Successful Nonprofits: Easy Planned Giving for Small Nonprofits

Easy and Effective Ideas to Get Your Planned Giving Program Started Today

Jump Start Your Planned Giving Program with Tony Martignetti

Easy and Effective Ideas to Get Your Planned Giving Program Started Today

Jump Start Your Planned Giving Program with Tony Martignetti

by Ro

Wouldn’t it have been nice if your nonprofit had started a planned giving program 5, or even 20, years ago? Imagine where your organization could have been today!

In this episode, we are joined by planned giving evangelist and fellow podcast host, Tony Martignetti. We discuss how nonprofits of all sizes can quickly and easily get their planned giving programs jump-started. So listen in now — your nonprofit’s future development team will be grateful!

Listen to the Episode Here!


Website: Planned Giving Accelerator

Tony’s Podcast: Nonprofit Radio

Youtube: Tony’s Launch Control Tour

Website: Coaching Group

Podcast: Episode 83: The Major Gifts Playbook with Doug Barker

Podcast: Episode 157: Generosity Post-Mortem: Legacy Giving with Lori Kranczer


 (03:47) Tony’s first ask

(07:21) Getting your planned giving program started

(12:48) How to handle donors who don’t have wills

(16:05) How to help your program gain traction

(19:33) Planned giving for smaller nonprofits

(24:37) What to do after you get a planned giving commitment


olph Goldenburg (0s):

Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits® Podcast. I’m your host, Dolph Goldenburg. I am so excited to have one of my podcasting mentors and one of my fundraising mentors on the podcast today. That’s Tony Martignetti. Before I introduce him, I want to share with you that next month, I have a coaching group that we’ll be launching. This coaching group is designed for executive directors in their first 12 months. 

 Dolph Goldenburg (30s):

In my first permanent executive director position, one of the board co-chairs met me at the front door, handed me the keys, showed me where my office was, showed me where the restroom was and said, “Hey, that’s about it. Give me a call if you need anything.” Within an hour or two, a staff member walks up to me with his computer underneath his arm, slings his keys down and says, “I can’t take it anymore!” and walks out. With the organization’s computer still under his arm. So often as executive directors, we don’t have ideal starts, but what we do need is the coaching and support necessary to be successful, whether or not we’re getting that from our boards. If you are feeling the need for some coaching, we’re doing group coaching, which makes it more affordable and also more dynamic. So make sure you check that out at

Dolph Goldenburg (1m 26s):

Now I am so excited to introduce Tony Martignetti. I first became introduced to Tony through his podcast, Nonprofit Radio. It was probably the first podcast of the nonprofit genre that I ever subscribed to. I think this was 10 or more years ago. It was so long ago that I would download the MP3 file onto my computer.

Dolph Goldenburg (2m 11s):

I would then transfer it to my Zune so that I could play it on my bus ride into work in the morning. Literally that’s how long ago I started listening to Tony’s podcast. It was off the chain. It was also what inspired me to start a nonprofit podcast. I got to appear on his podcast about five or six years ago and felt incredibly lucky and fortunate to be able to. Tony is not only an attorney, but he is also a planned giving guru. He has done planned giving professionally for longer than many people have even had a career.

Dolph Goldenburg (2m 52s):

In some cases, probably longer than some of our listeners have been alive. He is amazing at this. One of the things that he recently started is the Planned Giving Accelerator, which is a membership community that helps nonprofits start and grow their planned giving programs. When I heard he was doing this, I was like, “Tony, we got to get you on the podcast to talk about plan giving.” So Tony, welcome to the podcast

Tony Martignetti (3m 22s):

Dolph. Thank you so much. What a lovely touching introduction. Thank you very, very much.

Listen in for the story of Tony’s first ask!!

Dolph Goldenburg (6m 24s):

Of your plan giving work, I know you have been helping nonprofits set up their planned giving program structurally, but also in terms of how they’re going to implement it.

Tony Martignetti (6m 37s):

Yes, that’s exclusively my work really. It’s working with startup planned giving programs or very nascent. I’ve always been starting programs. I worked at two colleges as a director of planned giving from 97 to 2003. I did that for six years. So I’ve been a frontline fundraiser, creating planned giving programs at those two colleges. Then in 2003, I moved to consulting and strictly again, startup planned giving. That’s what the Planned Giving Accelerator is all about – to start up planned giving programs.

