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Planned Giving 201: Lessons Learned in Higher Education Planned Giving

6 key takeaways that we recommend for advancing Planned Giving success for educational organizations.

With the fall academic semester underway, the Giving Docs team is helping a wide array of planned giving teams at colleges and universities. Since so many of our partners are in the higher education sector, we wanted to share some lessons learned on what makes for a successful Giving Docs campaign within educational institutions.

Brantley Boyett and Jade Bristol recently sat down with Kevin Berry, Associate VP, Individual Philanthropy at Hanover College, to learn more about Hanover’s success using Giving Docs. To summarize that conversation, here are 6 key takeaways that we recommend for educational organizations:

1. Imagery Matters.

Design, branding, and language in marketing campaigns and all planned giving landing pages must look and feel like the school’s marketing design, branding and language. When alumni and supporters are visually connected to the spirit of the college they love, they are more likely to take the next step in their planned giving journey.

2. Keep it Simple.

Estate planning and legacy giving remain intimidating and often confusing for many donors. While it is important to break down specific campaigns that provide information about each topic, it is also very useful to streamline tools that make donors’ lives easier. When both online estate planning tools (like will-builders, codicils, and beneficiary designations) and asset giving tools (like stock, DAF, and IRA QCD tools) are all offered in one place, alumni are much more likely to move more quickly toward documenting a legacy gift.

3. Customize.

Many academic institutions have a large number of programs and departments under their umbrella, and it is critical to make it easy for potential donors to quickly see options for restricted gifts. The incorporation of drop-down menus in online planned giving campaigns, which include every potential gift recipient under a university’s umbrella, is helpful to both donors and planned giving teams.

4. Offer as an alumni benefit.

Tools like Giving Docs offer a rare opportunity for colleges to provide a long-lasting, deeply meaningful gift for alumni: an opportunity to create a free online estate plan. Since this tool is not available to the general public, it can make a valuable benefit for members of a school’s alumni association. This special offer can be a way to connect more deeply with alumni of all ages, including younger alumni who may not have even considered creating an estate plan.

5. Fold into legacy challenges.

To turn up the energy on a legacy challenge, integrate an online estate planning toolkit that can get potential donors off the fence quickly- either by informing the university about a gift they have already written into an existing estate plan, or by creating a new gift intention online.

6. Experiment with Multimedia.

Campaigns that integrate surveys, personalized videos, creative social media campaigns, email, and direct mail have the highest visibility and therefore the highest potential for impact. Online estate planning tools can be easily integrated into any of these campaigns to turn interest into action.

For more on this topic, check out our Hanover College Case Study. To learn more about how Giving Docs can help your college or university, reach out for a demo at


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