How to talk to donors about planned giving: 10 tips
Anyone who makes a will can make a planned gift to a nonprofit. Gifts in a will or trust, also called bequests, don’t affect your supporters’ everyday cash flow. This makes planned gifts a simple and painless way for donors to show their support. For this reason, nonprofits should talk to all their donors about planned giving.
Donors who are asked to include a charitable gift in their will or trust are 17 times more likely to make a bequest than those who aren’t asked.
By simply asking, your organization could receive more donations and secure its future. Just make sure that you simplify the giving process as much as possible. Direct your supporters to resources on how to create a will and make it easy for them to notify you of their gift.
But how do you start the planned giving conversation? It can certainly feel like an awkward or unnatural topic to bring up, especially if you’re new to legacy giving or your nonprofit doesn’t have a solid planned giving program in place yet.
However, by understanding how planned giving works, its benefits for your mission and for donors, and its pros over other forms of giving, you should feel confident laying out a thoughtful and informative approach. Here are ten tips to help you talk to donors about planned giving today.
1. Don’t mention death.
Generally, organizations only receive planned gifts upon the donor’s death. But that doesn’t mean you should lead your communications with it. In a recent white paper, planned giving experts Russell James and Michael Rosen write: “Legacy fundraising communications that ‘lead with death’ need to be shelved… communications should be about delivering value to the donor. Through your outreach, you should strive to enhance each individual donor’s sense of wellbeing.”
Reminders about death actually cause two reactions in people: avoidance or the pursuit of a lasting impact. When talking to donors about planned giving, you want to steer clear of avoidance behavior and instead activate the desire for people to create an impact. The best way to do this is to focus your communications on how your donors can create a legacy.
When a donor makes a planned gift to an organization, they ensure their own legacy by supporting the future of causes they care about. Use this idea to lead all of your communications on planned giving.
In a similar vein, avoid language like “leave a legacy” because it implies death. Instead, use active language like “create a legacy” or “make a gift.”
2. Provide resources to create a will.
Another way to open up conversations about planned giving is to provide your supporters with resources that make it easy to create a will. Let them know that creating a will is the best way to protect the people and causes they love. Having a will ensures that your donors’ wishes are known and saves their loved ones the stress and cost of intestate probate proceedings.
These resources could include links to free tools for creating a will online, such as freewill.com. We also offer a full blog and glossary explaining key concepts and recent developments in the world of estate planning — try sharing them with your donors.
To create the best possible experience for your donors, we also recommend creating a dedicated Planned Giving Website to serve as the central digital location for your educational materials and will creation tool. An effective website will streamline your donors' journeys and simplify the process of promoting your program. Learn more about how FreeWill's Planned Giving Websites can support your goals.
Planned giving language templates
On your Planned Giving Website (or other landing pages that educate donors about planned giving), provide estate planning templates with language on how to include your organization as a beneficiary. Here are a handful of basic templates that a nonprofit might provide donors to include in their estate plans to create a legacy gift:
- Gift of a specific dollar amount for unrestricted use
- I hereby give, devise, and bequeath [amount] and 00/100 dollars to [your organization] located at [address], [Federal Tax ID #], for [your organization]’s general use and purpose.
- Gift of a percentage of the donor’s estate
- I hereby give, devise, and bequeath [amount] percent (X%), determined as of the date of my death, to [your organization] located at [address], [Federal Tax ID #], for [your organization]’s general use and purpose.
- Gift of real estate
- I hereby give, devise, and bequeath all of the right, title, and interest in and to the real estate located [address or description of property] to [your organization] located at [address], [Federal Tax ID #], for [your organization]’s general use and purpose.
Many donors choose to give restricted planned gifts, meaning your organization must use the funds for specific purposes and programs. When a donor wants to discuss planned giving to support specific aspects of your nonprofit, work with them and their attorney to develop language that will accomplish those objectives.
Important note: For more complex planned gifts or estate plans, an attorney should be consulted. While online tools are an effective choice for the majority of planned gifts, the expertise of a professional is a must for ensuring complex plans meet the needs and desires of donors while also establishing legal clarity.
3. Mention the benefits of planned giving.
Planned gifts are mostly rooted in values. Bequests are a way for donors to make a large, meaningful gift — one that they might not be able to make otherwise. If they care about your organization and cause, this is an incredible way for them to make a lasting impact.
However, some planned gifts can offer some bigger tax advantages as well. If you’re talking to donors about charitable remainder trusts or gift annuities, mention the tax deductions.