Dolph Goldenburg (7m 21s):

What should nonprofits have in place before starting a plan giving program?

Tony Martignetti (7m 38s):

I like to see at least five years of history. I’m looking for organizations that are at least five years old. I’m going to use the example of a will. When someone puts you in their will, they expect that your organization is going to live longer than they do. Well in the first five years, there’s a lot of zeal and passion and great feelings, but I like to see some history before we start asking people to put that organization in their will. You need to have been around the block for at least five years. You need to have individual donors.

Tony Martignetti (8m 19s):

If you’re strictly fee for services, government contracts, foundation funded or corporate funded, you don’t have any planned giving prospects. You need to have individual donors. I like to start planned giving with folks who are roughly 55 to 60 and over. So you need some folks at that age. Those are some of the things you need to have in place to get to get started.

Dolph Goldenburg (8m 42s):

Sometimes I’ll hear organizations say, “We only have 12 major donors giving $5,000 or more. So we’re really not prepared to start doing planned giving.” I’ll often say, “Talk to an expert, but I bet you got some lower level donors that have assets that they’re not going to use when they pass away.”

Tony Martignetti (9m 9s):

Dolph. Thank you. Yes. Bust that myth. One of the insidious myths of planned giving is that it’s only for major donors. Absolutely not. I’m not as afraid to call them “small donors.” It doesn’t mean they’re small people. It means they give small amounts. If they’re doing that consistently, and they’ve been doing it for several years, they are ideal planned giving prospects. That is one of my top five myths that keep nonprofits out of planned giving. 

Dolph Goldenburg (9m 45s):

I’ll share with you, there are about four or five nonprofits in my will. I shared with them that they were in my will and I jokingly told them, “I can be much more generous when I’m dead than right now. So there’s more coming in the future.”

Tony Martignetti (10m 1s):

That’s one of the advantages of a planned gift of that type. Again, a gift by will. There’s no lifetime cost. You’ve done planned giving at an unusually young age and with five charities to that. Congratulations. You’ve got more charities in your will than I do.

Dolph Goldenburg (10m 16s):

I’ll share with you, we don’t have any children. So we can leave things to nieces and nephews who may or may not be all that involved in our lives in another 20 years or not. 

Tony Martignetti (10m 31s):

You’re pointing to one of the reasons folks are drawn to planned giving once a nonprofit starts promoting it. There is no lifetime cost.

Dolph Goldenburg (10m 42s):

Right? So you’re an organization, you’ve been around five years or longer, and you’ve got some individual donors, what are some of the next things nonprofits should be thinking about in creating a plan giving program

Tony Martignetti (11m 4s):

That’s exactly what we’re doing together in the Planned Giving Accelerator, that membership community, you mentioned. Next step is, you’ve got to get out there. You’ve got to identify the right prospects. You’ve got to have the right messages for the right prospects and time it correctly. You have recognition for folks who give at different levels. They might start at $50, $500, or $1,000 but you have those different levels. Your planned giving donors deserve that same level of recognition, that same respect and thought. 

Tony Martignetti (11m 46s):

If you start a new initiative, you should also be looking for board support. I like to see 100% participation among the board, regardless of age. For board members, I don’t care that they’re 55 or 60 or younger. All board members should have the organization in their will. When they leave the organization, if they change their minds, that’s fine. But at the time that they’re on the board, we’re looking for that 100% participation in wills.

Dolph Goldenburg (12m 15s):

Tony, I love that because what a great way to come out of the box with your program. You’ve got 15 board members to say, “Hey, we’re launching this program with 17 people, our 15 board members and the two major donors we’ve already talked to.”

Tony Martignetti (12m 30s):

Yes you can. Then you’ve got a cadre of folks you can go to for testimonials, do a pull quote on your webpage, do a pull quote in an email and a print piece, or recognize them in your annual report. That could be very good launching off.

Dolph Goldenburg (12m 48s):

I do have to say that this is why you’re the planned giving evangelist. It really is. As I recall back when I was an executive director, there would be times I knew I needed to have that planned giving conversation with someone. Oftentimes I talked to people and they would say, “Gosh, I don’t even have a will.” Do you think that’s very common to talk about planned giving and it turns out the person doesn’t have a plan at all?

