Creating a Planned Giving (and other charitable giving) council

My CPA friend tells me how shocked he is that most of his clients don’t maximize their

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charitable giving deductions.  More to the point, he is surprised at what a cruddy job of soliciting most nonprofits do.

The problem, of course, is more complex.  Not knowing who this prospects are in one issue; getting in front of them is another.

When I work with clients on planned giving, I generally suggest that they start a planned giving council comprised of local finance, law, tax planning and real estate professionals.  These people would be recruited to help the organization develop a broader knowledge about planned giving vehicles and to help with the educational aspects of planned giving marketing.

Being on the committee should not be onerous.  One or two meetings a year—mainly so they can network—and working with them, as much or as little as their time allows, to help your donors and their clients make wise charitable choices.

It is this latter that brings it beyond planned gifts.

As the manager of this group, you should be meeting one on one with each and every member at least once a year.  In this way, they are a lot like your board members who you should also be meeting with annually.

The purpose of that meeting is to acquaint them with your organization but also to get to know about their clients and how you might be able to assist them with their tax issues.

While it is clear what your benefits are, the council members also benefit.  These include:

  • Professional Exposure
  • Networking Opportunities
  • Referrals
  • Inside View of your organization and its Strategic Priorities

Pulling this committee together, of course, takes a bit of work.  But hey, what doesn’t?  Start by pulling together a task force of your board members and major or planned gift donors to your organization.  The purpose of this task force is to brainstorm names of professionals who would bring credibility to your planned giving program as well as those who work primarily with high net worth individuals.

Then, much as you would do with a major gift prospect, identify the best person to open the door and work with that person to get an appointment with each prospective member.

The purpose of this meeting is to begin building relationships and to explain the purpose of the council and why you hope this prospect will say yes.

At the meeting you’ll explain: We are looking to recruit the most respected professionals in our community to help us ensure our organization’s future.  We’ve begun a planned giving program and while we know that most gifts we ask for and get will be fairly straightforward bequests, we do want to make sure that we have access to information about and help with more sophisticated planned giving vehicles.  That is the primary purpose of our council.  We also hope that we can help you to help your clients with their annual tax needs. As you help us, we hope that we can also help you by introducing you to potential clients and giving you suitable marketing opportunities with our supporters.

As with all you do, this must be an ongoing effort.  The task force should be reconvened at least every other year to add new members, and you must be meeting regularly with those who have said yes to ensure that both of you benefit.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping to move them from mired to inspired.  She works with organizations to develop fundraising programs—including planned and major gifts—and with boards to increase their ability and comfort level in fundraising.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation

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Stewardship Matters

Honk if you’ve ever given a charitable gift and never got a thank you.  Hear that cacophony?

And how many of you have made a gift, gotten a thank you and then the next time you heard from the organization it was because they were asking you for another gift?  Sometimes that ask is disguised as a newsletter, or an urgent update of some sort.

Truly, it is no wonder that donor retention is in the toilet.

Typically, we give because something grabs us, makes us care.  We think that our support will matter.  And then the nonprofit  never expressses to us– the donor–that, truly, it did.

Think about the revolution you can create with your donors–stop only asking and start telling them what their generosity means.  Talk (or write) about the impact their gift has had.  Show them how it has made a difference.

Stewardship is not just a word or an arrow on a chart of development process.  It needs to be something your organization not just does but lives.

There are two kinds of stewardship:

  1. Reactive, that is focused on the gift that has been given. This kind of stewardship focuses on gratitude and how important the donor’s gift is
  2. Proactive looks to the next gift. It’s focus is on the donor—how important he or she is.  It looks backward to share why the gift that was given matters, and forward to the impact the next gift will have.

Like cultivation, stewardship should be as individualized as possible.  For larger donors that means learning a lot about how they want to be recognized.  When you meet with these donors ask them to tell you about the best gift they ever made.  And then ask about the very best thank you they ever received.

A very major donor at one of the institutions where I worked told me that he liked to think that all his gifts were the best, but the very best thank you he ever received was a video of a bunch of kids, smiling and screaming “THANK YOU MR _________!  WE LOVE YOU.” And then a few of the children stepped forward to tell him specifically what his gift meant to them.

“Knowing that it mattered to them, felt invaluable,” the donor told me. “Sometimes I get thanked because of the size of the gift.  These kids didn’t know from size—they just knew that they got something they needed and wanted.”

Show your donors the value of their gift—the need that is filled—will make a huge difference not just to those donors but to you in the form of the gifts you will get moving forward.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn more at  Sign up at the site for the newsletter and do contact Janet to ask for a free, 30—minute consultation.

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Objectives versus Activities

In my online grants class, students often get confused between objectives—what we are trying to accomplish—and activities—the way (how) we will accomplish our objectives.  It’s an important difference, and has huge implications for things like evaluation plans (how we assess our successes).  It also impacts what we are telling our potential funders about the issue or problem we are addressing.

