National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
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Establishing a Planned Giving Program

A planned giving program is the top of the park giving pyramid and should be considered as part of an overall fundraising strategy. The first step in creating a planned giving program is determining the level of planned giving activity appropriate for your friends group. Factors to consider include the institutional readiness of the organization, gift options, marketing the program and how to identify and cultivate giving prospects. It is easy to start by planting the option of naming the park in people's wills, with additional layers added to the program over time.

Not all friends groups are ready to initiate an all-inclusive planned giving program, particularly those in the early stages of development that lack resources and personnel. But regardless of a group's constraints, there are a number of ways to launch a planned giving program that can be enhanced over time. Organizational plans should be in place before your group develops a planned giving program. Questions to consider include:

  • Is there a strategic plan in place that outlines goals and objectives for the next three to ten years?
  • Is the mission statement clear and does it truly reflect the friends group? (Clearly defined mission and case statements increase the chances for a successful planned giving program.)
  • Is there a case statement that concisely describes the role of the friends group, its mission, and how it proposes to accomplish it?
  • What awareness does your friends group have for planting the idea of making a planned gift with park users and the public at large?

In addition to valuing parks, potential donors must feel confident that the park's partner is secure and will still exist when the benefits of their gift becomes available. Prior to donating a planned gift, donors will want to know how long the friends group has been in existence and if it is growing. National parks and the National Park Service have the permanence advantage of approaching a 2016 Centennial and managing parks in perpetuity.

Potential donors may be concerned with your organization's financial stability and its ability to cover operating expenses. Does the organization have a history of balancing its budget? Does it have the financial expertise to properly invest the gift? Your organization must be prepared to provide financial reports and information concerning your overall financial performance and in some cases the performance of specific funds. By looking at these areas, donors may determine if your friends group will be a good steward for their gift and be able to adhere to the donor's wishes of how the gift will be used.

Organizations with successful programs employ knowledgeable development staff or retained consultants who can articulate the organization's mission and programs, as well as a liaison who can clearly explain to donors and other interested parties planned giving options. Ultimately the planned gift instrument is prepared by the donor and his or her advisor. Other more established nonprofit organizations such as local Community Foundations can serve as advisors and bankers for planned gifts that benefit parks.

Board of Directors

It is important for the board of directors to realize that their friends group may not experience immediate results - planned gifts take time to cultivate and can take six months or years to negotiate. The progress of a planned giving program is based more on the contacts made and the relationships built than completed arrangements or dollars donated. Keep the board informed and share with them progress, interested donor leads, and success stories in the planned giving area.

The friends group board is ultimately responsible for their planned giving program. Therefore, it's important they understand the role planned giving plays in the growth and long-term stability of the park and friends group, and the benefits planned giving provides to the park and donors. The Friends' executive director and park Superintendent can brief the board with a presentation on planned giving options and how planned giving would be used to complement your friends group's existing development efforts. The board should be fully supportive of the program, be willing to assist the development department with the planned giving program and approve certain types of gifts (such as gifts of life insurance, real estate, securities, gifts-in-kind, etc.) The board will also need to approve budget allocations, the creation of a professional advisory committee, and assist in marketing the planned giving program. It's wise to have the board formally endorse a resolution to develop a planned giving program.

A friends group offers flexibility and can deposit and manage gifts in interest-bearing accounts, whereas the National Park Service is restricted from depositing and managing gifts in interest-bearing accounts.

A planned giving program begins with commitments from each board member, an act that will demonstrate to your constituency the importance of these gifts. It's best to solicit board members individually rather than making a broad appeal to the entire board.

They must also be willing to provide financial resources to initiate and maintain the planned giving program. An effective program is based on developing long-term personal relationships with donors, which most likely require hiring a development professional. It may not be necessary to print new materials promoting planned giving opportunities initially if planned giving messages can be incorporated into existing publications or on park and park partner websites.

Advisory Committee

An advisory committee is responsible for establishing policies and procedures, making periodic (quarterly or semi-annual) reports to the board, and interpreting the planned giving program to members of the organization.

