Do you think about your data?

Do you work for an organization that is well established, has a good base of donors but just hasn’t had the opportunity to get a planned giving program off the ground. I suspect you are not the only one who has faced this situation.

So where do you begin? If it were me, I would immediately think about data to help find prospects. The diamonds are in the database – you just need to know how to find them.


I heard you groan. You were thinking something a little more fun like coordinating a special cultivation event. Those events are important. But data is a fundraising girl’s best friend for planned giving prospecting.

You need to think about your data for a few different reasons. Data will help you determine what your typical planned giving donor looks like. It will help you identify planned giving prospects. And thinking about how you will track data will help your efforts in a systematic and organized fashion.

In order to find planned giving prospects, you need to know what a typical planned giving donor looks like for your organization. To do that, you need to take a look at your data.

There are a couple of places to seek out this information.

First, has anyone recorded somewhere those people who have indicated they are leaving a planned gift to your organization? Maybe the information is in a notepad or the people have a special code assigned to them in your database? Have you scoured the paper files? Were letters or old pledge cards noting this golden information kept?

Second, take a look at the bequests that have been received. The data for this group may not be in your database. This is where making friends with your accounting department is helpful. If the information isn’t in the database, copies of wills that included your organization as a beneficiary have probably been kept by the accounting department. Ask to review the files and record the data for collation and analysis.

Collect as many pieces of data as possible for both living individuals who you know have made a planned gift and for fulfilled estate gifts.

Consider the following pieces of data: Were the donors male or female? Were they married or single? Did they have children? Where did they live? What was their giving history? What was their affiliation with your organization? For estate gifts, look at what was the average bequest and how the planned gift was made.

By taking a look at the data, you will find patterns that will develop a picture of the typical planned giving donor to your organization.

This will be invaluable in helping you identify planned giving prospects.

Parallel to this; take a look at the people who give faithfully year after year. The size of the gift is irrelevant. It’s the number of consecutive years of giving that is a strong indicator of planned giving potential. Donors who have given ten or more consecutive years are great planned giving prospects. Don’t have ten years worth of data? No problem – work with what you have, seeking out the people who have given for the most number of consecutive years.

Those who give faithfully and frequently are great planned giving prospects. Map this information with the characteristics of your typical planned giving donor and your data is doing the work of identifying who you should engage and cultivate for a planned gift.

With planned giving there are other clues that help determine potential prospects. Thinking about your data will help you find them.

This may sound obvious but it is a great data point to consider – are you tracking in your database the people who request will wording? What about the people who indicated (either in writing or verbally) that they left a gift in their will? These people are obvious planned giving prospects – but can you retrieve their names through a simple query in your database or is the information scattered in paper files, Word documents and your fading memory?

And what about which planned giving vehicle people are using? The majority of gifts are made through a bequest. But there are the rare few that make a planned gift differently. Are you thinking about how knowing this data will affect your interactions with them?

Does your data tell you if that lovely lady donor is a Miss or a Mrs.? Marital status can help indicate a potential prospect.

What about relationships such as children? Do they have relatives to include in their will? Or is there opportunity for your charity to be the primary beneficiary for consideration?

Can your data tell you at what life stage is your donor? Birthdates and graduation years can help identify this. Are they at the will making stage of their life? Are they retired empty nesters or are they still thinking about mortgages, retirement savings and education costs for their kids? Knowing life stage will help you determine the appropriate strategy to take.

Once you have collected and analyzed some great intel to help with your planned giving efforts, promise me you won’t leave it in an Excel spreadsheet or paper file in your desk drawer. Entering it in your database ensures that the next time you want to think about your data from a new angle you can easily do so.

First and foremost, when you track various pieces of data in your database, keep it simple. And please, for everyone’s sanity – be consistent! Tables with drop down menus are far superior to free text form. In addition to the actual great piece of data, ensure there is a place to record the date and the source. Date and source help to verify and legitimize the data down the road.

Data is dynamic and data collection is a work in progress. When you think about your data and systematically track the golden nuggets of information in your database (and not in people’s heads), you will soon gain an impressive body of information that will provide you with a treasure map to the planned giving prospect pot of gold.

A version of this article originally appeared in the December 2013 edition of Gift Planning in Canada.

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