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Keep the Change...  a monthly shot in the arm for your fundraisingJune 2011

Well, I'm delighted to say that I have a special treat for you this month.  At least, I hope you think it's a treat.


I asked Kris Willcox, a Boston-based planning giving consultant, if she'd share some advice to help you think about how this type of giving might fit into your fundraising plan.   


Keep reading below to find out what she had to say when I interviewed her.  


I hope you find her words as informative as I did.




Tina Cincotti
Founder & Principal Consultant

P.S.  Don't forget to sign up for my infamous workshop where you'll learn all about how to create a newsletter that doesn't suck.  It's coming up on Wednesday, so you'd better register now!


Planned Giving for Small Shops:  

My interview with Kris Willcox reveals what you need to know to get started 


Tina Cincotti:  Thanks so much for being willing to share your expertise with our readers.   


Kris Willcox:   My pleasure, Tina.  Happy to do it.



TC:  So, let's start with unpacking this strange little term -- what exactly is a "planned gift" anyway?  


KW:  A "planned gift" refers to gifts that are arranged by a donor during her lifetime and fulfilled after she has passed away.  For example, a donor might include a gift to your organization in her will (commonly referred to as a bequest) or make your charity the beneficiary of her IRA. 



TC:  How would you know who to ask for a bequest or a planned gift?  Who's a good prospect for something like this?


KW:  I'll offer ideas on finding great bequest prospects, because these are the most common type of planned gift and, I think, the best place for smaller organizations to focus. 


If you're just starting out with planned giving, look to your longest-term supporters -- those who give year in and year out, even at very modest levels.  Consistency of giving is one of the strongest indicators for bequest giving.  Also look at those who have made a personal investment in the organization: your Board and Board alumni, volunteers, and, of course, your "big" donors. 


A common myth is that planned gifts are just for the elderly, and the wealthy.  In fact, many people create their first will in their 40's.  And bequests come in all shapes and sizes, from a few hundred dollars to a few million.



TC:  Can you tell us a little bit about how you'd ask someone for a planned gift?  What should you say?  Do you ask just like you would for a regular annual gift?


KW:  Talking about bequests and the idea that we won't live forever can be intimidating.  Sometimes, without meaning to, we reinforce the idea that talking about wills and the future is taboo.  Don't approach this as a grim conversation about death and dying, but rather as a talk about life and living our values. 


You do need to establish trust and credibility before you dive into a personal topic like this.  But your words should be open, direct, and unapologetic.  


Here are a couple of conversation starters I have used successfully in my own work:

  • "You've been a loyal supporter over the years and I know that you care about keeping this work going strong.  Would you be open to considering a gift in your will?"  [As hard as it is to just stop there, you should pause and give the donor time to think and respond.]
  • "We know that some of our supporters have arranged gifts in their will, and we want to do more to encourage gifts like this because they can make such a powerful difference.  Did you know that you can give to us through your will, or a retirement plan?"  


TC:  If you don't have any formal planned giving program, where should you start?


KW:  Three words: bequests, bequests, bequests.  Not only are these the most common type of planned gift, they are often the simplest for the donor to arrange, and the organization to promote.  If you do nothing else, let your donors know that they can include your organization in their will.  If you've received bequest gifts in the past, tell those stories to inspire others.  Invite supporters who have already included a gift in their will to notify you, if they wish.  Take that opportunity to thank them, and learn as much as they are comfortable sharing about their gift. 


You may want to offer sample bequest language for donors and their advisors, always keeping in mind that you must never (ever!) provide legal or financial advice to donors.  You might also establish a legacy society for donors who have notified your organization of a bequest arrangement.  This is a simple way to thank donors and raise the visibility of planned giving.   



TC:  Lots of our readers are small shops with one fundraising staff person in charge of all things.  What can they do to take advantage of bequests and planned gifts without creating a ton of extra work for themselves?


KW:  There are simple things you can do in a small shop that will make a big difference.


Start by helping your Board and leadership to appreciate the long-term benefits of planned giving, so they can support your work.


At the risk of repeating myself: Focus on bequests!


You can also promote a simple and under-utilized method of giving: making a charity the beneficiary of an IRA, 401(k), life insurance policy or even a savings account.  This can often be accomplished by filling out a Change Beneficiary Form.  Don't leave this option out of the conversation!



TC:  Is this an appropriate fundraising strategy for any organization?  Are there some nonprofits that this just doesn't make sense for?


KW:  If your organization is just getting on its feet, or if your mission is a time-limited one, then planned gifts may not be the right direction for you now. 


But it's not necessary to wait until you have the annual fund or major gifts program of your dreams to begin planned giving.  Many organizations hold off on planned giving until they have "everything else" sorted out and as we all know, that day never arrives.  If you want your organization to receive bequests and other planned gifts down the road, you've got to plant those seeds today. 



TC:  Are there any good resources you'd recommend for organizations that wanted to learn more about planned giving?


KW:  The planned giving profession is very friendly and I would encourage you to reach out to planned giving professionals in your area.  They might be willing to serve as mentors, give you pointers and share resources.  

  • Deb Ashton's The Complete Guide to Planned Giving is a practical and user-friendly guide and a great primer for those just starting out. 
  • Visit the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning ( to locate your local planned giving counsel; their website also has many helpful links and articles.  
  • Planned Giving Group of New England ( has terrific programs, many designed for the beginner and/or the smaller organization.
  • The Planned Giving Design Center ( is another excellent source.  

TC:  Is there anything else you want to add for our readers? 


KW:  It's easy to get overloaded with information, but remember that you don't have to know everything on day one.  Stick with the basics, do your homework, and expand when you're ready.



TC:  Thanks so much, Kris.  This has been incredibly helpful.


KW:  You're welcome.  And if anyone has other questions, please feel free to have them get in touch with me directly. 



Kris Willcox is a planned giving and fundraising consultant with a special interest in the needs of small organizations.  She can be reached at [email protected] or 617-571-0265.  Visit her website to learn more.  




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A fund development expert with a passion for social change, Funding Change founder Tina Cincotti gives grassroots groups the skills, tools, training, and confidence they need to raise more money from their supporters.


She specializes in building individual donor programs, improving donor relations and donor communications, writing newsletters and solicitations, coaching staff new to development, and motivating boards to be more engaged in fundraising.  


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