The advisory committee helps identify, analyze and meet prospects, assists with prospect identification and analysis and coordinates program development and promotion with the planned giving officer. Members may also make solicitation calls with a senior volunteer and/or staff person. The most effective advisory committees include professional advisors such as lawyers, accountants, insurance agents, tax, financial or estate planners, stock brokers, realtors, etc.

Planned Giving/Development Officer

Your friends group should identify a staff person who will be responsible on a full- or part-time basis for overseeing the planned giving program. An effective development officer will spend at least 25% to 30% of their time on planned giving, although 100% is desirable.

Gifts to parks may be unrestricted or earmarked for a special campaign, park program or initiative. A planned giving officer will provide general information on the planned giving program, identify and cultivate prospects, suggest the feasibility of giving options and be able to close gifts. They will also be responsible for ensuring that proper arrangements for the gift are made while continuing to maintain the donor's confidence and commitment.

A planned giving/development officer's involvement will also require time to develop planned giving policies and procedures, market the planned giving program, and travel.

A good planned giving officer should posses a deep interest in promoting the park or friends group; knowledge of the park and park long term needs; strong interpersonal skills and an understanding personality; superior communication skills and sales ability.

The ability to write and speak effectively and empathetically; to be persuasive without being aggressive; and to work well with potential donors, boards and other volunteer groups are all essential ingredients. Additional key elements include an appearance that engenders confidence; a personality that demonstrates initiative and maturity; patience; and a basic knowledge of the tax system.

However, many nonprofit organizations are unable to hire a full-time planned giving officer because of limited funding. In these situations, responses to planned giving inquiries can be handled either by a development officer whose responsibility is to raise money, or by a pro bono consultant or friend of the organization who has experience in charitable estate planning and related areas.

Often, a park superintendent is approached by a potential donor who would like to make a gift to the park. The Superintendent can identify who in their friends group they should be talking to, refer the potential donor to estate planning professionals and provide sample codicils for their wills.

The park Superintendent can also assist in the effort by cultivating donors and communicating park needs and opportunities, the enduring nature of the park. They can act as an "encourager", conveying what the donor can do, and the difference the donor and their gift can make to the park.

Actual negotiation of the gift is generally the responsibility of a CPA. Friends groups may be able to rely on friends of their organization who are attorneys, certified public accountants, certified financial planners, bank trust officers, certified life underwriters, or stock brokers to handle planned giving opportunities. However, they should not be relied on to develop the personal relationships with donors that are so crucial to the success of a planned giving program. They are best suited for drafting planned giving tools, accompanying the development professional on donor visits, and assisting in developing planned giving policies and procedures.

Planned Giving Policies and Guidelines

Well-defined policies and guidelines are crucial to the operation of a planned giving program and should be in place prior to initiating your program. Policies define the authority of the planned giving staff and the parameters in which they operate. Guidelines address rules governing conflicts of interest, use of legal counsel, avoidance of pressure techniques, confidentiality, authorizations, limitations and appraisals.

In developing policies and guidelines, consideration should be given to routine or anticipated issues that could potentially undermine the viability of the program and/or your friends group. Keep in mind that the objective of policies and guidelines are to encourage, rather than discourage, planned gift giving. The development staff is responsible for developing the policies and guidelines with the administration and board providing final approval.

In Achieving Excellence in Fundraising (2003), Hank Rosso identifies questions an organization should address when developing policies and guidelines. They are:

  • Will the organization offer charitable gift annuities to its donors?
  • Will the organization serve as trustee of charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts? If not, is it the donor's responsibility to secure a trustee?
  • Will the organization administer charitable trusts or charitable gift annuities? If not, who will serve as the third-party administrator?
  • What minimum amounts and other limitations should be established for each of the planned giving instruments? What is the minimum gift amount the organization is willing to accept for a charitable gift annuity? What is the minimum gift amount the organization is willing to accept for it to serve as the trustee of a charitable remainder trust? Are there minimum age requirements the donor must meet before the organization will enter into a charitable gift annuity contract? Are there maximum payout percentages the organization is willing to offer for charitable gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts?
  • Who in the organization has the authority to accept gifts of appreciated property, particularly real estate and closely held stock? Is board approval required before such assets are accepted?
  • Who in the organization is authorized to negotiate the terms of a planned giving instrument, such as a charitable gift annuity or charitable remainder trust, with a donor? Is board approval required before the document may be executed?
  • Who in the organization has the authority to sign the planned giving document on behalf of the organization?