Tony Martignetti (13m 48s):

I haven’t run up against that personally, too much. We do start marketing folks around 55, 60, and over. But most of the folks that I’m having conversations with are 70 plus. They very rarely don’t have wills by that age. To your point, it is true that there are folks in the United States who should have wills that don’t. We should all have a will. Certainly if we have children because you got to cover guardianship issues. But even before that, you could die an untimely death. It’s much better to have a will than not. I mean, you’re right on Dolph. The national statistic, I think is like 55% or 60% of Americans don’t have a will. I think it’s more than half don’t who ought to.

Dolph Goldenburg (14m 41s):

And does that ever represent a barrier in the planned giving program? Because people have not thought that far in advance.

Tony Martignetti (14m 49s):

I would turn around and say, “Now you have a good reason to do it. We’d love for you to include us. Please don’t put us first. If you’ve got children, they come first.” This is something I do say often: family comes first. 

Tony Martignetti (15m 31s):

If you know the person pretty well you might go so far as to say, “I bet this has been weighing on your mind because you’re supposed to have a will. We’ll maybe use this as an opportunity.” So there’s a little levity, a little whimsy, but you’re making a serious point at the same time.

Dolph Goldenburg (15m 47s):

I’ve got another question. This is one that I’ve sometimes struggled with. I’ve always felt okay having that conversation with someone who’s 65, 70, 75. I’ve struggled when the conversation is with someone who’s 85 or 90, because it feels almost opportunistic to me. How do I get past that? Or should I get past that?

Tony Martignetti (16m 14s):

You should. They’re ready. If they’ve been loving your organization for years, decades probably by that age, they should have been asked when they were 65 or 70. But the organization didn’t do it. It’s a natural extension of their giving. They love the organization. If you’re genuine and sincere, it’s not going to come across as opportunistic. If you’re talking to the right folks or the right person, meaning they’ve loved your organization for a long time, they’re okay with the idea.

Dolph Goldenburg (16m 50s):

Here’s the next thing I’m really curious about: how long after a nonprofit starts their planned giving program before they start to get commitments? You’ve got commitments out of the box with all of your board members. So after you’ve done the launch and you’ve got those initial commitments from board members, and maybe some of your closest donors, how long before you really start to see traction beyond that?

Tony Martignetti (17m 23s):

That’s going to depend on how many prospects you have. Look, if we’re promoting planned giving to a hundred folks, that’s going to take a while, right? Even beyond the board. And I should say, a board is not necessarily the place you have to start. It’s a good idea. I do like to see that 100% participation, but you could start more broadly and hold off your solicitation for the board until you have some activity to report like in a month or maybe around month six. Then you’ve got a reason to report to the board and you make your board solicitation en mass. You need to be steady with consistent messaging.

Tony Martignetti (18m 11s):

I like to do a lot of direct mail. I know direct mail has a high price to it. So that’s a barrier for some folks. It’s a gold standard for folks in their seventies, eighties. They’re opening their mail still. They’re accustomed to having done that all their lives when it comes from a trusted, beloved organization, it’s not junk mail. You’ve got to keep that consistency going, that steady messaging. I can’t say exactly when you’ll peak, it may be steady growth over several years, but you will grow. It will increase. 

Dolph Goldenburg (18m 48s):

It’s funny. I say this to organizations all the time, “You’d be surprised. If you can get consistent 10% growth every year, what that looks like. It compounds what it looks like in 10 years or 20 years or 30.”

Tony Martignetti (19m 2s):

Absolutely. Aren’t you wishing that your nonprofit had started planned giving or had started any initiative that you’re not in 20 years ago? Look where you’d be now. You’d probably have hundreds or, maybe depending on the size of your organization, a thousand folks in your planned giving recognition society. Maybe your revenue would be so much larger. If you had been more consistent about your digital channels then than you are. You don’t want your successors looking back saying they wish you had started planned giving.

Dolph Goldenburg (19m 33s):

I totally agree with you. I’ve got another important question because a lot of our listeners are with smaller nonprofits, typically a budget of a million or less. If they’re lucky, they have one full-time development person who’s responsible for everything. The events, the annual giving, the combined federal campaign grant, writing everything. Sometimes they don’t even have that one full-time development person. So for a smaller organization, what’s reasonable in terms of starting your plan giving program in terms of number of asks, number of mailings, number of events you’re doing?

