Are you planting acorns?

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Anyone who’s been in fundraising for more than a few years probably has a good handle on what the phrase “planned giving” means. It’s also called estate planning (this is what attorneys and accountants do) and gift planning (common in universities). It can also be lumped into major gift planning initiatives that cover a wide range of donations from insurance policies and trusts to income funds and retained life estates.

I guess they are called planned gifts because they require more planning than just writing a check to your favorite charity. Most types of planned gifts require the help of an attorney or tax advisor which can take time to coordinate and adds another layer of complexity.

Unfortunately, more planning and coordinating also translates into more time and energy. And for time-strapped smaller organizations and their staff (CEO and a fundraiser, if they’re lucky) this translates into something for which they don’t have time. And if it’s more complex, you’re less likely to jump in and figure it out.

That’s too bad. Even smaller organizations could benefit from a simple will and bequest initiative that basically runs on its own once it’s set up. Wills are especially simple to understand by both donors and fundraisers. It often doesn’t require anything more than encouraging your donors, on a regular basis, to consider including your organization in their will. The more regular the message, the greater likelihood that one of them will do just that. An even easier alternative is to encourage your donors to include your organization as a beneficiary of an IRA or other retirement account.

Another challenge of starting even simple strategies is that the results are often not seen for decades: Planned giving is the ultimate long-range planning and investing method. You can be incredibly successful at getting your closest supporters to include a provision in their will or adding you as a beneficiary, but the actual gifts won’t come in until after they die. That can be uncomfortable to talk about. It can also be hard to justify the time and energy when the gift is so far out in the future.

Coupled with the fact the fundraisers often don’t work anywhere for very long, only those organizations big enough or savvy enough will develop mature planned giving programs.

This reminds me of something that a forester friend once told me:

“When was the best time to plant an acorn? Twenty years ago, of course. When is the next best time? Today. Of course.”

Despite the fact that your results will be hard to measure and you are strapped for time, are you planting acorns today? Or are you too busy pulling weeds? If not now, when?

photo credit: douglas.earl via photopin cc

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