Comparing Notes on Planned Giving

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David Shufflebarger Sounds Off

Matching notes on planned giving recently with Joe Bales, Vice President for Development and University Relations at Middle Tennessee State University, he and I both recalled reading an article 20 or so years ago that emphasized the significant role such gifts can play. Our memory was that the article said it was not all that unusual for planned giving programs which had been in place for many years to provide from 25 to 40 percent of the total gifts received each year.

Both of us had taken this as an article of faith over the years, but neither of us could put our hands on the article and neither of us had gone to the source material behind the article. When I read the article I was quick to embrace the concept because of an earlier conversation with a colleague at Johns Hopkins who told me that matured planned gifts had on average provided more than 30 percent of total giving at that distinguished institution for a number of years.

Recently, during an extended flight delay, I happened to have the latest VSE report with me and the time to see if current trends had changed. Individuals accounted for 47.2 percent of total giving in FY 11 and 22.8 percent of individual gifts were matured bequests (19.1 percent) or deferred gifts (3.7 percent). Thus, bequests and deferred gifts were 10.8 percent of total giving.

What was particularly interesting was the fact that total individual giving has almost tripled from $4,442,919 billion in 1992 to $12,140,854 billion in 2011, while bequests have more than doubled during the same period from $1,047,281 to $2,313,696. So, planned gifts have declined as a percentage of total individual giving from above 40 percent earlier when deferred gifts were counted at face value and from above 30 percent since 2003 when they have been counted at present value. My speculation is that this is the result of putting more major gifts officers in the field with a focus on outright gifts.

However, there were numerous instances in FY 11 of institutions where planned gifts made up 25 to 40 percent of total giving. Most were private and smaller, including a number of women’s colleges. In many cases the larger percentage may have been because of an unusually large bequest that boosted the percentage beyond the norm. But, for a number of others it does appear that well-established planned giving programs are having a very significant impact on total giving. But, all in all, they are a relatively small percentage of institutions.

Even at 20 percent of individual giving, planned giving is an essential component of every comprehensive development program. So, I think Joe and I will continue to extol the virtues of a robust planned giving program, but with a more current perspective on its overall impact.

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