Tony Martignetti (20m 16s):

Dolph, I know that profile very well because that’s what Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio is all about. I produced the show for small and mid-sized nonprofits. That’s what the Planned Giving Accelerator is all about. You have to look at your own capacity. Where are you? Where are you starting from? What resources do you have? In Planned Giving Accelerator I tell folks I am looking for them to spend about an hour a week on planned giving between what we’re doing together and what you need to go back and do on your own.

Tony Martignetti (20m 57s):

So for a nonprofit of that size, aim for four to five hours a month to be devoted to planned giving. I’d be getting out two campaigns, direct mail and/or digital. More if you have the wherewithal, but at least two. There should be a board meeting in there with a board meeting solicitation. Then you have the important follow up to that board meeting. Any solicitation is worthless if you’re not following up with the person. They’re going to think you’re an amateur and you’re going to be leaving a lot of money on the table. After you have that meeting, you’ve got to have the important follow up. How’s that going to get done? Who’s going to do it? Maybe a recognition society, but you don’t have to put a lot of effort into a recognition society. I’d say for a first year that’s reasonable.

Tony Martignetti (21m 43s):

It doesn’t need any fancy letterhead. It doesn’t need branding. It does need a good identity. It needs a name. You don’t have to have lapel pins that you’re spending money on. Or crystal obelisks that you’re giving to everyone. Do that in year 10 or something. Don’t worry about that. It’s like any other fundraising, you gotta be asking. The point of my Lisa Magio story is if I hadn’t asked her, I would never know whether she would go steady with me. You have to be asking. So get the asks out in whatever form. That’s the crux of my advice for getting your plan giving started in year one, two, three: get those asks out.

Tony Martignetti (22m 25s):

Maybe it’s one-on-one asks. Maybe you don’t have the wherewithal for digital. I’d be surprised in 2021, but let’s think of the worst-case scenario. If you’re doing a lot of meetings, then when folks are roughly 55, 60 and over, and they’ve been consistent, loyal donors, raise it with them. At least you’re getting asks out in some form. Ask. That’s the key to success. You’ve got to be out asking.

Dolph Goldenburg (22m 52s):

Tony. That’s really reassuring because what I hear you say is, if your organization is spending four to five hours a month on launching your program, you should expect that your program will get commitments and bear fruit.

Tony Martignetti (23m 8s):

Absolutely. The average charitable bequest in the US is about $36,000. So you’re not going to hit that every time. But people of very modest means, very small donors, can be very generous. Almost anybody can afford $5,000 in a will. That’s obviously a way below average gift. Yes. You’ll get commitments, if you’re asking the right folks.

Dolph Goldenburg (23m 34s):

I’m so glad you emphasize that. When I was the development director, we had a monthly giving program that we called $5 for Food and Fuel. People would send in $5 a month that we would put toward an emergency assistance fund. We had people who’d been a part of $5 for Food and Fuel for years. Literally some people would send checks in and you would see the check and you could tell that it was an older person. Those were some of our best prospects. $5 is not a lot, but they often had a home and had other assets. They wanted to make sure they were going to be okay throughout their retirement. 

Tony Martignetti (24m 13s):

Absolutely. I bet you some of those folks wished they could do more for you. They probably wish they could give you $50 for food and fuel, but for whatever reasons, objectively true or not, they feel $5 is all they can do. So they’re very good prospects for doing something more in their will.

Dolph Goldenburg (24m 37s):

I love that. That is phenomenal. Last big question I’ve got for you around planned giving: once a donor makes a commitment, what should you be asking for from that donor?

Tony Martignetti (24m 52s):

Before you ask anything, you want to say, “Thank you.” You thank them genuinely, whether it’s over the phone or when we get back to face-to-face meetings. Because what they’ve done is put your organization alongside their husband, wife, children, and grandchildren. Alongside those dear loved ones, there’s a gift for you. They take your work very, very seriously. They love your mission, your values, and they want those things to succeed. They want your work to continue for decades and generations to come. So you need to treat that with the sincerity and the genuineness that it deserves.

Tony Martignetti (25m 35s):

And then you welcome them to the recognition society. I don’t know that there’s anything more you’re asking. Even without asking, you’re going to see a lot of your planned giving donors increase their other giving. Why? Because they feel so much closer to you because they’ve done what I described. They put you alongside their loved ones and they feel closer. I’m not saying it happens in every case, but in lots of cases, after someone has told an organization that the organization is part of their will or other estate plan, you see their other giving rise. 