If my objective is to have 7 workshops in 18 months where 300 women will learn about office skills my focus is very different than if I want to provide 300 women who are stuck in a cycle of poverty to break that cycle and move into a stronger financial situation. 

In one, I am filling a classroom;  in the other I am changing the dynamic of a community.

Likewise, if I describe the work of my organization by telling people about our specific programs, in addition to causing many eyes to glaze over, I may just be convincing my prospects to think small because we think small.

As that old saying goes, “shoot for the moon because if you miss you still land among the stars.”

Thinking big(ger) starts by considering what you could change.  You could teach a class in nutrition or you could create an awareness of what a healthy community is.  One is narrow; the other broad.  This is not to say that how you are going to reach your objectives is not important.  Of course it is.  But it is not the stuff of dreams.

Dreams are when you think of all the possibilities.  When you imagine a world that is so much more than our world today.

And dreams are the way get your donors and funders thinking about what they can accomplish and what they can help you to do.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them turn their dreams into reality.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the newsletter and do contact Janet for a free, 30-minute consultation.

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Being a Part of Your Success

“How many of you,” I typically ask when I’m brought in to talk with a board about fundraising, “joined this board because you couldn’t wait to ask your friends for money?”

You can guess how many raise their hands.  Not many.

Asking for money, I always tell them, is not the be-all and end all of fundraising.  In fact, if you look at the fundraising process, solicitation—asking for funds—is only a very small part of what fundraising is all about.  So you don’t want to ask?  Fine, I say.  But you have to be engaged in other aspects of fundraising.

Being an ambassador is one of those important roles.  Making sure that potential donors know who you are and what you do is crucial.  But being an ambassador entails far more than that.

To be an effective ambassador, your board members must involve others so that they become supporters. That means they have to show and tell those prospects why your organization merits their support.  And then to let you know who they’ve spoken with.  And what that conversation was about.

Being an ambassador can also help staunch the flow of donors who gave once but not again.  The numbers on donor retention are horrendous—especially for smaller nonprofits.  They—you!—don’t have the resources to  keep in touch with the majority of donors.  That’s where your board members can come in.

Simply telling people about the difference a donation makes is a great way for your board member to connect someone closer to you.  Making sure your board member knows how those gifts actually do make a difference is a wonderful way for you to connect that board member closer.  It is what is typically called a win-win situation.

Making sure that your board ambassadors understand the importance of that role—and the importance of letting you know what they do as ambassadors—will help your fundraising in so many ways.

Many years ago, one of my clients had a very problematic board member.  One of his most problematic traits was his lack of financial support for the organization.  When I started working with this group, we talked about board fundraising roles, and he—not unexpectedly—flat out refused to have anything to do with fundraising.

“Be an ambassador,” I said.  Every week, we will send you an email outlining ONE thing that happens here because of our supporters.”

And that’s what we did.  Every week, we sent to him—and while we were doing that, we also sent it to the rest of the board—one bullet point talking about a success, a change,  a something, anything that happened because donors gave the organization the resources to make those things possible.

I don’t know how often this gentleman told others about these things.  What I do know is that in three months he gave a very substantial gift.  “I had no idea,” he told the executive director as he handed her a check.  “And now that I know, I HAVE to be a part of our success.”

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping you to be more successful and to move from mired to inspired.  Learn more at  Consider giving your board a one-hour training to make them better fundraisers!

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When Direct Mail Appeals Go Sadly Wrong

Dear “SALU” said the appeal, obviously missing the important step of mail merge.  Dear SALU, alas, wasn’t the only error.  The next sentence asked me–as a regular donor–to continue helping to do what they do.  But I’m not a regular donor.  In fact, I’ve never donated, though I am a member–and my membership makes clear that there is no part of my dues that allow a charitable deduction.

Finally, the request was to continue donating to something they do because THEY think it is important.  What about me–the donor?  Do I count?  Does it matter if I think it is important?  Clearly not, and because they so obviously don’t care about me, it is hard for me to care about them.

I suspect if I had an inkling of what the support would accomplish, I might be moved to give.  But simply telling me how many in this case students received services, is for me at least, meaningless.  Did they want the services?  Did they benefit from them?  If so, how so?

Okay.  You get the picture, I hope.

To make your appeal effective:

  1. Make it personal.  That means that yes, mail merge, and yes again, make sure it is set correctly
  2. If you are segmenting, make sure the segments are correct.  If you are not, then be more general–you support will make a difference.  Of course, gratitude helps, so if you can segment do so.  If you can’t, do thank all those who have supported our work in the past.
  3. Show me how my gift will make a difference.  Telling me how many people will be served only matters if you compare it to where you were. “Thanks to our wonderful supporters, we’ve been able to double the number of people…..”. Now I see that my gift has impact.  More importantly, show me how it makes a difference.

Direct mail, at best has a small effective rate.  Make sure you are making it as effective as possible by doing things happily right.

Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to go from mired to inspired.  Through training, coaching and consul, Janet helps your nonprofit increase its fundraising capacity and helps you to build stronger board.  Learn more at and do request a free, 30-minute consultation. 

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