Rosso also outlines points to consider when establishing guidelines, such as:

  • Percent payout rate on charitable remainder trusts. The percent payout rate on charitable remainder trusts must be at least 5% but should generally not exceed 10%.
  • Minimum age requirements and funding levels for charitable remainder trusts. If the organization is willing to serve as trustee, the minimum age of an income beneficiary should be fifty-five. The minimum funding level should be $50,000.
  • Percent payout on charitable gift annuities. It should be the organization's general practice to use the gift annuity rates established by the American Council on Gift Annuities.
  • Minimum age requirements and funding levels for charitable gift annuities. The organization should not offer charitable gift annuity contracts to donors under age fifty-five. The minimum funding level should be $10,000.
  • Trustee. Most organizations should not serve as trustee of charitable remainder trusts and charitable gift annuities. In such instances, the donor is responsible for selecting a trustee.
  • Real estate. All proposed gifts of real estate must receive NPS and board approval before accepted.
  • Donor-centered philanthropy. All arrangements entered into with donors should always have the donor's best interests in mind, provided the terms of the arrangement do not violate the organization's policies and guidelines.
  • Legal counsel. Donors should be advised to consult with their legal counsel before entering into any legal arrangements with the NPS or a friends group.
  • Confidentiality. All information about a donor or named income beneficiaries, including names, ages, gift amounts, and net worth should be kept strictly confidential by the organization unless permission is obtained from the donor to release such information.

Administrative Procedures

An information system should be established when initiating a planned giving program and include several ways to code prospects and donors. Information such as contact priority, capacity to give, stage in the process of closing the gift, age, and prospect or donor's interests should be included. The staff member or volunteer assigned to track and input the information, and next contact date will also need to be incorporated into a database. Information can be segregated into confirmed and potential gifts.

A reporting mechanism that monitors the progress of the program and the staff's work should be developed. This information will be used when regularly reporting planned giving activities to the board. The board and CEO will be evaluating the tracking of actual realized planned gift monies and demonstrating progress with expectancies.

The Budget

Most operating budgets are already stretched to the limit with many organizations unwilling or unable to fund additional support staff. Therefore, obtaining approval for a first year's operating budget requires a well thought out strategic presentation.

Establishing and sustaining an effective planned giving program requires cultivating donors, salaries, benefits, office supplies and expenses, printing, postage, software/upgrades and equipment, audio visuals and photographs - items that should be included as part of the budget. Travel expenses, promotions, volunteer training, recognition and related costs should also be included along with marketing costs, dues and subscriptions, conferences and professional development, consultants, and miscellaneous costs.

Action or Business Plan

An action plan outlined your goals and the necessary steps to achieve those goals. Typically it includes:

  • the identification of a donor base;
  • the goals, objectives and tactics of the planned giving program;
  • a listing of the number of gifts and the size of gifts required to reach the goals;
  • a listing of the number of prospects that must be cultivated to produce the goals; and
  • a marketing plan detailing the various activities that will be undertaken to obtain the needed prospects. It is good idea to set reasonable goals.

Have a clear idea of who your constituency is - look at age, family situation, past giving record and financial ability. Don't overlook those who have not identified themselves but have named your park or friends group in their will or are thinking about naming one of them in their will. Therefore, it is important that a planned giving donor database is as inclusive as possible.

Develop a market strategy for planned gifts. An underlying strategy of the marketing plan is the undertaking of a number of activities to get potential donors and/or prospects to self-identify. It is much easier to contact individuals who have already indicated that they are interested or prepared to arrange a planned gift to your organization. Accordingly, it is very important that each activity has a means to elicit a response.

A typical marketing plan will include the purchase or production of comprehensive promotional materials; marketing through direct mail; marketing through a newsletter; wills clinics and estate planning seminars; information luncheons; marketing through existing programs and through professional advisors; as well as an educational program.

Marketing a Planned Giving Program

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