What do planned gift counting policies have to do with collaboration, blended gifts and performance metrics?

publication date: Aug 8, 2017
author/source: Doug Puffer

The National Association of Charitable Gift Planners (NACGP) has researched and published guidelines recommending charities count gifts at face value in three categories: current, irrevocable expectancies and revocable expectancies. I expect that the Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) will eventually develop standards for Canadian organizations, but until then the most comprehensive treatise is below.

By adopting appropriate counting policies and tying them to performance metrics we can create true win/win environments within our organizations. My practice has been to establish team program goals for both deferred gifts and current gifts rather than individual “dollars in the door” goals. This assures that our goals are interdependent, performance metrics are interrelated and they are simply and clearly stated. We use dollar counts to measure progress but we allocate both realized and expected gifts to a project or faculty so that credit is fully shared with the fundraisers in outlying units. The unit fundraiser’s job is to lead the stewardship actions with living planned gift donors to assure that the gift stays in the donor’s will. The planned giving team actively participates in achieving overall fund raising goals (annual and major) and especially by helping to identify opportunities for blended gifts. However the top priorities for the planned giving team remain: confirm future gifts and develop strategies to encourage prospects to self-identify.

Expectancies and realized gifts If you have numerous estates in various stages of execution you may be able to reasonably project cash flow from realized legacy gifts, but very few organizations are in that situation. Many charities still mistakenly set goals for realized bequests, usually because they have adopted the wrong policies for counting gifts. No organization should set a goal for realized gifts but it happens all the time! I imagine Scott Adams might pen and sketch the following conversation:

Pointy haired boss: “How many legacy donors are going to die next year?” Dilbert: “Last year there were 35.” Pointy haired boss: “You’ll have to do better. We need the money now.” Dilbert: “I’ll keep my fingers crossed.” Catbert: “The Board expects a more definitive strategy.”

The aspects of planned giving that we can actually influence are: encouraging new expectancies, developing relationships and improving stewardship. In my shop at Carleton University, I am responsible for generating leads and the team follows up. Stewardship is shared across the entire advancement team. As relationships develop, some legacy donors may be asked for an appropriate current gift (blended gift). More and more often, an engagement dialog with our annual and major gift donors includes questions about their interest in legacy giving. Realized gifts are lovely surprises.

Why solicitation is missing from the planned giving cycle. I am trying to remember the last time I asked someone directly, face to face to consider including my organization in their will. I used to do it routinely and successfully because that is how I was originally instructed as a planned giving officer and the older generation I was working with was perhaps more comfortable with a direct dialog. But the market for planned giving has shifted to boomers. To seed and grow the idea of future philanthropy with this demographic, outbound marketing communications must be part cultivation, part stewardship, and use of what Professor Russell James calls "an oblique ask." They also need a reply device making it easy for people to self identify, so you can begin to work with them.

Planned gift solicitation, primarily for bequests, has been subsumed in the stages of cultivation and stewardship, which occur after the donor has arranged the legacy gift and then revealed it in response to a marketing effort or in conversation. They have already made the legacy arrangement in their wills before you have the opportunity to ask them. After a person has revealed their legacy, you have the chance to develop a relationship which could lead to a current gift or another legacy gift.


The National Association of Charitable Gift Planners (NACGP) Guidelines for Reporting and Counting Charitable Gifts.

Doug Puffer is a gift planning specialist with 32 years experience in the sector. He is currently Director of Personal and Planned Giving at Carleton University and is a Senior Consultant with PGgrowth.

Join Doug Puffer, Jim Hilborn, Colleen Bradley, Ken Ramsay, Ed Sluga, Doug Flanders, and Theresa Butler-Porter for the Fourth National Planned Gift Fundraising Symposium, October 4. Early Bird registration ends September 20. 

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