October 24, 2014


Strategic stewardship for planned giving programs

Katherine Swank

Katherine Swank

[Publisher's note: This article was provided by Blackbaud, a maker of fundraising software. Blackbaud is a PJ business partner.]

The following is an excerpt from the new book Cultivating Lifelong Donors: Stewardship and the Fundraising Pyramid.

When was the last time you personally spoke to the people who are leaving gifts to your organization in their wills?

With the average bequest in the U.S. hovering between $35,000 and $70,000 and at around $30,000 in Canada, you can't afford to alienate your planned-gift donors through lack of communication.

Consider this: As few as 15 people making average planned gifts have the ability, when combined, to provide your organization with more than a million dollars. 

Are you making the time to incorporate best practices for planned-gift donor recognition and stewardship?

True donor stewardship begins even before you know that a gift has been made.

A simple, yet strategic stewardship program provides your often "silent" legacy givers with a two-way relationship and builds an intentional bond with these future major donors that improves your chances of receiving increased gifts from them now, as well as increased or additional legacy gifts in the future.

A view from the top

Every fundraising professional eventually becomes acquainted with the fundraising pyramid.

It's an effective visual aid that provides a solicitation continuum from entry-level donor as the foundation to ultimate donor at the apex. Both major and planned-gift donors reside together in the pyramid's peak.  

Combined with the traditional donor giving life-cycle - identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship - the final step, "stewardship" acts as the central cohesive element on which additional gifts hinge.

When performed correctly, stewardship binds our high-gift donors to the organization and its mission, and they become invested in our success.

When performed poorly or neglected, there is a gap, not filled through any other step, that often leads to supporter dissatisfaction, distrust and a degraded affiliation.

Assessing your own stewardship efforts

Because many actual planned-gift donors never alert us to their gift during their lifetime, you will want to assess your current stewardship efforts to be certain that you are including those most likely to have made planned gifts. Consider the following ideas:

  • Distribute your acknowledgement or thank-you publications to your constituents who are most likely to have made planned gifts. Showing them how you respect and acknowledge others may help the reserved to come forward.
  • Include simple planned-gift donor stories in your general organizational publications and insert them into annual-fund communications to reach your extended deferred-gift audience. Inspiring examples of future intentions spread the excitement of possibilities. Share what a few have done and urge others to seek information.
  • Be certain that your front-line fundraisers are planned-gift donors themselves. As a donor, you transform from solicitor to peer and discussing legacy giving with prospects becomes a natural conversation rather than an uncomfortable solicitation.

Strategic stewardship increases your organization's image, reputation and priority with both current and future planned-gift donors.

Thoughtful gratitude and communication cost nothing.

Take time to consider the rewards. Securing a future gift of $70,000 from one person per week secures your mission $7,280,000 in expectancies in just two years.

If you start now, your future will be here before you know it.

Read the entire chapter in the free e-book Cultivating Lifelong Donors: Stewardship and the Fundraising Pyramid.

Katherine Swank, J.D., is a consultant with Target Analytics, a Blackbaud Company.


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