Leading with language on receiving tax deductions actually increases charitable interest. Russell James explored this in his work on planned giving myths. He showed a 19% difference in charitable interest when communications led with tax deductions versus not mentioning them at all.
4. Talk about bequests as a tribute to a family member.
Many planned giving donors like to make bequests in honor of a loved one. In the same way that people desire to create their own legacy, donors may want to see their family or friends live on through the causes they loved.
When talking to donors about planned giving, try framing bequest gifts as a way to honor friends or family. In the work cited above, 23% of people showed interest when asks led with legacy giving language like, “Honor a friend or family member by making a memorial gift.” However, only 13% showed charitable interest when requests led with "make a bequest gift.”
5. Emphasize the long-term impact of planned gifts.
Let your donors know how their gifts will support your organization’s future. Use phrases like “support our mission for generations” or “make an impact for decades to come.” By emphasizing the long-term significance, your organization will assure supporters that their planned gifts will create a lasting legacy for them. Explain to donors that they can also restrict their planned gift if there’s a particular program that they’re passionate about supporting.
6. Use social proof.
One of the most powerful things you can do when talking to donors about planned giving is to include stories from other legacy donors. These stories can feature why those donors chose to give and the impact they hope to have.
But even social proof as simple as “Many of our supporters have included our organization in their will” can tremendously impact both willingness to give and the size of gifts. If you have a legacy giving society or another casual membership program for planned giving, it’s even easier to source personal stories and start conversations about what draws donors to create planned gifts.
When prompted with this type of planned giving language, more than 15% of people will decide to include an organization in their will, up from 10% of people who make a bequest after they're asked without social proof. With social proof, gifts have also been seen to double in size.
7. Include planned gifts as one of several ways to give.
It's important to put thought into both what you're asking donors to consider and how you're asking it. Your Ways to Give page, for example, should be designed in a way that supports your organization's goals and offers an appealing experience to visitors.
Here's our favorite tip for boosting results when asking donors to consider different ways to donate. Offering three ways for supporters to give can significantly impact planned giving efforts. Many of our nonprofit partners see success when they use phrases like, “There are several ways you can help.” They then provide three options, including making a gift in a will.
Adding bequests as one of several approachable options can help your organization introduce planned giving to many supporters at once without alienating anyone who might prefer to give in another way. This is also a great way to keep planned giving top of mind for potential legacy donors.
8. Avoid technical language.
When introducing supporters to planned giving, avoid technical language.
This includes terms such as “bequests,” “charitable remainder trusts,” or “charitable gift annuities.” Formal terms like these actually lower charitable interest. In the “Planned Giving Myths” study cited above, 23% of people showed charitable interest when approached with the sentence, “Make a gift to charity in my will.” Only 12% showed interest when prompted with the phrasing, “Make a bequest gift to charity.”
When you talk to donors about planned giving, use language that’s easy to understand. Skip the planned giving jargon that your nonprofit throws around internally.
Instead, phrase communications around the actual process of how to make planned gifts. For example, you can say, “Make a gift in a will,” or, "Make a gift that pays you income for life.” Using language that’s too technical may confuse and alienate potential donors.
9. Be a human — not an institution.
From the pandemic to politics to a turbulent economy, there’s a lot going on in the world. It’s more important than ever to communicate with donors in a genuine, authentic way. When reaching out to supporters to talk about planned giving, tell them how you’re doing. Give them a peek behind the scenes of your organization or your life.
Along with this, make sure that your supporters know you care about them. Provide them with ways to reach out — even if it’s just to chat about how they’re doing.
10. Don’t ask for a planned gift in the first one-on-one conversation.
Use the first conversation you have with a potential planned giving donor to get to know them better. Ask them open-ended questions about their families, recent developments in their lives, and why they support your organization.
Before setting up the first meeting, you can even tell them that you don’t intend to ask for a gift. Let them know that you simply want to learn more about them, thank them for their previous contributions, and start an ongoing conversation.
At the end of the initial call or meeting, try to schedule another meeting with a specific purpose in mind. This could be to chat through planned giving options or give your donor a tour of your organization’s facility.
Talking about planned giving doesn't have to be hard.
For organizations that haven’t yet prioritized this type of fundraising, learning how to talk about planned giving to donors can definitely be challenging. It may feel awkward or even insensitive at times, but remember to lead with the long-term benefits that legacy gifts have for both them and your mission.
Use resources like FreeWill to simplify the entire process for donors, removing the logistical barriers that may otherwise slow down the conversation. Our advanced features can also help you kickstart or revamp your planned giving program with custom marketing support, analytics, and options to reach new prospects.
Keep learning about planned giving with these additional resources: