Developing Planned Gifts

Planned giving requires, as the name says, a lot of planning - and a lot of thought - both for the donor as well as for your library staff.

An annual gift can be the result of an inspired fundraising letter, and a spur of the moment response by the donor. These gifts are meaningful, but they are typically funded from a donor’s disposable income. These gifts usually represent money donors won’t miss at the end of the month. Major gifts require a good deal of understanding by the donor how your library operates and how the funds will be used. They require extensive and ongoing dialogue, usually with the donor and their spouse. Eventually, the donor takes a leap of faith, and commits to a significant investment in your cause.

Planned giving is the next step. There are a number of different giving vehicles for planned gifts, but the most common one is a will or a bequest. The donor commits to give a share of their estate to your library. Many forms of planned gifts can be changed or revoked by the donor. Often, planned gifts are the largest gifts your library may receive, but they also take the longest to realize. Read more about planned giving in the section of this Frontline Fundraising Toolkit called “ Planned Giving: Encouraging People to Leave a Legacy.

You can identify planned giving prospects from the same donor pools as your annual fund and major gift donors. The same donor development cycle used for major gifts also applies to planned giving: identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship. Unlike major gifts, here the cultivation process may take longer and may involve the donor’s extended family.

Stewardship of planned givers is an ongoing process long before the gift is received. It is often ongoing after the gift is received as well, because information about the impact of the estate gift will be shared with surviving family members. Because planned gifts can take so many years to materialize, it is extremely critical that any information about the gift and the donor’s intention is properly documented. You will find information about documenting planned givers’ intentions in the “ Planned Giving: Encouraging People to Leave a Legacy” section of this toolkit.

When the funds come to your library, you should know exactly how the funds are to be spent. If the gift was unexpected (and many are), and the circumstances have changed so drastically that fulfilling the donor’s intent becomes questionable (for example the gift was meant to go to a specific branch library, and that branch was just recently closed or will be closed in the very near future), the funds may need to be returned to the donor’s estate, and/or surviving family members may need to be consulted as to how the funds could be redirected. To avoid these situations and to help secure the gift, it is important to maintain an open dialogue with the donor, and keep them involved and informed with your library as time goes by.

Moving forward

Sometimes, there is discussion that donors should not be asked again for another gift because “they already gave”, or because “we cannot keep going back to the same people”. It is important for the success of your donor relations and your library to change those views.

People will give because they want to help. They will give because they were asked. They will give to make a difference. Once they make that gift, they want to know how their funds are used and who is benefiting from them. By asking a second time, you give your donor the opportunity to help you again and have an even greater positive impact.

The same notion applies to your major gift donors as well. Your major gift donors are the most likely individuals to make another major gift to your library at some point in the future, and are the most likely prospects for a planned gift to your library.  Naturally, you cannot ask for a large gift from an individual every single year, but major donors and planned giving donors are very committed to see you succeed. They want to know that their investment in your library is having the impact you told them it would. If they feel good about how their money is being used (or will be used) and how it is helping your community, they may be inclined to add to their gift, or find another program at your library that they want to support in a similar meaningful way. After you have done your part in sharing with your donor how their current gift is being used (stewardship), it is time to move them back to the cultivation stage. The illustration of the donor cycle above shows this process clearly.


Working with major gift and planned giving prospects will often connect you with some of the most engaged and passionate supporters of your library. They may expect more, but they are also willing to invest more – of themselves, their time, and their treasure. Hearing from a friend of the library how much the library means to them, can be an incredibly rewarding and inspiring moment.

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