Three Basic Steps, and Three Enhancements, for Your Planned Giving Program

Three Basic Steps, and Three Enhancements, for Your Planned Giving Program


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Planned gifts can be a game changer for your land trust when they come in unexpectedly and are not restricted by the donor. Ninety-plus percent of all planned gifts are bequests or named beneficiaries on various insurance policies.

So, if you don’t have a planned giving program in place, what are you waiting for?

Here’s a basic primer on what you can do – right now, today – to set up a basic Planned Giving Program.


Step 1: “If you have left __________ in your will, please let us know so we can say Thank You during your lifetime.”

Take that simple phrase and put it everywhere you possibly can: on the Home page or your website, in your newsletters and Annual Reports, in your acknowledgment letters. On the reverse side of your appeal response cards. In your email signature. It doesn’t need to be very BIG. It just needs to be ubiquitously there.


Step 2: Legacy Club. Create a process for letting people know that you appreciate them for including the land trust in their estate plans. Create a brochure. Create a Thank You letter. Include a special area in the Annual Report to list people who have let you know. Call it the Legacy Club, or something similar. Have a special table (or giveaway, or name tag flag) at the Gala available for Legacy Club members.

Note that you do not need to know anything about what they may have left the organization. Could be $1,000. Could be a residual estate. You don’t need to know. They don’t need to tell you.

Once a year, profile one of your Legacy Club members. Go out and interview them and write an article that includes their motivations expressed in their own words. Include a picture of them and perhaps a picture of their favorite protected place.


Step 3: Ask your Board members to help create a critical mass of those willing to join the Legacy Club by being the first to sign up.


That’s it. Easy Peasy.

People who are interested need to know the full legal name of the land trust and the official mailing address current as of the signing of their will.

Ready for more? Here are three enhancements you can make that will help you take the next few steps. Each is pretty easy to do as well.


Enhancement 1: Create a simple codicil. One impediment to leaving an organization in your will is the need to reopen the entire estate process to do so. A codicil solves that problem. It is a short document that you can sign, leaving an organization in your will for a specific dollar amount – say $5,000. Codicils are settled from the estate before the will is read further.

So, this recommendation is that you have an attorney draft a basic codicil that someone – anyone – could print directly from your website. They fill out all the relevant information, sign it, and store it with their estate documents.


Enhancement 2: Talk to the estate attorneys in your neighborhood. Take an attorney to lunch, organize a brown bag for a firm, or invite local attorneys to a special event. In each case, let everyone know that you exist, the nature and activities of your mission, and why those who support you care. Dispel any lingering myths (“You’re a county program, right?”), and talk about current projects and successes. Leave your cards in case they have follow-up questions. And do it all again next year!


Enhancement 3: Develop a relationship with ONE attorney who specializes in estate planning. Work with him or her to develop a direct mail package about various ways to use planned giving vehicles to make charitable gifts, avoid taxes, and generate income using various insurance policies, and other legal magic tricks. Regularly mail the package to your members and donors. (Remember that a third to a half of your membership will be in its first two years of membership at any given time.) Refer anyone who answers to the attorney.

I recommend that you pay the attorney for his or her time, but you don’t have to do it that way. You could ask each of your donors to work with the attorney on their nickel.


As a final thought, I strongly recommend that you give some thought NOW to how you will handle it if and when someone does leave you in their will. See especially Winning the Land Trust Lottery.


So, what are you waiting for?


Cheers, and Have a great week.




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1 Comment
  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 12:09h, 05 June

    Some things we were already doing – but several we are not. Thank you!