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How to Start a Planned Giving Program for Your Charity or Nonprofit

Planned Giving Programs
June 20, 2019

What Are Planned Giving Programs?

Planned giving programs help donors make plans to leave money or assets to charities or nonprofit organizations at a future date. Philanthropic experts predict that total charitable giving will continue to rise in the coming years. As such, the majority of larger nonprofit organizations have planned giving programs set up and even smaller nonprofits are establishing bequest programs so donors can designate their favorite cause(s) as a beneficiary in their wills.

Types of Planned Giving Programs

There are several different types of planned giving, with the most common being:


A bequest is a gift of an individual’s personal property, real estate or financial assets upon death to a person or organization by means of a will or trust.  Anyone can make a bequest to a nonprofit organization or charity.  There are four main types of bequests: general, demonstrative, specific, and residuary.  Generally speaking, donors can allocate a specific amount of money or a specific asset to give after they pass away, or they can choose to give a portion of the remainder of their estate, or the entire remainder of their estate, to a nonprofit after all of their other bequests are paid.

Charitable Gift Annuities

A charitable gift annuity is an agreement in which the donor gives a large gift to a charity, receives a tax deduction at the time of the gift, and then receives payments from the charity during their lifetime.  Importantly, nonprofit organizations can invest the money to grow its income, and after the donor’s death, the nonprofit can use the remaining donation.

Charitable Trusts

There are two main types of charitable trusts: charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts.  Charitable remainder trusts are tax-exempt, irrevocable trusts that make annual payments to the beneficiaries for a certain amount of time, and then donate the remainder to a nonprofit organization.  Charitable lead trusts are similar, except that the annual payments go to the nonprofit for a certain period of time, and the remainder goes to the beneficiaries.

Pooled Income Funds

Pooled income funds are charitable trusts that are established by nonprofit organizations.  Here, donors contribute to the fund, the nonprofit invests the contributions, and it pays dividends to the donors during their lifetimes.  The fund distributes the remaining assets to the designated charity or charities.

Your Planned Giving Program: Where to Begin

Demonstrate an Understanding of What Planned Giving Is

When starting a planned giving program for your charity or nonprofit organization, it is important to demonstrate that you have a full understanding of what planned giving is and what it does for donors.  Specifically, planned gifts can memorialize donors’ wishes after death.  Therefore, a nonprofit organization or charity can establish a legacy by which people can make a lasting impact through a gift that contributes to a worthwhile cause.

Be Able to Explain How Planned Gifts Will Be Spent

When starting a planned giving program, nonprofit organizations and charities should be able to articulate how planned gifts from donors may be spent.  Donors typically want to see their money and funds invested for the long term in something significant and sustainable.  As such, your charity should be able to provide an explanation so that donors feel comfortable leaving their money in your hands.

Offer Recognition Opportunities for Donors

While this may not be the case for all donors, at least some donors may want to be recognized publicly for their charitable gifts.  Therefore, providing opportunities for recognition through your charity or nonprofit organization is important.  For example, nonprofits should consider having the option to name buildings, monuments, scholarships, or land after the donor.

Commit to Your Planned Giving Program Long-Term

Planned giving programs often do not yield significant results until later down the road.  As such, planned giving programs must be long-term and the commitment of your charity or nonprofit organization must match that.  The long-term benefits will justify the investment of your time and resources.

Identify Potential Donors

When establishing a planned giving program, it is important to identify potential donors.  The best prospects are not necessarily going to be the donors who give you the most, but who give to your charity or nonprofit organization the most often.  Research shows that the most predictive indicator of future planned giving is an individual’s longevity as your donor.

Advertise Your Planned Giving Program

Once your charity or nonprofit organization’s planned giving program is established, you should advertise to potential donors that you accept planned gifts.  In order to generate charitable gifts, donors must recognize that they can put your organization in their wills.  Marketing your planned giving program is a key part of this.  Your charity or nonprofit can advertise through mailed solicitations, advertisements in your publications, and on your website.  These are effective ways to garner interest in your planned giving program.