The Role of the Board Member in Planned Giving


An active board of trustees is crucial to the fiscal well-being and programmatic success of any organization. Effective boards function to not only support and advocate the organization’s mission but also to oversee policy making, ensure fiscal responsibility and evaluate its Chief Executive Officer. However, engaging the board on a higher level by keeping them informed of program success, involved in strategic planning goals and progress, and engaged in donor cultivation and solicitation will be indicators that the organization is prepared to begin a planned giving program.

Board involvement in the development and implementation of a planned giving program is essential to its success. The board must understand the role that planned giving plays in the long-term success and stability of the organization.

We recommend that an organization carefully consider the following factors that are integral to the success of a planned giving program.

Goal setting and strategic planning

First and foremost, your board must believe in and be able to communicate the organization’s mission and long-range goals. A mission exists to convey why the organization exists and how it makes a difference to the constituency it serves. The mission drives all facets of the operations and serves as the foundation upon which the strategic plan is developed.

In addition to a clear mission, it is necessary to have a board-approved strategic plan in place. A thoughtful plan lends credibility to an organization and conveys to the donor that the organization is being proactive about its future.

For example, a not for profit social service agency with a plan to increase its annual fund and add client services over the next three years will appeal to potential donors more than an similar organization without a long-term growth strategy and a flimsy, generic mission statement.  A plan that describes new services that will be offered gives potential donors an opportunity for gift designation. When considering a deferred gift to an organization, the donor will want to know that the organization is true to its mission, what the long-range plans are for the organization and how future gifts will be used.

Gift acceptance policies

Because annual fundraising rarely requires the need for gift acceptance policies, they are often overlooked when an organization begins a planned giving campaign. It is necessary for a board to consider the organization’s capacity for accepting and administering deferred gifts when crafting a gift acceptance policy.

A functional policy will address gift restrictions, naming opportunities, minimum gift requirements, pledge restrictions and types of gifts that are acceptable to the organization. While it may be difficult to determine the types of gifts an organization will accept, this may be the most critical component. The board needs to make sure that the organization has the resources necessary to manage and be responsible for the different types of gifts, particularly as they relate to planned gifts. The types of gifts that should be considered include cash, securities, real estate, life insurance, personal property, charitable gift annuities, pooled income funds, charitable lead trusts, charitable remainder trusts and bequests. The board should:

  • Be aware of and consider any reporting requirements associated with the various types of gifts
  • Have a policy for acknowledging these gifts
  • Review the policy annually

Undesignated planned gifts are often desirable because an organization will have different programmatic and operational needs at different times, but a policy should state how undesignated gifts will be used. An organization will often receive unanticipated, undesignated bequests and an established, clear-cut policy will eliminate any and all confusion or debate on how to best make use of the donation.

Funding your planned giving campaign

A planned giving campaign can be a long and complex process that requires funding for training, marketing, staff time, donor cultivation and donor recognition. Planned giving brochures, newsletters, gift or recognition societies and prospect presentations will all contribute to a more successful campaign. The board should approve and allocate the funding needed to implement a planned giving program.

Each board member should be willing to make a planned gift according to their personal financial ability, identify potential donors and introduce them to your executive leadership.

Financial support from the board conveys to the donor that the board supports the vision of the organization and is committed to its long-term success, instilling confidence in the donor and establishing a certain level of comfort. Not all board members will be able to give at the same level but many may be willing to include the organization in a bequest or name the charity in a life insurance policy.

Many board members will be reluctant to ask a friend or colleague for a gift but can be very helpful in making the introduction and accompanying staff on a fund raising call. At minimum, board members can help by bringing guests to cultivation events, sending thank you notes to new donors, or attending recognition events.

It is most important for the CEO and the board to understand that a planned giving campaign is a process. A successful program will take time. It’s not uncommon for years to pass before the organization benefits from a donor’s generosity through a planned gift.

However, we recommend taking these suggestions into consideration as the first step in developing a planned giving program. Keeping these success factors in mind throughout the development process will ultimately help you achieve long-term financial security and stability for your organization.