“A Secret Sauce” for Increasing Planned Gifts

by Dr. Jeffrey Steed, Director of Planned Giving
Southern Baptists of Texas Foundation

Most churches and ministries today aren’t making the most of planned giving opportunities with donors. It’s just that simple.

Why? In many cases, we feel intimidated or just don’t know where to start.

If that’s you, I have good news! This article discusses “a secret sauce” (with six can’t-miss ingredients) for helping donors increase their planned gifts that can help advance the Kingdom.

This article addresses “a secret sauce” and not “the secret sauce” because there are many ways to help increase planned gifts. Before we discuss a secret sauce, an explanation of planned giving needs to be provided. Planned giving includes any gifts beyond cash gifts that require some planning.

Planned giving can involve the following:

  • Current Gifts (Including non-cash gifts, donor-advised funds and IRA charitable contributions for individuals at least 70½ in age)
  • Life Income Gifts (Including split interest gifts benefiting both the donor and charity such as a charitable gift annuity, charitable remainder trust, or charitable lead trust)
  • Bequest Gifts (Including wills, revocable trusts, and other estate plans)
  • Gifts through Beneficiary Forms (Including life insurance, retirement accounts and other)

This list is not all inclusive, but provides a general overview of planned gifts that can benefit a church and/or other ministry.    

A secret sauce to increasing planned gifts for a church and/or ministry involves the following six ingredients:

  1. Consistent and Intentional Messaging on Planned Giving: Please always remember that consistent and intentional messaging is so crucial in a successful effort to help donors in increasing planned gifts to your ministry. A survey that the author conducted several years ago with church leaders determined that the number one reason why Christians do not leave a legacy to ministry is “Lack of Knowing the Opportunities.” They have simply not thought about it and been presented with the opportunity. It is so important to regularly communicate (possibly weekly or monthly) about ways that constituents can benefit your ministry.
  1. Periodic Planned Giving-Related Seminars: Having periodic sessions such as “lunch and learn” events, webcasts, and other venues suitable for seminars can help donors accomplish their objectives through planned giving methods. Offering these sessions can also show value to those invited because of attempting to be of help and service to them. These sessions can be taught by an internal staff-person and/or a foundation ministry partner.
  1. Comprehensive Approach in Development/Stewardship Efforts: It is important that the planned giving promotional efforts be a part of an overall strategy in the development and stewardship efforts of a church and/or other ministry. Planned giving should not be “siloed” from the rest of the development and stewardship efforts related to the promotional communication calendar and its messaging. A communication calendar can easily be managed on a spreadsheet or a project management software system that includes timing for a promotional effort, target audience, distribution channel, distribution date, distribution period (if repeatable), setup deadline, completed date and overall progress of promotional effort. A communication calendar typically includes the following communication channels:
    1. Print
    2. Email
    3. Social Media
    4. Website
    5. Other (Example: Luncheons, videos, etc.)
  1. Infrastructure in Place to “Make A Gift Happen”: Churches and other ministry organizations need to have the individual expertise internally or a partnership in ministry with a foundation ministry to help donors accomplish their charitable intent related to planned gifts. This infrastructure should include the following:
    1. Referral processes in place to help donors establish estate gifts through wills and/or revocable trusts
    2. Processes in place to help facilitate non-cash gifts
    3. Ability to offer donor-advised funds
    4. Offering help in establishing charitable gift annuities, charitable remainder trusts and charitable lead trusts
    5. Other as needed to help facilitate planned gifts
  1. Available Resources When Requested: It is important to have an ongoing relationship with a third-party that can offer materials on various types of planned gifts as needed including printed materials, electronic materials and ongoing website content.
  1. Specific “Ingredient” for Churches: Annually, have a “Legacy Sunday” with a seminar and sermon that focuses on the importance of leaving a Christian legacy for family and the Kingdom.

To successfully help donors establish planned gifts to benefit the Kingdom, the above ingredients are important steps to have in place. As a reminder, consistent and intentional messaging is so crucial.

There is no greater charity that one can benefit than a church or ministry organization that helps advance the Kingdom of God. May we help our donors establish planned gifts that can have an impact on our underlying ministries as they seek to advance the Kingdom.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.