Less than 50% of all Americans have a will, and over 80% of wealthy estates lack a charitable bequest. If only 20 percent of Americans left a charitable bequest, the current number of charitable bequests would more than double. With numbers like that, planned giving is an area of fundraising ripe for development. Is your organization ready to take advantage of this growing fundraising opportunity?

Though there can be immediate benefits to embarking on a planned giving campaign – donors who have made significant planned gifts to help ensure the long-term financial viability of the organization often feel that supporting current needs bolsters and affirms their planned gift commitment – instituting a planned giving program is not for the organization with immediate, pressing cash needs, it generally takes seven to ten years to begin receiving significant dividends from the investment in a planned giving program. However, such investment is rewarding to those who have the ability to wait for returns.

What follows is a preliminary checklist to help you determine if now is the right time for your organization to set the groundwork for raising funds through planned giving. Think carefully about items on the list and if some aspect is missing in your organization be sure to address that before beginning a planned giving campaign.

  1. Strong development and public relations programs already in place
  2. Public visibility for the organization – name and program recognition
  3. Tax-exempt recognition is in order and can be proved with the proper paperwork if asked
  4. Regulatory and legal controls are being  followed and the proper paperwork can be produced if asked
  5. Organizational documents such as bylaws and annual reports are in order and can be produced if asked
  6. Articulated and publicized mission statement and long-term strategic plan
  7. Volunteer Board of Directors with strong development capacity through a wide network of community contacts
  8. No financial mismanagement, unintentional or otherwise, in the near past
  9. A high percentage, well over 50% of current funds go toward programmatic ends rather than administration
  10. Relationship established with a tax and estate planning professional

When your organization has established a strong foundation for development activities, take a gradual approach to adding gift planning to your other fundraising strategies. Get the backing of your organizations’ governing board and executive staff, including an approved budget which provides resources for staff and program needs.

You may also wish to establish a board-level gift planning committee to oversee the activities in this area. Review your existing fund-raising program and adopt gift planning program policies which complement it, including gift acceptance policies, an ethical statement establishing how the gift solicitation and management will be conducted, and a policy on the types of planned gifts that will be sponsored by the organization and who is authorized to negotiate and accept gifts on behalf of the organization.

A great place to start a planned giving program is with the National Council on Planned Giving’s Leave a Legacy Program. The program operates through local affiliates nationwide, each of which is guided a planned giving council, and its mission is to increase the quantity and quality of charitable planned gifts. NCPG encourages any organization interested in operating a Leave a Legacy program visit the national web site at www.leavealegacy.org or contact the national program director at (317) 269-6274 ext. 28.

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