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Brian M. Sagrestano, JD, CFRE

About Brian

Are You Ready for Gift Planning?

By Brian M. Sagrestano and Robert E. Wahlers

Getting Started in Charitable Gift Planning: Your Guide to Planned Giving

This is an excerpt of Chapter Two of Getting Started in Charitable Gift Planning: Your Guide to Planned Giving (CharityChannel Press) by Brian M. Sagrestano and Robert E. Wahlers. Order on Amazon.

Knowing that gift planning is important for your prospects and will be valuable to your organization, it is time to ask if you are ready to start a proactive gift planning program. In some cases, you may think that you have a program already, but if you really consider it, you may find that you are not fully engaged in all that is necessary for success.

Over the last several years, Brian, working with Viken Mikalean and his team at, developed a readiness assessment. The results will reveal a lot about your organization and whether you are indeed ready to take the next step.

We recommend that you start by filling out this assessment for yourself. Then ask other professionals on your staff team, lay volunteers, and board members to fill it out. By enlisting the feedback of others involved in your nonprofit and averaging the scores, you will generate the best profile of your gift planning readiness.

Start by filling out this Readiness Assessment.

Start by filling out this Readiness Assessment.


Evaluating Your Scores

If your average score is more than 50, Congratulations! Your nonprofit is well positioned to pursue gift planning. If the average score is between 30 and 50, you have some work to do but remain a good candidate for gift planning. If your average score is less than 30, you should focus on other components of your nonprofit so that you are ready to launch a gift planning program in the future.


A word of warning: If all of your scores are near perfect, meaning everyone rates your nonprofit near 100, it is time to look again. The tool is only as accurate as the data. We’ve worked with hundreds of nonprofits and there has never been a perfect score.

Ensuring Accuracy

If you are concerned that your numbers are not accurate, the first step is to ask more people to complete the assessment. The more participants you include in the evaluation process, the more it balances your scores. If you do not have more people to participate, remove the outliers from the survey. You know the ones we’re talking about—the people who gave you all “1” or all “10” scores on every statement.

For you statistics experts, or if you just like to play with numbers, you can weight answers given to specific questions by your colleagues in specific departments. For example, when someone from your Finance Department gives you an answer to statement six about financial stability, you can give that answer greater weight because that’s the person’s field. Similarly, you can give greater weight to the answers you get from members of the board about how interested they themselves are in gift planning (statement five).

A third strategy is to create average scores for each statement. This will allow you to zero in on the areas where you need the greatest improvement and address them first.


How Do We Use the Readiness Data?

The average from the assessment is not a final score but rather a snapshot of where your organization is now in relation to where you want to be. To help you improve your readiness in each area, we have repeated the individual readiness assessment statements below and included a more detailed discussion of how to increase your readiness for that area.

1. We have a mission statement.

This statement is intended to address:

  • whether your organization, in fact, has a mission statement;
  • whether personnel within the organization are aware of it; and
  • whether said personnel are conversant with it.

To improve your score, compose a mission statement if your organization does not have one, communicate this statement to individuals within the nonprofit, and cultivate understanding of the statement among them.


2. Our mission will still be relevant in fifty to one hundred years.

Donors who create planned gifts are investors in your long-term mission. If your nonprofit does not have a long time horizon, charitable gift planning is probably not for you.

3. We have a compelling need for charitable support to sustain our mission.

If your nonprofit has no compelling need for charitable support, donors will not make planned gifts to support your mission. Focus your attention on why a nonprofit doesn’t need charitable support first. If you can develop areas for charitable support, you can then establish an annual giving program followed by a gift planning effort.

4. We have an effective strategic plan to implement our mission.

Even nonprofits with well-articulated mission statements and cases will not garner support without also sharing strategic plans to illustrate to supporters how they will get there. The core priorities of a strategic plan not only guide thinking, but they also encourage donors to support those priorities. As the New Philanthropists (those born between 1946 and the present) set up their legacies, they will restrict those gifts. Best that your nonprofit has a strategic plan so that the gift restrictions are to your priority areas.

5. Our staff and board leadership are interested in pursuing long-term support.

Many organizations are so caught up in raising money for the here and now that they lose sight of the long-term goal. If your board or staff leadership are among those who say we have to raise money for right now and cannot think about the future, you need to show them the elements of your internal case explaining why you have chosen to pursue charitable gift planning at this time.

6. We are financially stable.

Donors want to support successful organizations. If your nonprofit doesn’t look stable or successful, donors will seek others that do. Most donors will not make long-term investments through planned gifts in organizations that may not be around to use the planned gifts or might mismanage them.

7. We pursue endowments to ensure our long-term future.

Endowments serve two key purposes for nonprofits. First, they pay for programs and expenses that the nonprofit will always pursue. Second, they allow the nonprofit to launch new initiatives it cannot afford from its operating budget. Every nonprofit has these two needs. If the board is not ready to raise money in this way, it is probably not the right time to pursue gift planning.

8. We regularly garner support from individuals.

Upon hearing about charitable gift planning, many nonprofits want to get started right away. Unfortunately, you do not just launch a gift planning program today. You start by putting in place several key pieces. One of those pieces is an individual gifts program. If you do not garner support from individuals, you cannot ask individuals to consider planned gifts.

9. We have a group of loyal donors who have supported us in the recent past.

Gift planning prospects are your loyal supporters, those who have invested in the cause year after year, regardless of amount. Without a pool of these prospects, it is impossible to know who to ask to consider a planned gift. If your program does not have annual supporters, start first with an annual giving program. Once you develop loyalty in that group, you can then pursue those individuals for planned gifts.

10. We have one hour per week for the next year to invest in gift planning.

Starting a charitable gift planning program takes time. You need to have the ability to invest a little time each week to build your program. But you’ll see amazing results with just this modest investment if you make the commitment. You need to do the same if you want to be successful.

Legs of the Stool—Infrastructure, Prospect Interaction, and Marketing

The questionnaire has probably revealed strengths and weaknesses in your nonprofit, particularly as you approach launching a gift planning program. What you do with that information will determine whether your program succeeds or fails. Virtually every nonprofit that has ever asked us for assistance in building a gift planning program wants to jump right to the end. They ask for gift annuities, complex assets, and fully integrated solutions right from the start. These are stage two and stage three tools. But if you do not build your program on a solid foundation—a three-legged stool made up of strong infrastructure, prospect interaction, and donor-focused marketing on a moves management platform—your program will not be sustainable. In our book, Getting Started in Charitable Gift Planning: Your Guide to Planned Giving (CharityChannel Press), we discuss how you can build these key elements for your charitable gift planning program.

To Recap

  • Before you embark on starting a gift planning program, ensure that your nonprofit is ready.
  • Gift planning requires a mission suited to long-term support, an effective case, a strategic plan, engaged leaders, loyal supporters, and sufficient time and resources to pursue the program.
  • If you are not ready, put your nonprofit in order first.
  • Do not jump to the end. Build a sound program on a solid foundation with appropriate infrastructure, prospect interaction, and marketing.

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