National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
Partnership header Roundtable discussion in a conference room setting
Marketing a Planned Giving Program

Parks and friends groups must consider how to make people aware of their planned giving program, which planned giving opportunities to promote and to whom appeals should be directed. It is unrealistic for friends groups developing a planned giving program to begin by introducing every available planned giving instrument. Many groups choose instead to develop their program on a piecemeal basis, starting with basic instruments -- bequests, retirement plan designations, and life insurance designations. Irrevocable arrangements such as charitable gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts can be introduced as the program becomes more established and the organization builds its capacity to manage its planned giving program. If a friends group is unable to respond to inquires about the more technical instruments such as a charitable remainder trust, it is best not to market it as a planned giving option.

A particular giving method might be to market to the entire constituency, while other methods might be better marketed to a narrow segment of your group's constituency. Age, family situation (e.g. living spouse, children, grandchildren), prior giving history, income levels, and involvement with your friends group are some factors to consider when determining which gift opportunities will be marketed to a particular donor.

A planned giving marketing program should educate and inform your constituency about giving opportunities that can address their philanthropic and financial objectives.

Communicate with your constituency that planned giving is a means of looking to the future to address long term goals and objectives. Donors may prefer to direct their planned gifts for endowment purposes rather than to support current operating expenses so be prepared to discuss with donors available endowment opportunities.

Planned giving programs can be marketed by:

  • Featuring Planned Gifts to the Park on Your Park and Friends Group Websites - List the category of Planned Gifts. Feature several past and recent planned gifts to the park with a short profile of the type of gift/planned giving instrument that was selected, the donor and their motivation, the difference the gift has/is making in the park. Stick to more universal types of planned gifts and emphasize the donor's perspective which is most likely to resonate with and inspire others to consider making a similar planned gift. Definitely list a person to contact if the reader is interested in making such a gift. The park can feature this as part of their profile on the difference that philanthropy continues to make in their park and then direct the reader to their Friends Group by a direct link.
  • Including Planned Gifts in In-Park Displays on the Difference Philanthropy Continues to Make in Your Park - This could be part of an indoor or outdoor interpretive display. If the display is indoors, ensure that there is takeaway information on the menu of park giving opportunities and who interested parties can contact at the park or the park friends group regarding making a donation.
  • Providing Donor Options including Planned Gifts Information in Guest Lodging - Arrangements would need to be worked out with the concessioner or other guest service providers and a supply of informative and appealing brochures would need to be supplied to the operator.
  • Featuring a Planned Giving Tagline - One way to maximize your reach to potential donors is to adopt and incorporate a short tagline in your printed and online communications. The idea is to get people to start considering planned giving. It should be concise and direct, such as "Have you considered a planned gift to _______." It should be bolded and placed in a way the reader can't miss it. It can be incorporated into your correspondence, newsletters, calendars and webpage.
  • Getting Features on Planned Gifts in Print and Electronic Media - This could be a feature on the difference that philanthropy, including planned gifts, has made in your park. Or it could focus on a planned gift that has just been consummated or realized. This is a good way to recognize a donor and helps put an immediate focus on the donor and their motivation. It is essential to have the approval and participation of the donor, their estate executor or heirs if the donor is deceased. Ideally, such features would be produced on a periodic basis to consistently reach potential donors.
  • Establishing an Initial Response to People Who are Interested in Making a Planned Gift to Your Park - Planned gifts are likely to be the most meaningful and deliberate gifts that a person, couple or family make in their lifetime. That they are thinking about making such a gift to a park merits immediate attention at an executive level - normally by the park superintendent, and executive director and board president of the park friends group. Eventually lawyers, CPAs and estate planning specialist will work out the details in a legal document. But initially, the fact that the donor is considering making the park (either directly or through the friends group) a beneficiary of a planned gift is cause for appreciation, cultivating a relationship and matching up a donor's interest with the best way to help park needs. It is important to realize that good intentions are only that until the planned gift is actually negotiated and executed in a written legal document. You need to reinforce that the donor's instinct about wanting to benefit the park is the best choice for a meaningful and enduring legacy gift.
  • Scheduling Personal Donor Visits - Ensure that once an individual responds to a mailing, your planned giving officer follows up immediately with a personal call to the donor to answer questions, provide additional information and schedule a personal visit. Successful planned giving programs are based on a park or park partner's ability to build a personal relationship with the donor and identify ways in which they can become involved. Communication through letters, e-mails, and telephone calls should be used as a complement to personal donor visits. Planned giving/development officers should allow time in their schedules to make a certain number of personal donor visits per month.

Other ways in which friends groups can market planning giving opportunities are noted below.

Planned Giving Recognition Society

Establish a planned giving recognition society to identify individuals who have included the park or their friends group in their will or estate plan. Make it visible by posting it online and on the donor wall. Donors that have included the park or their friends group as a beneficiary in their estate plan may not necessarily notify them of their decision. Creating a planned giving recognition society and marketing it to your constituency creates a heightened awareness among individuals that the organization is interested in learning about their future plans to benefit the organization. It also provides an opportunity to begin building relationships with those donors and identify ways to involve them in your friends group's activities. Your group can choose which planning giving option qualifies an individual for membership in the society. Some organizations qualify all donors regardless of the dollar amount or if the commitment is revocable.

Brochures marketing the planned giving recognition society should explain the purpose for starting the society, qualifications for membership, the group's mission, a description of giving opportunities, and the necessary steps to become a member. Brochures can be sent to donors, board members, volunteers and financial advisors.

Highlight donors and the various types of planned gifts in print material and on websites, especially on the park and friends group websites. Recruit donors to share their stories, (involvement, associations to the park, motivations behind planned giving, and personal rewards from giving) and commitment. Explain why donors gave. If possible, include donor pictures and quotes to personalize the story. Some organizations have included video streams of interviews with donors on their websites. The more you show that others have done this, the more inviting it is for potential donors.

