Is your organization pursuing planned gifts? It should be. Research suggests that the average planned gift in the United States falls between $35,000 and $70,000 — and the amount may increase with more Baby Boomers moving into retirement. Yet many nonprofits, especially small and medium-sized organizations, lack formal planned giving programs.

Benefits of Planned Giving

According to Blackbaud, a software and service provider for nonprofits, planned gifts to charitable organizations over the past 40 years or so have grown 4.5% to 5% annually on average, even during economic downturns. These gifts can play a critical role in sustaining nonprofits by helping to diversify revenue sources.

Moreover, Blackbaud reports, once a planned giving program is established, it typically boasts an enviable cost-to-donation ratio in the range of 3 to 15 cents of cost per $1 raised. Think about this, if the average planned gift is, say, $50,000, you could secure $1 million simply by landing 20 planned gifts — funds that you could use for new or existing programs or facilities or to establish endowments.

A planned giving program can also serve as a useful tool for building donor loyalty. Individuals who make planned gifts usually want to be involved in the organization over the long term and often will make more donations along the way.

Common Gifts

Donors can use a variety of vehicles to make planned gifts, but the following are some of the most common:


The majority of planned gifts are made as bequests in a will. A will might leave a charity a flat dollar amount, a percentage of the estate or the remainder of the estate after other bequests. All of these can provide donors substantial estate tax savings.

Blackbaud research indicates that loyalty is the hallmark of those who make bequests, translating to consistent giving over the years as well as other forms of involvement. Nonprofit organizations should consider targeting loyal donors in their mid-40s and older, who are most likely to be engaged in the estate planning process.

Charitable gift annuities (CGAs)

Donors can use CGAs to contribute assets, usually cash or securities, now, while still enjoying some current financial benefits from the assets. How? The donor receives a guaranteed income stream for life, paid by the nonprofit. He or she also enjoys a charitable income tax deduction.

CGAs are appealing to donors in slow economic times. They provide some assurance to those who worry about outliving their resources, along with potentially a higher after-tax rate of return than might be achieved from other investments.

Loyal, retired donors in their late 60s and older make good prospects for CGAs. Blackbaud again warns against putting too much weight on the size of previous donations, finding that annual gifts of these donors are generally under $100.

Charitable remainder trusts (CRTs)

CRTs are irrevocable trusts that pay a specific amount or percentage to one or more “income beneficiaries” — often the donor and his or her spouse — for a fixed term or their lifetimes, similar to a CGA. When that period expires, the remaining property in the trust goes to a specific charity or charities. CRTs are popular with the wealthy and often result in large gifts.

CRTs may be particularly attractive to donors holding low-yielding but highly appreciated assets like real estate or stock. By using a CRT, a donor can transfer the asset, avoiding capital gains when the trust sells the asset while simultaneously obtaining an income stream (some of which may be taxable).

The donor gets a charitable income tax deduction at the time of the original gift, and the remaining property that will be transferred to the charity is removed from the taxable estate. (If the donor names someone else as an income beneficiary, tax liability may be incurred when the CRT is funded.)

Look Before You Leap

While planned giving holds tremendous promise for nonprofit organizations, it’s important to recognize that some of the vehicles require significant hands-on involvement from an organization. Our nonprofit team can help you determine the best approach for your organization. Fill out the form below the “Do’s and Don’ts” tips and we’ll contact you.

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Our firm provides the information in this article for general guidance only, and does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services, investment advice or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional tax, accounting, legal or other competent advisors. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional advisor who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation. Tax articles in this blog are not intended to be used, and cannot be used by any taxpayer, for the purpose of avoiding accuracy-related penalties that may be imposed on the taxpayer. The information is provided “as is,” with no assurance or guarantee of completeness, accuracy or timeliness of the information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose.




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