Planned gifts, or gifts that are part of financial or estate plans, are usually the largest gifts a donor will ever make. And if you market planned giving to everyone, you'll unlock transformational gifts across your supporter base.
To be effective, your planned giving marketing needs to be donor-centric, placing the donor at the very center of everything you do. Focus on their values, needs, and desire to make an impact rather than your organization’s needs.
This approach will strengthen a prospect’s affinity, or connection, to your cause. And those who have a high affinity to your organization are your best planned giving prospects and will give more over time. Even if you’ve been marketing planned gifts for a while, simple changes can show your donors their value to your organization.
Here’s a quick example: instead of saying, “Make a bequest gift to charity,” you can say, “Make a gift in your will to support causes that have been important in your life.” According to a study by planned giving expert Dr. Russell James, this type of “important in your life” framing can increase donor interest in making a legacy gift by 28%.
Let’s review a few more top planned giving marketing strategies and ideas, broken down into two categories: the materials and best practices you’ll need and tactics for engaging more donors with your planned giving program.
Planned giving marketing materials and best practices
What marketing materials will you need to effectively promote planned giving, and how should you use them? Take a look at these best practices:
1. If you don't have a planned giving page on your website already, create one to educate all of your supporters.
Focusing on donor needs means you’ll make it easy and intuitive for your supporters to make a planned gift to your organization or learn more about this option.
One of the best ways to do this is by creating a dedicated landing page that defines the types of planned gifts and how to make them. Or, you can add a section to your donation page that lets supporters request more information about your planned giving program.
A dedicated page about your program should include:
- Planned giving options. Clearly define each giving option by explaining what the gift means for the donor. If your donor is leaving a bequest, it can be fairly straightforward. To make a bequest, a donor simply allocates a portion of their estate to a nonprofit in their legal will. However, other types of planned gifts, such as charitable gift annuities, can be a bit more complicated and need further explanation. Just avoid bogging down your explanations with too much jargon.
- Contact info for the person in charge of planned giving. Your page may not provide all the info your prospects need, or prospects may have additional questions. Provide contact information so they can call or email the person in charge of planned gifts at your organization.
- Information about your legacy society. A legacy society is a membership association for people who have made a planned gift to your organization. We’ll go into more detail about these later in this article, but they can be a great resource and community for your planned giving donors. On your page, outline the perks and benefits of being a member.
- A clear call to action. Your page should include a button that links to a form where prospects can request more information or even make their will. Place it in a prominent location and use language that describes what action you want donors to complete. For example, you can say, “Create your legacy!”
The American Red Cross does this really well by dedicating a whole site to planned giving, redcrosslegacy.com. They link to it from their main site, and then include pages like “How you can give.”
They also offer sample language for making a gift in your will, ways to get in touch with their planned giving team, and definitions of different planned giving types.
In addition, they provide their supporters with a tool to make their wills online — FreeWill offers warm, donor-centric language that helps any of its supporters make a free gift in their will.
Pro tip: Create a well-designed one-pager you can bring to events or programming for those who respond better to or prefer printed materials. Be sure to focus your language on the impact a donor can have with their gift and mention legacy society benefits.
2. Email planned giving information to all of your supporters multiple times a year.
Many of your supporters want to make a bigger impact, but may not know what planned giving is or how to make a gift to your organization. To be donor-centric, you should aim to make every donor aware of opportunities where they can make a bigger difference. By educating supporters about planned giving, you’re helping them decide which giving option best meets their philanthropic goals and needs.
As with all effective marketing, repetition is key for seeing results. A supporter may open an email about planned giving several times before actually sitting down to make a will and commit a bequest.
From our work with hundreds of nonprofits, we've found that the most effective marketing strategy includes two to three standalone promotional campaigns per year along with several integrated mentions in other communications. Standalone emails have a single call-to-action, like “create your legacy.” Integrated mentions list planned giving along with other giving options.
Examples of planned giving marketing outreach include:
- A full campaign for National Make-A-Will month in August
- Postscript mentions in general fundraising appeals
- Legacy donor stories (we’ll go into the power of donor stories below)
- Newsletter mentions
- Ways to donate on GivingTuesday
- Legacy society announcements
When sending outreach, we recommend prioritizing email instead of direct mail — even older folks are more likely to respond that way. And don’t underestimate the power of standalone emails. We’ve found that they’re twice as successful at generating legacy gifts than emails with multiple options to give.
However, we know it can be tough to incorporate planned giving outreach into a packed communications calendar or with a smaller team. But you don’t have to write your emails from scratch — we’ve created email templates with effective planned giving marketing language to save time and get your team started.
3. Be thoughtful and empathetic when writing about planned giving.
Planned giving can be a sensitive topic for supporters. To be donor-centric when communicating about planned gifts, emphasize that they allow supporters to make the biggest impact of their lives. Even though you won’t receive their gift until after they pass, donors can still fully decide how their gift will be used. And with their support, your organization can better plan for the future.
Additionally, remember these best practices when writing or speaking about legacy gifts:
- Don’t mention death. Legacy fundraising research shows that mentioning death decreases a person’s interest in making a legacy gift. That’s because reminders about death cause two reactions in people: avoidance or the pursuit of a lasting impact. Instead of talking about death, focus your communications on how your donors can create a legacy. Avoid language like “leave a legacy” because it implies death. Instead, use language such as “create a legacy” or “make a gift in your will.”
- Acknowledge that this form of giving may be new to your supporters. This can trigger curiosity in prospects instead of making them feel as though they “should have” known about this type of giving already. For example, try using: “Did you know?” or “You might be surprised to learn…” in your outreach.
