National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
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Planned Giving

Most parks have received planned gifts. Often parks are notified only after a person passes away that the park was named in their will. Since planned gifts are often large gifts, parks and friends groups are increasingly taking more pro-active steps to present parks to the public and interested parties as appropriate and deserving recipients of planned gifts. Planned gifts come in many forms - wills/bequests, endowments, remainders of estates, charitable remainder trusts, gifts of property or stock, etc. This Web page is intended to provide a basic awareness of planned giving opportunities that parks and their friends groups can foster and suggests strategies to do so and who to engage.

One of the most meaningful ways people can demonstrate support and a life long appreciation for national parks is through a planned gift in which the agency, a specific park or a friends group is named as a beneficiary.

Planned gifts are at the pinnacle of the park giving pyramid because they are often the largest penultimate gift a person can make. They are often made as the lasting legacy that a person wants to leave, because an individual has less need for their accumulated assets, or when an individual develops a balanced long-term personal financial portfolio. Planned gifts are the culmination of successive engagements of donors with parks.

There are three types of planned gifts. The first involves immediate benefits to an organization and is referred to as current outright gifts. Stock, real estate, tangible personal property, charitable lead trusts and memorial gifts are examples of current outright gifts which provide a charitable income tax deduction for donors. Some parks have endowment programs they need to grow to support park needs. Most programmatic needs are on-going.

Revocable deferred benefits are a second type of planned gifts. Deferred gifts such as bequests, retirement plans and IRA designations, and life insurance designations, involve a modifiable promise by a donor to make a gift in the future to an organization and may be revoked or modified prior to the donor's death. For that reason, donors do not enjoy the benefit of a charitable income tax deduction.

People can elect to make a planned gift through a bequest in their wills to benefit the National Park(s) of their choice through an unrestricted gift that parks can put to the highest and best use at the time the gift is realized. Or the donor can specify a project or program purpose they would like to help fund, such as:

  • native plant and animal species management/protection,
  • trail development and management,
  • construction of a visitors center,
  • education programs, interpretation,
  • cultural resources management, and
  • connecting people to parks.

Explore bequests and planned gifts that may carry specific conditions with prospective donors up front, and avoid the frustration and embarrassment of unacceptable gifts or conditions. If acceptable conditions cannot be negotiated, then the gift should be declined. In most cases however conditions will be minimal and acceptable, or can be easily negotiated.

Irrevocable deferred benefits are a third type of planned gift whereby a current outright gift is combined with a deferred gift or an expectancy to achieve the donor's philanthropic and financial objectives. These deferred gifts are irrevocable transfers of cash or property not available to the organization's use until a later date. Donors are entitled to a current charitable income tax deduction, however the donor's death or the expiration of a specific term of year will cause the organization's interest to come to fruition. The attraction of these giving options, which are outlined in more detail in the following sections, has increased as the donor population ages and asset values have experienced unprecedented growth.

Some examples of planned gifts that parks have benefitted from include:

  • A $25 annual donor to The Yosemite Fund contacted the organization in 1997 about leaving Yosemite National Park and the Fund in her will with a modest bequest. Yosemite Fund staff met with the donor during the last 10 years of her life and developed a relationship that resulted in the Fund receiving two pieces of real estate upon her death in February 2007. Per her request, the proceeds from the real estate (valued at $800,000+) will be applied to Yosemite Fund projects in the Tuolumne River watershed.
  • A Cuyahoga Valley National Park Association donor became a leader in planned giving for CVNPA when they partnered with Akron Community Foundation in fiscal year 2005 to establish a charitable gift annuity. The donor receives quarterly payments for life, and CVNPA's John and Betty Seiberling Scholarship Fund is the eventual beneficiary. The donor's charitable gift annuity has created opportunities for children from low-income families to experience nature firsthand through the scholarship program at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center, and develop an interest in the outdoors that will endure throughout their lives.
    Students work on a science project at Cuyahoga National Park Entrance to Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center
  • Another donor was a tireless volunteer at the Golden Gate National Parks Archives, researching coastal gun emplacements and batteries. When he first was considering a bequest gift to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy to support restoration of coastal batteries, a longtime National Park Service employee who was also a volunteer at the batteries, brought the donor to the Parks Conservancy to talk with staff about how his legacy might be realized. His ultimate bequest, of nearly his entire estate, was directed to electrify and renovate Battery Townsley in the Marin Headlands (making this historic military site accessible to the public), and to preserve, interpret, and make accessible other coastal fortifications within the parklands.
    Volunteers prime generator room, Battery Townsley

