Second in a Series of 3: Culture of Collaboration

If there’s one area that suffers from lack of collaboration, it’s the relationship of major gifts to planned giving. That’s why, in my next two posts, I’m going to write about what major gifts needs from planned giving and what planned giving needs from major gifts – with help from our Director of Planned Giving Services, Bob Shafis.

We all know that major gifts and planned giving are siblings – they’re linked and dependent on each other. But most of the time, we don’t act like they are. So we set up job descriptions for the major gift person and for the planned giving person that ignore the need to collaborate.

To make things worse, we don’t put performance metrics in those job descriptions that encourage collaboration. So each party operates independent from the other. This isn’t good. That’s why, if you’re a manager of these areas, you need to make sure you add the points in these two posts to your job descriptions and performance evaluation so that MGOs and PGOs pay attention to the need to collaborate.

Before I suggest what you should consider, I’d like to revisit two foundational points on this subject of planned giving – topics we’ve mentioned many times before:

  1. First, talking about planned giving with your donors isn’t scary or hard. If you think it is, and that’s the reason you’re avoiding doing it, then stick with us so we can help make it less complicated in your mind.
  2. Secondly, please don’t forget this important point: donors receive a tremendous amount of joy from giving. Why? Because, through their giving, they’re putting part of themselves out into the universe to do good. They’re doing that good in areas that they love – areas that mean a lot to them. If you truly understand this, you’ll be bold in helping each donor on your caseload do just that. And that means talking to them about what kind of legacy they want to leave. Also, don’t forget that talking to your donors about other ways to leave a legacy and make a greater impact is part of building an authentic relationship.

Please remember these two points as we move ahead with this topic. OK, here’s what major gifts needs from planned giving:

Remember that since planned and major giving are closely related, knowing some of the key elements of planned giving goes a long way towards enhancing your effectiveness as a major gifts officer. You don’t need to know the details of how each type of planned gift works, but you do need to know how to start a conversation touching on planned gifts, and then how to gather information needed to craft a planned giving proposal.

Here’s a list of questions we’re routinely asked on this subject, and the answers to each question:

  • What are the key signals or trigger points that can tip you off to the possibility that this donor would be a great candidate for a planned gift? These are all snippets of information that can lead to a broader conversation on planned giving. Listen for them:
    • A person talks about how they need more income in retirement.
    • A person says they’re paying too much in taxes and they need more tax deductions.
    • A person is a long-term investor, and they talk about how they need to avoid long-term gains.
    • A person has a business and is thinking about selling the business.

    What talking points and questions can you use to elicit information needed for a good planned giving proposal? As I mentioned above in the trigger points, a good planned gift for a donor will address their tax concerns, family and business planning opportunities, and needs for more income. The information to decide which type of planned gift will work for this donor can be obtained in simple, natural conversations with the donor.

    How should I work with others on my team, whether a dedicated planned giving officer, a development director, or even volunteers and board members? First, educate them on the trigger points so they’re on the lookout for donors who bring up those topics. Then work with them to discuss each donor and make introductions, so that you or your planned giving person can present all the gift options.

    When and how do you bring in the planned giving staff? Once you hear one or more of the trigger points above or anything related to estate planning, it’s natural for you to say the following to the donor: “You know, NAME, I think it would be good to talk to PGO NAME as he/she can help address your concern in that area. May I set up a meeting?” And then set up the meeting. Once they trust you, donors are usually willing to be helped in this area.

    How do we steward our planned gift donors effectively? By hiring and assigning a full-time person to stay in regular communication with them to constantly send them information in the area of their passions and interests, and how their past, current and future giving is making such a great difference. Remember this: if you don’t steward these donors properly, you’ll lose half of them as they modify their will before they pass. This is an actual statistic: 50% of planned givers change their will before they pass. And the primary reason organizations get left out is poor stewardship.

If you put these very simple principles in place in your organization, you’ll have a far better relationship between major gift and planned giving staff. And that will be good for you, the donor, and the organization.


Read the series “Culture of Collaboration”

  1. Lack of Collaboration Causes Failure
  2. What Major Gifts Needs to Know about Planned Giving (This Post)
  3. What Planned Giving Needs to Know about Major Gifts