Dolph Goldenburg (26m 10s):

That’s awesome. Tony, I want to make sure I’ve got time for the off-the-map question. I think I’ve got a good one for you. This is something I did not know about you until I started to prep for our recorded conversation today. I was surprised because as I’ve already said, I feel like I know you because of the podcast, but I learned that once upon a time you were responsible for the nuclear keys.

Tony Martignetti (26m 49s):

I had an ROTC scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University with the Air Force. So after I graduated, I owed them four years of service. I served for five years in the Air Force. I was at Whiteman Air Force Base in Warrensburg, Missouri, which is now the B-2 base. Yes, I was a missile launch officer. The official title was Missile Combat Crew Commander. We were the launch officers’ four minute man. We operated 10 of ICBM’s Intercontinental ballistic missiles. We were in capsules underground. Yes. We had keys.

Tony Martignetti (27m 30s):

In my off-duty hours, those keys started my Toyota. Hahaha. No, I’m too dry. I’m sorry. Separate keys. The keys had to stay down in the launch control center underground. Go on my YouTube channel. You can see, I have a tour of a launch control center at Whiteman Air Force Base because there’s one that’s no longer operational. It’s a museum and I toured through it and I do a voiceover for 10 minutes of the Minuteman LCC launch control center.

Dolph Goldenburg (28m 5s):

I have to say it’s super cool, but it also gives me the sense that you’re probably a very trusted and trustworthy person. Because I imagine they don’t really share those keys with many people.

Tony Martignetti (28m 15s):

You gotta have your wits about you. You’ve got to know people very well. You can at least say that I’m stable.

Dolph Goldenburg (28m 32s):

I was going to say, I think we could say more than that about you. Listeners, if you were thinking about your planned giving program, I suggest you go to At that website, you can learn more about Tony’s membership community. So you’re aware, the way this works is they start new cohort groups quarterly.

Dolph Goldenburg (29m 18s):

April 2021 will be when the next cohort group launches. That’s about six weeks away. If you’re interested, you really need to go to, check it out and reach out to Tony. I would be remiss if I don’t ask you to please check out Tony Martignetti’s podcast. It’s called Nonprofit Radio. I would bet it’s probably the oldest continuously running nonprofit podcast in the country. So it’s definitely worth your while to check it out. The last thing I want to make sure that you’re aware of is a planned giving guide that Tony will give you for free. You can get that by texting “guide” to 56525.

Tony Martignetti (30m 13s):

Dolph, thank you for that. Very gracious information you’re sharing with your listeners. Thank you. It’s been a real pleasure being on the show

Dolph Goldenburg (30m 36s):

Tony, thank you again for being on. Listeners, if you are somewhere, maybe gardening or doing something else ,and you can’t write down Tony’s URL, go to our show notes at We’re going to link everything you need to know about Tony right there at our show notes. We might even try to find that YouTube video of him giving the tour so that we can share that with you as well. Don’t forget listeners, if you are new in an executive director job, whether you’re a first time executive director or a third time executive director, and you think some support and group coaching might be beneficial for you, also go to and check out our next group coaching for new executive directors that will launch in March.

Dolph Goldenburg (31m 26s):

Finally, if you found this episode helpful, there are two that I want you to think about listening to. The first is Episode 83: The Major Gifts Playbook with Doug Barker. The second is Episode 157: Generosity Post-Mortem: Legacy Giving with Lori Kranczer. Both of those will be super helpful and I’d be willing to bet that both of those will make you want to participate in Tony’s Planned Giving Accelerator even more. That’s our show for this week. I hope you’ve gained some insight to help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment. 

Dolph Goldenburg (32m 14s):

I always want to share with you, I’m not an accountant or an attorney, and neither I nor the Goldenburg Group provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. This podcast is for informational purposes only. I would never suggest that you or anyone else get detailed professional legal, tax, or accounting advice from a podcast. If that’s what you think you need, please seek out a licensed, competent professional that specializes in exactly what you need. If you’re not sure who you might need to talk to, reach out to colleagues or to me. I might know somebody, but please get the professional legal, tax, and accounting advice that you need.


**  We have edited this transcript because how you listen is not how you read. If you have a problem with this, remember you got this for free!



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