Those that include Golden Gate National Recreation Area in their estate plans, join the Silver Lupin Circle. The Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has developed the Michaux Society membership program to acknowledge contributors who have included a gift to the Blue Ridge Parkway in their estate plans while the LeConte Planned Giving Society honors those who have given to the Yosemite Fund in their estate plans. Members to these planned giving recognition societies enjoy invitations to annual receptions and special events, publications by the organization about current activities and projects in their park, and in the case of the Yosemite Fund, name recognition on the Honor Wall at the Valley Visitor Center at the time the gift is received.

Wills Clinics

Will clinics are designed for people interested in setting up their own estate planning and planned giving instrument. No one likes to think about dying. Consequently, many people postpone drawing up a will, even when they know it would minimize confusion in settling their estate. Even though wills can be fairly straightforward legal instruments, people are often apprehensive about legalese. People rarely understand the range of possibilities for insuring their estate is properly distributed and/or managed and often don't know where to turn for help. A wills clinic provides an opportunity for these people to get pointed in the right direction and referred to proper sources of assistance.

To conduct a clinic, an organization retains an instructor from a local law firm, law school, bank, or community foundation to provide an overview of the process of establishing a will and the many options possible. Attendees come away with a better understanding wills and where to turn for services and potential beneficiary options. The event is scheduled and publicized as a community service. A fee can be charged to cover expenses. Planned gifts to parks can be presented as a concept and an option.

A more prestigious event is a seminar on park giving and wills. Quality is the hallmark here, and a fee may be unnecessary. Invitations should come from a highly respected individual who is a philanthropist and is willing to speak on behalf of the park's needs. He or she sets the tone for the seminar in the keynote speech, explaining the giving needs and opportunities to benefit the park, and his or her own personal commitment. They then introduce three panelists recruited from the community's leading law firm, bank, and accounting firm. The top firms will want to do it because it is good business and provides favorable exposure.

Each panelist is invited to speak for 20 to 30 minutes about changes related to the laws, accounting practices, money matters related to wills and what to be aware of. Sponsors can generally be found to underwrite the cost for the invitations, refreshments, and meeting space.

Wills Clinics for Professionals

Another type of wills clinics can be designed for professionals in your community who deal with wills, such as, attorneys, bank trust officers, and tax consultants.

Here's how a very successful wills clinic for professionals worked for the St. Petersburg, Florida, Park and Recreation Department:

The City Park and Recreation Department approached the Chamber of Commerce and the local Bar Association with a proposal to host a seminar on recent major changes in tax laws affecting planned giving. The Chamber and Bar Association enthusiastically agreed to cosponsor. The Small Business Council of the Chamber was so impressed that a public agency was aggressively seeking outside support that they made a small grant to help underwrite the seminar. The co-sponsors and other professional organizations in St. Petersburg provided their membership mailing lists to publicize the event.

The City Parks Director was very candid in welcoming the 110 participants to the seminar, saying the city's goal in hosting the session was to acquaint them with the benefits of charitable trusts to benefit parks in St. Petersburg. Participants saw the seminar as an opportunity to broaden their knowledge and skills at a bargain price. One attorney said, "I never thought of the city as a potential beneficiary. The scouts and hospitals, yes. But not the city."

The seminar was presented by a nationally-recognized expert in planned giving. His fee was $5,000 for the 4-hour session. (He was so impressed by the City's efforts that he later donated his services in incorporating a nonprofit "friends" organization for the city.) A very low fee was charged participants - including lunch. Some attendees felt more should have been charged. Professionals in the business world are used to paying $200 - $500 for similar training opportunities, and many people equate price with quality. As an added inducement to participants, the co-sponsors arranged 5 hours of continuing education credit for the attorneys and CPAs who attended.

The park director and his staff each had a goal to establish a working dialogue with at least ten of the seminar participants, so they would be aware of the park giving opportunities. These contacts were made, and nurtured over time so the professionals are continuously reminded of park giving options to suggest to their clients.

The follow-up was the real pay off. Attorneys and accountants have asked the park director to sit in on a meeting with a client interested in a charitable trust. The director listens very carefully as the donor explains his or her desires for the trust and follows up on the meeting with a one-page proposal tailored to the needs of the donor.

Lessons Learned About Wills Clinics

  1. Make your wills clinic a classy event. Planned giving seminars and clinics should be held in attractive and dignified surroundings such as yacht clubs, country clubs, corporate conference rooms, and museum board rooms. To attract top professionals or potential major donors, be sure that the presenters have name recognition. For seminars for professionals, securing a nationally-known figure as a speaker will make a big difference.
  2. Think about the long-term, not the short-term return. Even if the seminar does not break even, remember that the long-term results are what count.
  3. Build and follow up on contacts. Planned giving is a process that depends on nurturing personal relationships, both with the financial advisors and the donors. Don't hesitate to call seminar attendees from time to time to remind them of the opportunities available to give to your park.
  4. Attend all follow-up meetings with potential donors. This demonstrates the park's genuine interest and need in obtaining a contribution, and many major donors want to deal directly with the top person. Follow up every meeting with a financial advisor or potential donor with a written thank you and respond with a brief proposal which addresses the issues covered at the meeting.
  5. Get one or more respected co-sponsors. Co-sponsors lend credibility and help attract others to attend wills seminars.
  6. For professional wills seminars, arrange for continuing education credit. Many professionals, such as attorneys and accounts, are required to continually upgrade their skills by attending professional education seminars. A wills seminar can meet that need. Local professional organizations can arrange for credit for attending the seminar.

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