There’s no time like the present for Friends to develop a long–term fundraising strategy that includes planned giving, from simple bequests and beneficiary designations to gift annuities and charitable trusts.

The National Committee on Planned Giving reports that almost 90 percent of planned gifts come as bequests from an individual’s will. A basic program requires minimal setup and maintenance to capitalize on this lion’s share of planned gifts. Bequests may be directed to your general fund or designated for specific projects or an endowment. A donor may also choose your Friends group as a beneficiary of an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or insurance policy.

Planned giving is often an opportunity for people to leave a legacy. Donors are likely to be less interested in leaving funds for operating expenses than to a building fund or an endowment that could sustain environmental education, trails, scholarships or visitor center exhibits. For example, the Friends of the Bosque and the Learn Family formed the Emerson Learn Bus Scholarship Endowment in memory of an influential past president. This fund, which provides stipends for schools to visit the refuge, is a lasting testament to Emerson’s passion for connecting children to the refuge. The Friends Web site includes a separate “donate” button for others who might wish to add to the endowment.

Growing Your Program

When you are ready to attract and manage more complex giving options, your board may want to consider annuities that pay out over a period of time. The donor contributes money and the group agrees to pay that donor an annual income for life. This is riskier than a simple bequest program. Gift–annuity contributions must be invested; regular tax reports must be provided to donors. A Friends group can manage a gift annuity program independently or hire a financial services provider. Gift annuities require a contract between the Friends group and the donor; charitable remainder trusts require establishment of a legal trust.

If your board is willing to accept non–cash gifts, you will need to develop policy and protocols regarding the types of gifts you accept, such as stock or real estate. Consider costs for transportation, storage, selling/marketing, property taxes, maintenance/repairs—and the item’s usefulness and salability.

Marketing Your Program

When you develop marketing materials for a planned giving program, refer to simple, yet well–designed examples online, such as The Nature Conservancy. Have your program reviewed by a financial professional, but don’t feel that you have to be an expert. Individuals interested in using such gifting tools should be encouraged to consult their own financial advisor.

Focus on “selling” your group and your program: demonstrate your relevance, staying power and positive impact on the refuge; describe any benefits to planned givers, such as name recognition, inclusion in a “legacy club” with special newsletters and invitations to exclusive events; and connect their objectives for giving with the long–term needs and viability of the refuge.

Add notes about planned giving to member correspondence, newsletters, public outreach events, Web site and visitor center. Upon request, provide a copy of your 501(c)(3) letter, indicating where funds will be directed and suggesting wording for a bequest. Maintain a permanent file of planned giving correspondence—you are forming long–term relationships.

Not every donor will be a Friends member. More importantly, not every planned giver is readily identifiable as a wealthy philanthropist. Stewardship of your donors and members is critical: that $15/year senior member may turn into a $43,000 bequest (ours did!). This donor had no family when she died but felt the refuge had made enough of an impact to include us in her will. You never know who your big donors will be, so let everyone know that their support matters.

Leigh Ann Vradenburg is executive director of Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, NM.