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Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Who Is The Best Prospect For A Charitable Bequest?

October 23rd, 2013 by Karen Climer

Everyone knows that planned giving is important, but not everyone knows who makes a good planned gift prospect.  Quite often, people use the same criteria for planned gift prospects as they do for major gift prospects.  That’s probably not going to give you the best results.  So who do you focus on?

Focus On Loyalty, Not On Dollar Amount
Often, when an organization is looking for prospects for planned giving, they focus on major donors.  Big mistake!  Anyone – yes, anyone – can leave your organization in their will.  Even a person of modest means can make a major gift in their will.  Focus on loyalty instead.  The person who gives $25 a month for thirty years is a far better planned giving prospect than the person who gives a one-time gift of $10,000.

Focus on People Without Children
People who don’t have children or grandchildren are more likely to make a charitable bequest.  A study done by the University of Georgia found that only 9.8% of donors with grandchildren made charitable bequests, while 50% of those without children made a bequest.  The number one reason that people drop a charity from their will is that they become grandparents.  Also, half of all people without children do not have a will.  They are probably sitting by the phone waiting for you to call and talk to them about it!

Focus on People Who Are Younger Than What You’ve Been Targeting
Planned gifts aren’t just for old folks.  According to Michael Rosen, the average age of someone who makes their first charitable bequest commitment is 40-50.  Once someone puts a charity in their will, they are very unlikely to change it.  As soon as you learn that Mr. Smith has put your organization in your will, thank him and celebrate him.  If you keep in touch and express your appreciation, he won’t take you out of his will.

Posted in Planned Giving

3 Responses

  1. Ward

    Excellent points, Karen. As a planned giving professional, I agree with the data and information in your post. Planned giving is about loyalty. Just because a donor has made a single major gift to an organization does not mean that this person is a good prospect for a planned gift. I prefer to look at donors who have a consistent track record of supporting an organization. For example, someone who has made a $50.00 annual gift over a ten year period of time is a much stronger planned giving prospect than a donor who made a one-time $10,000.00 gift and never made another gift to the organization. From my experience at the SPLC, the ideal planned giving donor is someone, for example, who has made a $25.00 gift each month for ten plus years. If someone is giving to your organization each month and continues doing this over a period of years, then you obviously know that he or she loves you – plain and simple.

    And you are correct in that virtually anyone can make a planned gift; planned giving is not exclusively for wealthy people. Just because someone is a retired elementary school teacher doesn’t mean that he or she can’t make a very generous planned gift. I had many SPLC planned giving donors who were retired school teachers. Planned giving allows people who are not rich the opportunity to make a very meaningful gift when they pass away; something that they couldn’t have done during their lifetime.

    I also agree with the age component. Targeting donors who are in the 40s and 50s for a planned gift is very wise. There are studies that have indicated that once someone gets to be age 80, that he or she is less likely to make changes to his or her will to include a charitable bequest.

    A lot of my planned giving donors when I was with the SPLC did have children, but quite a few did not have children. So, I don’t focus too hard on whether or not they have children; if they love your organization’s mission, then they’ll find a way to support you with a charitable gift. However, bequests might be larger from donors who have no children/grandchildren, as opposed to donors who do; I don’t have any scientific data to support that, but just from my experiences it typically seemed to be that way in many cases. But, I’ve also had a husband/wife couple from Austin, Texas, who have adult children, but they aren’t leaving the children anything; their entire estate (which will be significant) will pass to the SPLC. As a professional fundraiser, you just have to always be ready to expect anything.

  2. Karen Climer

    Ward, thank you for reading and for sharing your planned giving expertise. You make a good point about people who plan to leave nothing to their adult children. Some people are afraid it will their adult children won’t appreciate the value of hard work if they inherit everything. On the other hand, I know some people who are very philanthropic now, but believe that 100% of their estate should go to their family. No one outside of the family gets a penny. There are as many philosophies as their are people. The only way to know for sure is to talk to the donor. Thanks again for reading and sharing.

  3. Ward

    You are welcome. And thank you for maintaining such a helpful website. I was in your presentation at Planet Philanthropy earlier this week and thought it was really good.

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