Five key ingredients to getting a planned giving program off the ground

Posted by Andrew Ragone on Aug 8, 2018 9:30:00 AM

Let’s say you’re a major and planned gifts officer in a small development shop, and you do it all—marketing, prospecting, donor cultivation... You’re one busy person, right!? In many mid-sized nonprofit organizations, the development office can seem a little bit like the Wild West. When you’re asked to roll out a planned giving strategy, where do you start?

To answer that question, I’d love to introduce you to Anne, the primary fund-developer at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens in Claremont, CA. Like others in smaller development shops, Anne wears many hats. When she stepped into the planned giving pool, she knew she was in over her head, so she committed to some personal goals that have included the following steps.

Commit to Making This Work

First, Anne advocated for enough funding to start on the right foot. It wasn’t much, but it was sufficient to get started. She went to her leadership and gave them a taste of what could happen should she pursue her planned giving program strategy. Part of her tool-bag was a comprehensive marketing strategy, including both print and online marketing materials, a planned giving website, and the capacity to create donor proposals for her prospects.

Plan the Work... Work the Plan

 Once she was up to speed, Anne was able to connect with a mentor who collaborated with her to identify and strategize Rancho Santa Ana’s marketing campaign goals for the year ahead. Her mentor helped her create a plan for Anne to follow throughout the year. This was a critical component of Anne’s success. She had to schedule her time to “work the plan” that she and her mentor created together.

Start Low, Go Slow

At first, Anne knew she would need to focus on charitable bequests, but she has since moved into other key planned gift areas. Marketing for the IRA charitable rollover made sense because the gift was immediate and it helped her aging donor base deal with the need to take Required Minimum Distributions from their untapped retirement accounts each and every year. Her older donors (70 ½+) were able to satisfy their RMDs, and the Garden was happy because they ended up with new annual fund donors. Anne has now incorporated a blended gift approach by asking donors to consider rolling over their IRAs into a charitable gift for five years at a time while also making a bequest to support the Garden’s future.

With the momentum built, Anne has seen her marketing plan bear fruit, and she is looking ahead to market for Income-yielding gifts such as charitable remainder trusts and gift annuities.

Automate the Plan

Anne knew she would need to set aside time to carry out her planned giving plan. So, she designated Fridays as her day. One day! That’s all she has been able to give, but for now it has been enough. Each Friday she works on completing tasks outlined in her marketing plan in the morning. She then spends the rest of her day following through with visits and connecting with her prospective donors. Her dedication in doing both has resulted in increased volunteerism, a lively legacy society that has doubled in two years, an added bequest line to her annual budget and even her first blended gift. 

Continue to Learn

Anne makes learning a priority. She has built a network of mentors and colleagues that encourage and inspire her to continue forward. She has appreciated the insights and the love of those who have been in the trenches with her, and she loves, loves, loves spending time with her prospective donors.

Big Progress, Small Steps

I hope Anne’s story resonates with you. The big takeaway? One day a week really can be enough to move an organization forward and tap into the rapidly growing planned giving reservoir. If you’re interested in learning the details of how to put a marketing plan together for planned gifts, I would consider it an honor to have you join me in my breakout session at CGP Conference in October.


Andy Ragone is an integrated marketing specialist for Crescendo Interactive. You can learn more on this topic at his CGP Conference session "The Coming Gift Boom and The Art of Integrated Marketing" in the Marketing and Communications track. Read more about his professional background and his session at the CGP Conference here.


Topics: planned giving, CGP Conference 2018