- Highlight the range of ages making planned gifts. This will help your older donors feel less targeted and like part of a broader audience. For example, you can say: “Supporters of our humane society, from 18 to 88, choose to include us in their will or trust. Would you like information on how to join them?”
4. Personalize your marketing outreach to make supporters feel seen and valued.
When speaking to a nonprofit, donors can feel like they’re talking to an “entity” versus a human being. To make them feel like they're speaking to someone interested in their values and needs, personalize your outreach.
To start, use your donor or prospect’s first name in any written communication with them. Studies show that seeing or hearing your first name triggers brain activation in a place called your reticular activating system, or RAS.
Your first name is one of the sounds the RAS loves to hear. By using it in your outreach, your prospect will feel like the content was written to them instead of at them.
This is a great marketing strategy because it not only makes the content seem more relevant, but it also increases the likelihood that they’ll remember what they’ve read. It’s easy to use this tactic in mass outreach — pretty much all email platforms allow you to customize an email with a contact’s first name when integrated with your CRM.
Another way to personalize your outreach is by making sure anything you send to a donor has more “you” words instead of “we” or “I” words. Your donors will feel more connected to what they’re reading, and the outreach will seem more conversational and inviting.
5. Use donor stories as social proof in your planned giving marketing.
Donor testimonials are a great marketing strategy that can help illustrate the tangible impact of a legacy gift. And they’re a powerful way to show that your organization values each donor.
Plus, donor stories are an effective form of positive social proof. Social proof is the idea that supporters want to act in ways that are similar to their peers, and it’s extremely effective — donors are 15% more likely to leave a bequest when they believe they’re “one of many supporters” doing the same. And gift size increases by almost $6,000.
To keep your stories donor-centric, focus on the impact of the gift and the background of the donor, rather than the size of the gift itself. This example from Santa Clara University effectively talks about how a legacy gift from an alumnus provided financial support to students at the school.
Engagement strategies to promote planned giving
You’ve developed a library of materials to promote planned giving, developed an outreach calendar, and understand the importance of thoughtfulness and personalization. What next? There are additional steps you can take to better engage your donors with your planned giving program.
6. Create a legacy society to deepen your relationship with planned giving donors.
A key part of a donor-centric planned giving marketing strategy is a legacy society, a membership association for people who have made a planned gift to your organization. It gives donors a lifelong sense of community and connection to your cause.
Your society members can spread the word about your nonprofit. And you can deepen your relationship with these donors by hosting exclusive events, recognizing them publicly, and inviting them to volunteer or advocate for your mission. This can also lead to more gifts or plant the seeds for larger gifts in the future.
This example from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation outlines the benefits of their legacy society, as well as the guidelines for eligibility. They’ve also named their society after a highly visible supporter.
Once you’ve picked a society name and logo, you may want to send new members a welcome gift. This can be a pin or a letter from your CEO or board thanking them for their bequest.
7. Host smaller, exclusive events for your most engaged prospects.
One of the best donor-centric marketing strategies is to invite your most engaged prospects to small, exclusive events, either virtually or in person. This can help them feel more connected to your team and mission, as well as help them meet other loyal supporters.
Though the standard marketing funnel generally outlines the process a customer goes through before buying a product, it’s especially helpful when it comes to nonprofit marketing, as well. Your donors are evaluating your nonprofit as something they’d like to invest their money into.
When cultivating prospects, these events are for those at the bottom of the funnel — or the “conversion” stage. In other words, they’re very close to making a planned gift. They’ve been responsive and engaged during the cultivation process and only need a few more touchpoints to commit.
The focus of these events should be to learn more about your prospects and educate them on the impact their legacy gift could have instead of on what your organization needs. Have copies of your one-pager or brochure on hand — this can be a great way to follow up with those who express verbal interest during your event.
You should also introduce them to key leaders of your nonprofit, like your board members or executives. This will make them feel like valued and important members of your organization.
Here are a few event examples that you can host virtually or in person:
- Informational luncheons, where you can provide more information about planned gifts
- Tours of your facilities, where prospects can meet the team or executives
- Dinner or house party hosted by one of your board members or executives
For tips on how to host successful virtual events, check out our virtual events fundraising guide.
Planned giving marketing FAQ
Let’s recap the essential takeaways to remember about promoting your planned giving program:
- Why is it important to promote your planned giving program?
- For any fundraising effort to be successful, donors need to know about it! Your donors might be unfamiliar with the various forms of planned giving or have misconceptions about what it means or how the process works. Educating and informing your donors about their giving options should be a key goal of your marketing efforts.
- Who should you target with your planned giving marketing?
- You should promote planned giving to all of your donors in one way or another. Planned giving gives every donor the opportunity to have an outsized impact on your mission because their gift won’t affect their income and day-to-day finances. Appeal to specific segments of your audience with more tailored messaging and launch new promotional campaigns over time.
- What are the key elements of a planned giving marketing strategy?
- An effective strategy to promote your planned giving program should include educational materials on your website, email templates, printed one-pagers, a legacy society for donors, outreach calendars for promotional campaigns, and an understanding of best practices for talking about planned giving. Ensure that you have a structure in place to track and measure your planned giving results over time so that you can improve your strategies.
Armed with the best practices, tips, and ideas outlined above, you’ll be able to start promoting your planned giving program and engaging more donors than ever before. Want to make planned giving even more simple and accessible for your donors? Freewill can help.
To learn more about planned giving and managing a planned giving program, keep exploring with these additional resources:
- The benefits of planned giving for nonprofits and donors
- How to start a planned giving program: Step-by-step guide
- How to find planned giving prospects: 4 steps
- Make-A-Will Month marketing: 3 tips to boost planned giving