For more illustrations of planned gifts parks have received, click on Planned Giving Examples.

Today most National Parks have a primary nonprofit, tax-exempt partner who plays a key support role by raising and providing funds for park needs that supplement Congressional appropriations. Most partners have a well-established track record. A key advantage they offer donors is that they can manage gifts for park needs in interest-bearing accounts while a direct gift to a National Park is deposited in a government, non-interest bearing account.

Success in planned giving is based on the park and their friends group developing meaningful relationships with their constituency. Understanding a donor's motivations and objectives through personal contacts and relationship building is far more important than understanding the technical nuances of planned giving. It is important to develop relationships with top prospects, learn the gift planning process, and recognize that most planned gifts require a team effort involving the friends group and park staff who understand their respective roles and those of the other parties involved. Success will depend largely on the personal engagement of park staff in planned giving efforts.

Cultivating donors is the shared responsibility of the friends group and park staff. The process begins as potential donors feel inspired by their experiences in the park, specific park initiatives and the work of park professionals and begin thinking about what they want to leave to the park. Park staff can initiate discussions by offering ideas on park needs, basic planned giving opportunities and options. They remain involved in the process after the donor has been referred to the friends group through their collaboration with both parties on how to structure the gift. Most planned gifts are structured by the donor's legal and estate planning counsel, financial advisor or trust officer. Many friends groups have financial advisors on retainer or access to experts such as local community foundations that can be a resource.

It is not unusual for a park and friends group to be contacted by either an individual interested in donating a significant gift to the park in their will, or an attorney representing a deceased donor who has named a park in their estate. But only recently have parks and friends groups proactively cultivated planned gift.

Friends groups have more actively encourage planned gifts by developing planned giving programs that have been incorporated into their development efforts. Starting a basic planned giving program is feasible regardless of an organization's size, stage of development, budget, in-house expertise, or prior giving history. At the forefront of any planned giving strategy should be the donor's philanthropic and financial interest/objectives and the park and friends group's needs and mission.

At a minimum, a friends group should be ready to respond to inquiries about planned gifts with the following:

  • List of unfunded park needs - a basic to any fundraising effort
  • Familiarity with basic planned giving options
  • Sample language for bequests
  • List of financial advisors with whom you can discuss your interest in planned gifts ahead of time. This can include local resource people, a nearby Community Foundation involved with local or regional giving, the National Park Foundation, or the National Park Trust.

The success of a friends group planned giving program will depend on a number of factors, including the level of involvement by park staff in a planned giving program, an understanding of giving options and those that are most appropriate for their organization and the park, the ability to identify donor motivations and prospects, and the strategy for establishing and marketing the program.

Planned Gifts to Parks and Donor Motivations

Planned Giving Options

Planned Giving Examples

Establishing a Planned Giving Program

Marketing a Planned Giving Program

Identifying Prospects

Sample Language for Bequests

Glossary of Terms

Excerpts of material included in Planned Giving were taken from:
Rosso, Henry A. Hank Rosso's Achieving Excellence in Fund Raising. Ed. Eugene R. Tempel. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003 and
Clodman, Sherry. "10 Steps to Developing a Planned Giving Program." Planned Giving. 13 Feb 2008. http://www.plannedlegacy.com/newsletter/developing-a-planned-giving-program.html.

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