The Power of Legacy and Planned Gifts: How Nonprofits and Donors Work Together to Change the World

Planned giving, or gift planning as it's also known, is typically regarded as a "technical" (read complicated) piece of the development puzzle. In his new book, The Power of Legacy and Planned Gifts, gift planning guru Kevin Johnson presents stories from the field along with practical knowledge, tactics, and strategies designed to help small and mid-size nonprofits create a gift-planning program sure to bring success.

Johnson describes his role in that process as more akin to a facilitator matching "the interests and needs of an organization to donors who desire to make a positive difference in their communities." Organized into three parts and fourteen chapters, The Power of Legacy and Planned Gifts covers everything from the types of planned gifts to sample forms to best practices in ethics and transparency in making and soliciting such gifts.

In the book's Introduction, for example, Johnson deftly illustrates in a few short pages the evolution of these types of gifts, including the impact of tax laws and changing demographics. He touches on how technology has impacted donors' perception of planned gifts and the challenges fundraising professionals face in trying to stay abreast of best practices in this area. And he suggests that, thanks to technology, a traditional planned giving committee may not be a necessity for today's nonprofits because of the increased capacity of staff to manage these types of gifts.

Other chapters in the book are equally informative. Chapter 3 ("Assumptions That Mean Success or Failure") explores many commonly held assumptions about legacy gifts and planned giving and provides a number of "ice breaker" exercises that can be helpful in initiating and focusing conversations with donors. In chapter 4 ("The Four Steps to Create a Gift Stream"), Johnson focuses on the value of reading and interpreting interpersonal cues as you develop a planned giving program and underscores the importance of preparation in a program's success, while chapter 7 addresses the need to "emphasize and match lifetime values held by donors [with] the principles that guide your nonprofit mission." In the same chapter, Johnson offers excellent tips on how to draft, develop, and format your case with input from donors and board members alike, while in chapter 11 ("Integrating Legacy Gifts into Daily Work") he shares more tools, including scripts designed to help the fundraising professional who wants to integrate a planned giving program into his or her daily work flow.

The book also strikes a nice balance between more technical advice and insights about some of the challenges associated with such programs. For example, while outlining the various steps involved in developing a gift acceptance policy, Johnson is careful to underscore the value of such a policy as "part of a larger effort to build [donors'] trust and confidence in your organization." That advice is especially valuable given the fact that many volunteers, donors, and nonprofit leaders seem to regard the development of acceptance policies as "busy work." Another valuable feature of the book is Johnson's focus on the fundraising professional making his or her own planned giving program first, the idea being that nothing better demonstrates a fundraising professional's commitment to her own organization as well as the planned giving concept itself.

The book concludes with a Resources section complete with reading lists and other resources grouped by chapter; a glossary offering definitions for not only planned giving terminology but other estate, tax, legal, real estate, and nonprofit terms; and a wide selection of "premium" content available via the publisher's Web site, including many helpful charts, figures, and tables.

As conversational and practical as The Power of Legacy and Planned Gifts is, it is more than just a guide to tools and best practices; indeed, it spends a lot of time detailing how nonprofit professionals can best represent the interests of their organization as well as those of their donors. And it offers a vision and sound advice for the fundraising professional who wants to engage potential donors on the topic of planned giving, making it a valuable addition to the libraries of donors and fundraisers alike.

Brenda Ray Scott
Adept Diva Consulting
Portland, Oregon