Where should you look for planned gift donors?

Where should you look for planned gift donors? People with money, you say. That’s a good start, but you’ll need to know more than that. To start with, many planned gift donors are not wealthy. Consider the fact that seventy to ninety percent of planned gifts come in the form of bequests. You don’t need to be a wealthy, sophisticated investor to make a bequest. Did you know that the average bequest is around $35,000? Many people of modest means have the ability to make a $35,000 bequest. We’ve all read stories of the librarian or janitor who leaves a generous bequest to a favored charity.

That leads us to a critically important prerequisite for being a good planned gift prospect. The donor needs to care about your organization. I once worked for a college located in horse country. When we did prospect screenings, many reviewers felt that we should put thoroughbred horse owners high on our list. Horse owners met one criterion, wealth. But many of them had only a passing awareness of our college. So they weren’t good prospects. The same is true of potential planned gift donors. If they don’t care about your institution, they won’t leave a bequest or set up a trust merely because they have the resources to do so.

Now that we’ve undermined the myth that only the wealthy make planned gifts, and we’ve established the importance of an affinity for the recipient organization, where do we look for prospects? The best indicator is a record of regular giving to the organization. People who give regularly care about your mission. So they should be at the top of your list. Other good indicators are marriage and parenthood. Single people and married couples without children have no natural heirs. While there are likely to be people they would like to remember in their wills, they are also likely to want to help organizations that they care about.

Are major gift donors top prospects?

Many people are reluctant to make a major gift because they’re concerned about losing financial assets during their lifetime. They are afraid of being unable to pay for a catastrophic illness or long-term care. They’re also worried about living longer than their money will last. These are people who perceive themselves as having limited means, and they are most likely to choose a bequest as a vehicle for making a substantial gift. So, again, wealthy people are not your only planned gift prospects—particularly when it comes to bequests. In fact, people who are able to make major gifts during their lifetime may feel no need to make a charitable provision in their estates. They are not necessarily your best prospects.

What about age?

Everyone assumes that the elderly are the best planned gift candidates. They are not to be overlooked. This is particularly true of charitable gift annuity prospects. (A charitable gift annuity is an agreement between a donor and an institution whereby the donor receives a fixed lifetime schedule of payments.) A 90-year-old donor can receive a 9% rate, based on current American Council on Gift Annuities recommended rates. But don’t limit your outreach to 90-year-olds. Almost half of all planned gift dollars come from people who make their giving decision before age 55. So be sure to include these people in your planned gift prospect list—particularly when it comes to promoting bequests.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that this article has made many references to bequests. With up to 90% of all planned gifts coming through bequests, this is clearly your best source. And the good news is that you don’t need to have a heavily resourced development office to secure bequests. And you certainly don’t require a planned giving officer who is an expert in all things legal and financial. Obtain a supply of bequest brochures from one of the vendors that provide personalized planned giving collateral. Then promote bequests through every channel available to you and you’ve got a bequest program.

Whether your institution is a community college, an arts organization or a human service agency, you can pursue bequests. Just marshal your available communications vehicles and target the high-potential prospects we have addressed here. It will be a few years before you begin to see bequests, but eventually they will form a significant portion of your annual receipts.

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