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Committees That Work

By The NonProfit Times - September 13, 2013

You might have long suspected that your nonprofit can raise many more planned gifts through partnerships with your local estate planners. This idea seems reasonable, as most planned gifts are arranged during the estate planning process.

A well-designed planned giving committee can provide you with a remarkable advantage. However, it is important to avoid the common trap of expecting your volunteer committee members to seek planned gifts from their clients. Virtually all estate planners consider it unethical to encourage their clients to support a particular charity. Make sure you do not bring that expectation into the process.

There are strategies and tools you can use right away, either for designing a new planned giving committee or in getting a faltering one back on track. These recommendations have been field tested many times and have been shown to work.

Remember that your committee can and should offer real benefits for both your nonprofit and its volunteer members. It is worth doing only if everyone involved believes that it is time well spent.

Your organization will benefit by having a “brain-trust” of experts in all of the estate planning professions. Your ability to call on them to answer quick questions is invaluable. The committee will also lend a great deal of credibility to your planned giving effort, especially among other estate planners in the community. The committee will help plug you into your community’s estate planning network.

Your volunteer committee members will enjoy the opportunity to support a worthy cause, the networking with other committee members, and getting to know your management staff and board members. They will also learn a lot about planned giving in the process. Here are a few first steps.

  • Mission Statement: Start by developing a clear, focused statement of purpose for your planned giving committee. Your mission statement is a key tool in the recruitment process.
  • Job Descriptions: Write out a clear job description for your volunteer committee members as a way to manage expectations. This is important for recruiting members. Lack of clarity here can mean that you lose good potential members and attract only less desirable members.
  • Leadership: Your next step is to recruit an energetic chairperson. Look for someone who is committed to your organization, perhaps a former board member who is also a well-regarded leader in the person’s professional association. Rely on your new chairperson to help you compile a prospect list of potential volunteers and to make the key initial recruitments.
  • Volunteer Recruitment: Make sure you recruit a diverse group of professionals for your committee. You should include attorneys (estate planning, elder law, probate, real estate), CPAs in tax practice, financial planners, life insurance agents, trust officers, stockbrokers, and real estate agents (residential and commercial).
  • Ideal Committee Member: Seek out volunteers who really care about your charitable mission and are eager to contribute their time and expertise. Look for members who are well-established and respected in their profession. Avoid those who are hungry for the next sale and might try to sell products or services to your donors and board members.
  • Orientation: Make sure you provide a solid orientation for all new committee members. Familiarize them with your organization, its services and programs, its case for support and the fundraising plan. Members need to understand why your organization is raising money and how planned giving fits into the overall fund development program.


Avoiding Common Mistakes

Mistaken assumptions and unrealistic expectations are the biggest culprits in planned giving committee that have gone off-track. This is unfortunate because many organizations have had unpleasant experiences with poorly-planned committees and have come to believe that committees do not work. Here are the most common mistakes to avoid:

  • Giving the committee members too little or too much to do;
  • Having an unclear or vague sense of purpose;
  • Not scheduling meetings at least one year in advance;
  • Expecting your committee members to raise the planned gifts;
  • Expecting the committee to run itself without much staff support;
  • Expecting your committee members to be planned giving experts;
  • Expecting your committee members to obtain gifts from their own clients;
  • Not educating the members about gift planning ethics;
  • Allowing volunteers to promote products or services;
  • Expecting members to provide free professional services; and,
  • Not keeping the work of the committee fun and interesting.


Best Practices

There are guidelines to keep in mind as you develop your committee. Here are a few ideas to keep it interesting:

  • Meet only two or three times each year and make the meetings interesting. Consider offering a CE credit presentation on a planned giving topic;
  • Publish a directory of your planned giving committee members and make it available to your volunteers, donors, and board members;
  • Get out and visit each member at least once a year, building a personal relationship. Ask each member for some advice at least once a year;
  • Recognize your committee members with plaques or certificates. List them on your website and in your publications;
  • Invite them to all of your significant events. Suggest that they use your events to entertain their clients; and,
  • Treat your committee members like VIPs in your organization.

If you treat them well and help them feel like they are members of your team, you will find that many will become donors and sponsors, and they will become more and more comfortable with discussing your organization with their clients and colleagues.  NPT

John Elbare, MBA, CFP, is founder and owner of Florida Philanthropic Advisors, LLC in Sarasota, Fla. His email is


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