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Identifying Prospects

Planned giving prospects come in all ages, levels of affluence and family situations, with different philanthropic and financial objectives. Avoid generalizing prospects into a narrow set of characteristics or overlooking a prospect because of particular characteristics. With that said, where do you begin? Some organizations begin the prospect identification process by analyzing individuals who are currently on the radar screen, namely, those individuals who have previously made substantial gift commitments to the organization or are supporting the organization on a regular basis through annual fund commitments. Don't feel as though the process of identifying planned gift prospects must begin by identifying "new" prospects with no previous gift history. It is more likely than not that those individuals who become planned gift donors have a history of previous giving or involvement with the park or park friends group.

Current Planned Gift Donors

First, identify individuals who have current planned gift commitments in place. Perhaps they have named the organization as a beneficiary in a will, retirement plan, or life insurance policy. As discussed previously, a donor has no obligation to notify an organization that it has been included as a beneficiary. For that reason, some organizations create planned giving recognition societies in addition to including one- line responses on annual appeals that provide an opportunity for the donor to notify the organization that a planned gift commitment is already in place. Once current planned gift donors are identified, it is the planned giving officer and/or park superintendent's responsibility to contact those donors, thank them for their commitments, and attempt to begin cultivating personal relationship with those donors. Not only will this provide an opportunity to obtain details about their planned gift commitments, but it will also create an opportunity to convert revocable arrangements, like bequests, into irrevocable commitments.

Annual Fund Donors

Second, look at the donors who contribute to your organization's annual fund and the number of years they have contributed. Pay particular attention to those who have contributed over the last ten years or so. They have demonstrated that they are willing to support your organization on a consistent basis.

They may be interested in supporting the organization throughout their lifetime or after their death through a planned gift. Given that some gifts provide donors with income and tax benefits, they may be able to make a gift or give at a higher level than they previously thought they were capable of doing.

Board, Volunteers and Staff

Other prospects may be found among those who have been active in the organization such as former or current board members or trustees, volunteers, administrative and professional staff, former donors and community leaders. The linkage to the organization exists or did exist at one time-it is the planned giving officer's responsibility to determine if the ability and interest are still present. Keep in mind that most individuals have a variety of charitable interests, so even if the interest in the organization is not at the highest possible level, an individual may still be interested in supporting the organization, particularly through an estate plan arrangement that does not require a current outlay of cash or assets. Not all planned giving prospects have a high net worth. There may be many individuals of moderate wealth who would be willing to entertain the idea of making a current transfer to an organization in return for a stream of income or willing to include an organization as a partial beneficiary in a will, retirement plan, or life insurance policy. In addition, don't overlook donors who fall below certain annual giving levels, such as $500. Some individuals, even though interested in a particular organization, will never make a significant commitment to that organization during their lifetime because they are conservative or need the peace of mind that they will have sufficient assets available for unforeseen emergencies such as major medical expenses. However, these same individuals may be willing to make a significant gift to the organization at death through one of the various planned giving methods.

Professional Financial Advisors

Networking with professional financial advisors, particularly those practicing in the local community, can sometimes lead an organization to new prospects. Clients sometimes look to their professional advisors, such as attorneys, accountants, financial planners, and trust officers, for advice in satisfying philanthropic objectives. Many financial advisors actively promote various planned giving instruments to their clients, recognizing that some clients will lose control over a certain percentage of assets at death due to estate tax. With proper lifetime planning, some planned giving instruments can allow individuals to redirect dollars that would have otherwise been lost to the government in the form of taxes to their favorite charities, thereby allowing the individual to determine how their hard-earned dollars are spent.

Some organizations formalize their network of financial advisors by creating a planned giving committee that meets periodically to create gift acceptance policies, review prospect lists, prepare articles for planned giving newsletters and learn more about the organization's mission. Many professional advisors welcome the opportunity to learn more about an organization's mission, the programs it offers, and the people it serves. Creating opportunities for advisors to come to an organization's site and observe firsthand the organization and its people as they carry out that mission may leave an indelible mark that may cause advisors to think of the organization when discussing philanthropic alternatives with their clients.

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