Seed now for rewards of planned giving

By Brian Steffen, Columnist

Recently my family spent a beautiful Saturday morning enjoying the amazing Lane County Farmers’ Market in downtown Eugene. I love the abundant produce harvested by local farmers and made available to our community. What a special gift!

The mature produce belies the many months of care since the seeds were sown. The farmer prepared the soil, calculated the appropriate amount of water, and diligently weeded the land until a seed had matured and ripened.

Each farmer exercised a long-term vision as they planted his or her seeds in the spring, knowing that someday the seed would provide a treasured gift to nourish another.

Similarly, many nonprofit organizations should seek to foster a greater long-term vision for their work with their donors by developing enhanced planned-giving tools and resources.

Results with the most impact

According to an article in “The NonProfit Times” regarding bequests and planned gifts (October 2020), the average age at which donors write their first will is 44 years old. What’s more, 53% of donors establish their first planned gift when they create their first will. With an average lifespan of 78 years in the United States, this means that long-term estate planning may very likely be a 35-year relationship and philanthropic planning tool for donors and nonprofits.

Unfortunately, some donors and organizations miss the opportunity to foster the perspective of patience for long-term planned giving. The immediate need for resources can cloud the big-picture vision for the future.

“The NonProfit Times” notes that less than 10% of philanthropic contributions are a result of a bequest or planned gift. In 2018 Steven Shattuck, chief engagement officer at Bloomerang, conducted a broad-spectrum survey of nonprofit organizations that revealed, most fascinating to me, that nearly 45% of nonprofits had no strategy associated with planned giving and nearly 30% had never received a planned gift. This lack of focus should be concerning for nonprofit leaders and boards, not to mention the donors who believe in the long-term mission and importance of a nonprofit’s work.

Consider the research of Stephen Pidgeon, who examined the difference between the typical “major gift” — $5,000 — versus the average planned gift — $37,000 — that a nonprofit receives. Pidgeon’s research concludes that no other philanthropic effort had as much of a financial impact as a focus on planned giving.

It is beautiful to consider the idea and reality that today’s planted seeds can produce gifts that nurture and nourish generations far into the future.

Start simply, proceed purposefully

While the world of planned giving can be complex, often it is possible to simply start with the basics. Visit with a planned-giving professional. Consider how to communicate best with donors regarding how their planned gifts would benefit the organization. And layer into those philanthropic conversations with donors a few key points regarding how planned gifts would strengthen your organization.

As nonprofits have weathered the impacts of COVID-19, nearly each one has witnessed a decline in or an alteration to traditional revenue streams and resources. The profound volatility of this time has reinforced one of the primary benefits for nonprofits that have historically invested time and effort into developing robust planned giving tools: consistent and sustaining revenue support.

The year 2020 has reinforced one thing with perfect clarity — no business can plan for every scenario. However, each nonprofit should anticipate volatility and take steps today to ensure stability for decades into the future. The most important tool to prepare for the reality of inevitable volatility in services is to develop a planned-giving strategy today.

Brian Steffen is the CEO of the Eugene Family YMCA. He is a certified YMCA CEO Organizational Leader and a believer in heliotropic leadership.

December 1, 2020