gift planning career

Careers in Planned Giving -Part 2

marketingCloudWhat is planned giving from a career perspective?

Let’s break this topic into a few areas of potential employment before tackling the subject:

  1. Full-time planned giving director or officer (100% of job is dedicated towards planned giving) – this post.
  2. Partial planned giving officer (someone working in a nonprofit fundraising position who also has planned giving responsibilities) – next post.
  3. Employment in positions (at for-profits) that work with planned giving programs (banks, planned giving marketing firms, some lawyer and investment advisors) – an even later post.

As you can see, there are many ways a career could intersect with planned giving, so what is planned giving?

Oh boy – I ask this questions to all of attendees of my training programs.  No simple answer.  Here is my try, for this purpose: planned giving is the area of fundraising that encourages gifts to charity through estate plans and/or tax advantaged gift structures.  If you want a deeper answer, click here for a previous blog post on this question.

So, if we are talking about estate plans and gift structures – we are generally talking about older prospects – at least those who are starting to plan for their ultimate resting place (we never mention the D word, right?).  How do gifts like this happen?

Think about it. A donor/prospect has to decide that his favorite charities should be along-side family in his will or other estate plans.  What is your job in planned giving? Firstly, to communicate this message to anyone who it might resonate with (this often takes many years to sink in).

Fact: most planned giving donors ultimately decide to keep this decision private so your organization has no clue as to whether your messaging is working until they start seeing more bequest money coming in!

Marketing.  Yes, planned giving is a marketing job.  Not only for those out of the blue bequests that most orgs receive.  But, also for those donors you actually speak with – the decision making process is so slow and hard to pin down, you need your prospects to have as much mental preparation before these conversations as possible. Get the message out – that is challenge #1 for a planned giving program.

But, is marketing the prime feature of the job? No. For a full-time planned giving director or officer, you are going to need to be first and foremost a fundraiser!  By that, I mean someone who is proactive with creating interactions with donors and who can lead conversations towards completed commitments.  So, while a flair for marketing is really important, being able to connect with donors is probably the most important trait of a planned giving officer (you can always use outside marketing firms to help you but you can’t have outsiders meeting prospects and closing gifts for you).

Aren’t we missing something?  What about the financial planning aspects of planned giving?  Isn’t that the trickiest part of the job and the top trait we need for our planned giving officers?  Isn’t this why so many lawyers join the planned giving ranks?

Fact: your planned giving officer does not need to be a lawyer or accountant – just needs to be someone with enough comfort and confidence in personal financial matters to be engaging with donors when and if the topic arises.  And,  you can always call in an expert on the legal stuff!

So, yes, you need a comfort level with basic financial and estate planning. No, you don’t need to be an attorney.  Note: attorneys and accountants are people, too, who can learn to be fundraisers so don’t rule yourself out if you are one – just realize that you need to be a “salesman” and “marketeer” first and foremost for this job.

Lastly, customer service.  This is a customer service job.  Once a donor lets your org know that it’s in his or her estate plans (or other planned gift), you need to treat these donors as VIPs, keep them feeling good about the org, and connected.

So, for the potential full-time planned giving officer, you generally will need to be strong in all of these traits: sales, marketing, financial planning, and customer service. Oh, and you’ll need to be a good colleague among the rest of the fundraisers and leadership of the organization.

A key to success in planned giving: win over and train your colleagues in identifying planned giving opportunities.  Remember – the best donors are quite often the best planned giving prospects and you won’t be given access to them unless you are a trusted colleague!  And, you’ll need approval for your marketing efforts so don’t make internal enemies with finance or PR!

One of the reasons I love working in planned giving is the broad range of activities.  After close to 20 years as a full time planned giving officer/director or consultant, I have come to the conclusion that the “sales and marketing” end of planned giving is the key to success.  You need to be someone who gets out smart and high quality marketing (and be willing to change when results are lagging) and someone who gets out the door to see donors (in person meetings are so important for donor relations). If neither of these prime activities appeal to you, you might want to rethink your plans.

What about career prospects for full time planned giving officers?

Here is the problem.  When I first started full time in planned giving in 1998, when I felt down at my job, I just opened the Chronicle of Philanthropy and saw 10 or more jobs that I would likely get interviewed for.  But, that changed with two recessions and shifts in the nonprofit world.

In short, planned giving is always a subset of fundraising and when nonprofits go through tough times, one of the easiest programs to cut is planned giving.  Therefore, the full time planned giving position became a rarity – even at many large institutions.  (Next post will go into the partial planned giving officer option).

What should you do if you have done your research and want to try this career direction?  What if you can’t get close to a full time planned giving-only job?

Easy answer: get a job in fundraising!  Start getting to know donors and how to behave with them and what working at nonprofits is like.  You can always pick up more training on the financial planning end of planned giving and wait for opportunities at your job to show off your planned giving moxie.  Orgs love the idea of crossed trained fundraisers.  You never know, you might help create the need for a dedicated planned giving officer – which could be you!

Next post on careers in planned giving: partial planned giving officers!