3 min read

A Data-Driven Approach to a Successful Planned Giving Program

Eric Smith

Planned giving is an often overlooked fundraising avenue when it comes to building a solid donor foundation because of its perceived complexity. In reality, planned giving follows much of the same formula as other fundraising methods: identify prospects, cultivate potential donors, make an ask, and steward them for their generosity. In this blog post, we are going to walk you through the considerations you should make in order to build a successful data-driven planned giving program.

Getting Started

First, you don’t need to be a legal or tax expert, but it’s important to have a basic understanding of common planned giving gift options because each vehicle has characteristics that will help you better identify potential prospects. 

Bequest intention: This is the most common type of planned gift, and anyone, single or married, child-free or with children, high net worth or not, can make this type of gift. The Windfall “Trust Association” trigger can highlight if that household is associated with a trust (personal, living, irrevocable, etc) and thus may be more likely to plan ahead when it comes to their assets and future donations.

Real estate gifts: Do you have prospects who own multiple residential properties, undeveloped land, or commercial properties? Gifts of real estate can make a huge philanthropic impact with key tax benefits for donors. Look at Windfall’s ‘Multiple Property Owner’ trigger to identify prospects with additional real estate holdings that could become part of a planned gift. 

Beneficiary: Nonprofits can serve as the beneficiary for retirement accounts, like a 401K or IRA, and even life insurance. 

Appreciated Securities: Donors can gift appreciated securities to support their favorite organizations and causes. Look for constituents with the “Money in Motion” trigger, as this could indicate that they are active in the stock market and have invested assets. In addition to a charitable deduction, appreciated securities donation will also help the donor avoid capital gains taxes! 

Next, be sure to solidify your messaging as you would for a major gift proposal. Similar to major gift asks, you need to communicate the impact a planned gift will make for your organization. Inform your donor about the type of legacy they can leave behind and how their stamp will live on after their planned gift has been realized. It’s important to have this level of communication with these potential donors because planned giving is about trust, not just the financial contribution being made.

Want to solidify your message and engage your top prospects? Try consulting with your most trusted constituents, such as your board of directors, your volunteer leadership, or a select group of your most active, engaged, and passionate donors to discuss your messaging. In addition to gaining valuable feedback, it is an opportunity to engage this special group and give them an “inside look”, making them feel valued and respected. Which they are!

Identifying and Engaging Prospects

There are several ways that you can cultivate a planned gift and it often, but not always, involves individuals who already have a relationship with your organization. You’ve got a good handle on the types of planned gifts, your messaging is dialed in, and now it’s time to identify planned giving prospects. A good place to start is to focus on your most loyal and engaged constituents. Be sure to identify individuals who give consistently to your organization, regardless of the amount. Another group to prospect would be your volunteers. Consistent giving and volunteer status are great indicators of an individual’s personal connection to your mission and organization and are great places to start identifying potential planned gift donors. It’s also a great idea to leverage your CRM to help identify key data points around these individuals such as marital status, age, net worth, and more. This will allow you to draw conclusions about your prospects and help you find more of them based on your CRM data.

Looking for a way to start engaging planned giving prospects? Invite them to existing events to give yourself a chance to connect with them in person so they can stay connected to your mission. Give your prospects an opportunity to see what making a planned gift would entail. Experiencing the event first-hand can have a very positive impact on their planned giving intentions. Perhaps these existing legacy events present additional volunteer opportunities. This would be a great opportunity to invite planned giving prospects to volunteer. As you engage with these prospects and encourage their involvement around legacy events, be sure to continue to engage them as current donors for annual gift-giving.

Alongside these efforts, there are several very valuable philanthropic triggers to keep in mind. Windfall is able to identify whether they are a Philanthropic Donor, a Multi-Property Owner, if they are part of a Trust Association, SEC: Money in Motion, Foundation Associations, and more. Using triggers like this will help you quickly and effectively help you identify your best prospects for your planned giving program.


Planned giving is a long process and it’s important that you continue to steward these individuals throughout their life for the donation they plan to make. Once a bequest is realized be sure to identify, engage, and steward their family members if possible. Let them know how appreciative your organization is for the legacy that was left behind.

It’s important for your team to determine how to steward individuals based on their bequest intentions. Not all gifts are created equally and you will need to lay some groundwork around what stewardship looks like for various levels of gift giving from modest to major.

Lastly, determine if the planned gift has a specific designation. Is this gift to be used for a specific purpose or is it non-discretionary? You must respect what the planned gift is intended for, and steward this prospect appropriately.


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