Elevate Your Planned Giving Program Without Breaking the Bank

Four pink piggy banks in a row.

Most of the small to mid-size nonprofits I coach ask me the exact same question:

“How can we start or up-level our gift planning program without a huge investment?” 

My advice is always the same. You can raise big planned gifts with little or no additional investment. You should focus on three key planned gift types. Once those start rolling in (and they will) you’ll have additional capital to start investing in a more robust program.

It’s all about raising awareness. Let every one of your audiences (donors, volunteers, board members, etc.) know of these three easy ways to make a current gift and tell them in every way possible. You’re probably doing all these things already and can easily change up the language and that costs you nothing.

  • Print
  • Social Media
  • Website
  • In-person

Way Number One: Gifts of Stock

Most charities have the ability to accept a gift of stock. It basically requires opening up an account whereby donors can easily transfer stock electronically to your account. Stock is THE MOST financially beneficial gift to make during life. Donors transfer the stock to their favorite charity, receive an income tax deduction for the full fair market value of that stock – even if it’s now worth much more than they paid for it. If someone has a stock portfolio, I bet you dollars to doughnuts it’s worth a LOT more than the cash in their checking account. Make sure you’re letting everyone know that they can make gifts of stock to your nonprofit and WHY it’s a really smart gift type.

Way Number Two: Qualified Charitable Distribution

Back in November I wrote an entire article about this gift type and you can read all the details there: “Start Your Engines, It’s IRA Season!” 

For now, let’s look at the basics. This gift type could be the best thing to ever happen to charities in America. I say that because right now Americans hold over $9 Trillion in IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts). We’ve been really good about socking money away for retirement for decades.

When an IRA owner turns 70.5 they MUST start taking annual distributions called Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) that are nearly always 100% taxable. These distributions can be very large – four, five, even six figures large. Many people don’t need or want all that extra taxable income.

Good news! Now there is a way to avoid that unwanted taxable income. All you have to do is send the unwanted portion to your favorite charity. It’s called the Qualified Charitable Distribution.

It’s time to start plastering this news on every communication you can think of. Even if the person reading it isn’t 70.5 years old yet, they likely have a parent or grandparent facing unwanted RMDs.

The deadline for taking RMDs is December 31 of each year, so start planning your QCD communication strategy now. That way, you’ll be ready to talk about it during 4th quarter when the majority of RMDs are taken.

Check out my detailed article for all the nitty-gritty goodness.

Way Number Three: Donor Advised Funds

If you know me at all, you know I’m a big proponent of Donor Advised Funds, because they make giving streamlined and allow donors to make big gifts of complex assets to benefit even the smallest charity.

I’m asked on an almost daily basis from charities I coach “How can we access all that money sitting in DAFs?” Here’s the answer – start asking for it. Don’t ask the administrator of the fund. Ask the donors you already have.

“Do you or someone close to you have a donor advised fund?”

If the answer is “YES”, the next words from your mouth should be something like:

“Would you consider making a grant from that fund to our organization?” 

If they’re already a donor and they’ve already set money aside in a DAF for charitable giving, don’t you think it’s likely they will agree to make that gift? I sure do.

You don’t have to have this conversation in person. It can be mentioned in your usual communications, such as annual fund appeals, solicitation letters, social media posts. Consider adding a box on an annual fund appeal letter that says something like:

“I plan to request a grant of $XXX from my Donor Advised Fund”. 

You can read all about best practices and rules for fundraising from DAFs in two previous articles I wrote.

The 800 Pound Gorilla of Philanthropy

Donor Advised Funds: Your $85 Billion Dollar Best Friend

Communicate with stories – not facts and figures! 

Humans learn best through stories. We are also inspired when we read a story. That’s how our brains are wired. So, when communicating these three gift types, do it by telling a story of someone who made a gift like it. If possible, share their name and photo. Share the donor’s words about why they made this type of gift. Share what it did for the charity and what it did for the donor – both financially and personally. If you don’t have a story – make one up or borrow one from another nonprofit and fit to match your organization.

I promised cheap, didn’t I?

Conversations cost little to nothing. Adding some new language to existing communications costs virtually nothing.

If you focus on raising awareness of these three types of gifts, I guarantee you the money will start arriving in truckloads. That’s because you’re letting donors know about ways they can give that:

  1. Don’t require they tap their relatively small cash reserves,
  2. Let them make bigger gifts that are more financially beneficial to them.

When those gifts do start rolling in, you can start investing in a more robust planned giving program that can accept a wide range of assets in a wide range of creative ways. For now, focus on these simple, yet powerful gift types. You won’t be sorry you did.


Will I see you at an event soon? Check out where I’ll be speaking next. I’d love to see YOU in the audience.

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