Recipe for Success

by K. Gene Christian
November 2003
Volume I, Number 2

I’m not good in the kitchen. I’ve been known to burn perfectly good macaroni and cheese and serve TV dinners piping…cold. But I do know a thing or two about how to “cook up” a successful planned giving program. In my experience, there are three basic ingredients that every organization needs if it is going to be successful.

1. Good Planning
It’s important for every organization to consider carefully its purpose (and position) in the community as it develops an effective planned giving program. A start-up social services organization in the inner city will have a fundamentally different approach than a well-established arts organization in an exclusive suburban community.

Remember too, that the wheel has probably been invented already. Seek out an organization, similar to your own, that is successful in planned giving and interview the PGO. Pick an organization in a neighboring city, county or state where your constituent groups don’t likely overlap.

Remember this rule: Nearly three quarters of all planned giving “dough” comes from the bequests people make in their estate plan. Develop a basic, inexpensive plan that focuses on newsletter articles or inserts, receipt stuffers, flyer mailers and a pocket pamphlet promoting bequests. Gift annuities and charitable trusts can be alluring, but bequests will always produce more dough!

2. Be Persistent
I’ve witnessed many planned giving programs “washed down the disposal” by well-positioned organizations with wonderfully noble missions. These organizations concluded too soon that the effort required to promote planned giving simply wasn’t worth it.

What they hadn’t considered is that for every person who tells you they are making a bequest to your organization, many more people are doing the same thing but not sharing that information with you! (Stop reading for a moment and consider your organization’s own experience.)

Have you received a bequest(s) previously? If so, how much money did you receive? What’s your average bequest size? Now consider that average bequest and multiply it by the number of people in your Heritage Society and then (and this is the important part) multiply again by a factor of eight. How much money did you come up with?

For most organizations, this exercise will produce a shockingly high bequest expectancy total, the kind of figure that will give your key stakeholders’ resolve to stay with planned giving over the long term.

3. Be Patient
From personal experience, most organizations–even those with a tremendously high profile–”hit their stride” during years five through eight. I worked for nine years in my last planned giving director position. During that time we plowed, seeded, watered and fertilized our way to become one of the most-well-respected and prolific planned giving departments in the Northwest. Fortunately the organization understood that its patience would provide a bumper crop of planned gifts in time.

If you develop a good plan, stick with it and be patient, by 2010 you too will be “cooking up” articles for publication about your many successful adventures in planned giving!

Planned giving is a professional discipline few people imaged as a career option 15-20 years ago. According to their website, there are more than 11,000 people supporting the mission of the National Committee on Planned Giving—an organization that didn't exist 22 years ago. Read More

“The Planned Giving School was invaluable...the course not only increased my knowledge of all the planned giving vehicles available, but I also came away with a plan of action.”

Brennan Wood, Dougy Center

“...Our board met and determined that the amount of current bequests is approximately $4.2 million. We simply couldn't have generated these kinds of results, without CEPN.”

Tim Abrahamson, Board Chair, Salem Nazarene Foundation

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