletter; donor reports; emails; even your signature line can all contain one simple request: “Please consider including a gift to XYZ Charity in your will.” Newsletters are a great place to include a testimonial from a bequest donor.

6. Marketing at Low Cost

What do you send to donors who ask for information about planned giving? Do you send them a bunch of technical information about bequest wording, and gifts of life insurance? I thought so.

Consider putting together a simple brochure (it can be print on demand to save money). Again, focus on the why, not the how. Tell stories. Talk about your vision for the future. Mention bequests at work. Introduce the staff (with photos and a bit of their story).

Want to take your planned giving program one step further? Budget to send at least one legacy marketing mailing each year. It should be a letter from a bequest donor (either a regular donor or someone in a leadership position at your organization), and should tell their love story with your organization (find out why they first started giving, and why they left a bequest). It should be told in the first person, and be sent out in a hand-addressed envelope with a live stamp. Depending on the quantity you want to mail out, you’ll need to budget somewhere in the range of $4.00 to $5.00 per piece, but, trust me, you’ll have that returned in spades.

You can find some examples of these types of letters on the Good Works website, or contact me and I’ll be happy to send you some.

There you go. You have no more excuses. Just put one foot in front of the other, and go for it!

This post was written by Leah Eustace, ACFRE, former Principal and Chief Idea Goddess at Good Works.