If you are newer to the world of planned giving, or perhaps you’re an MGO or MLO being asked to have planned gift conversations with your donors, you may be experiencing what I call “The Ick Factor.” The first time you learn about some of the strategies used in planned giving, you may feel a little squirmy due to how personal these conversations can be. (I know I did when I first dipped a toe in the planned giving pool.) Have thoughts like these ever crossed your mind?

  • It feels weird to prioritize donors because they’re childless or a widow.
  • You want me to ask them WHAT about their relationship with their children and the family business?
  • Why on earth is a donor going to talk to ME about their tax concerns?
  • I don’t want to talk to people about when they’re going to die!

If you’ve had these thoughts, you’re not alone – and you can overcome them. By getting your head and heart right around your role in a planned giving conversation, you don’t have to feel “The Ick Factor.” Instead, you can feel the joy and satisfaction of helping your donor leave a legacy they are passionate about.

If you’ve been following Veritus Group for any length of time, you know we believe that fundraising is not just about the money. And even though planned giving conversations go into deeper and more complex territory around finances, that philosophy still stands true.

The role of any frontline fundraiser – Mid-Level, Major Gifts, or Planned Giving – is to be a bridge between a donor’s passions and interests and the work of your organization. The only differences in planned giving are that the donor is investing in future impact instead of current impact, and you are asking for gifts of assets instead of gifts of cash.

The questions you ask and the details you’re learning during a planned giving conversation are meant to help you learn more about a donor’s vision for their legacy, and their concern for themselves, their family, and the world. Your only motivation for gathering this information is to learn if your organization has something to offer that would meet those passions or concerns.

And remember, you’re going to learn all this information using open-ended questions and the Permission-Based Asking Model, so your donor is always at the center of the conversation. In this way, the donor can steer you away from any topic that they’re not comfortable discussing without that awkward moment. (Check out this blog post for a few examples of permission-based asking in action.)

So let’s put this into context of some of those thoughts you may have had and how we can reframe those:

  • A widow with no children may still have a strong passion for leaving a legacy beyond her lifetime, and may not have a family structure that she envisions as part of that legacy. Planned giving allows you to share how she can make continuing your organization’s work a part of her lasting impact in this world.
  • You wouldn’t jump right into asking a donor, “So, are you selling your business or giving it to your kids?” Once you’ve built a trusting relationship, you can ask a donor to share more of the story of their family business – how it started, how it’s grown, and where they see it going. In time, you’ll learn more about their vision for the business, as well as their family’s involvement (or lack thereof). Once you’ve identified any pain points in the donor’s planning process for the business, you can learn whether your organization may offer solutions through a planned gift. The important thing here is that you aren’t trying to manipulate the donor to your end goal. You’re listening, hearing, and honoring the donor, and providing solutions that align with their philanthropic goals.
  • Not every donor is going to share their tax concerns with you (and that’s ok). And as you’re building a deeper relationship and learning more about their assets, their business, and their family, you may pick up on indicators that the donors have some tax concerns for the future. It can be as simple as an offhand comment like, “Well our finance guy keeps telling us to spend more…” If you pick up on these indicators, then you can ask permission to ask more about that concern. Then, if appropriate, you can share planned giving information that may be helpful for the donors and their advisors to review.

I’m not saying planned gift conversations will always be easy – especially if you’re new in this space. But when you go in with the right goal of learning information that will help you to offer solutions that might meet your donor’s concerns or help them fulfill their vision for their legacy, these conversations get a lot less “icky” and a lot more joyful and rewarding for both you and your donor.


Theresa Tapocsi is a Client Experience Leader at Veritus Group. With more than a decade of experience in fundraising, Theresa brings a passion for the non-profit sector to her work. She has worked on multiple successful capital campaigns, and has spent her career helping organizations establish systems and best practices for many functions of fundraising and non-profit management, including annual giving, major giving, board development, grants planning, and event management. She has her B.A. in Arts Management and an MBA in Entrepreneurship from Baldwin Wallace University.