Jim Langley’s Best Tips for Growing Your Estate Gift Pipeline

Jim Langley’s Tips for Growing Your Estate Gift Pipeline

Jim Langley was a recent webinar guest for our sister company, and he had lots of great ideas for planned giving professionals. Even as the number of households who give gets smaller, the Baby Boomers’ great wealth transfer looms.  

“Some people think it’s a massive tide that will wash evenly across all our shores,” he says. “They think all we need to do is stay there, keep keeping on, and the gifts will flow in.” But that’s not the case. According to Jim Langley, it is becoming apparent that the wave of money will run into “selective inlets.”  

How do you make sure your organization isn’t left high and dry? Here are some tips from Jim Langley for cultivating those inlets. 

• Stop asking people to give TO your institution and start asking them to give THROUGH your institution.

Nonprofits are facilitating something larger than themselves—donors want to make ongoing societal impact. Help them see that giving to your organization is like dropping a pebble into a pond; the good it does will reverberate outward for generations forward. 

• Consider how you can facilitate the three deep-seated motivations of philanthropy:  

1. Something to believe in. 

2. Somewhere to belong. 

3. Some way to better the world.  

• Your two best prospects:

1. The quiet loyalist, who has been giving for 20 years or more, often modest amounts.

2. People who are reflecting late in life on what to do with what they have saved. 

• How do you cultivate those prospects?

Let them know you stand ready to carry on their values and purposes. Don’t take them for granted. Show them the impact of their giving, don’t just say thank you. 

• Elicit before you solicit.

The most effective way to meet donors’ motivations is with more conversation, less pitch. Be a humble listener rather than a bold asker. Ask questions to elicit their declarations of purpose. Then you can match up what they are passionate about with appropriate areas of your organization’s work. 

• How should you talk to them?

Take any one-way communication piece and turn it into a two-way. Turn any pitch vehicle into a listening vehicle. In person is obviously ideal, but there are other ways. Phone calls, surveys, emails, virtual town halls, focus groups—you can even turn the old fundraising phone bank into a polling center, asking for ideas and opinions instead of dollars.  

• What should you talk to them about?

1. Asking for opinions and involvement will reenergize donors. Before finalizing that new strategic plan or capital campaign, invite them to a focus group. Ask them questions. Are we on the right track? Have we missed anything? 

2. Every three or four months, have a few intriguing questions to ask. Who do they admire? What values do they want to share with the next generation? What did life teach them? How can they give more to the future than they got from the past? What drove them to be hardworking? What inspired them to be sacrificial givers or volunteers?  

• Over 90% of estate gifts are made through a simple will.  

• Don’t sacrifice the long-term mission of your organization in pursuit of short-term fundraising goals.  

Great ideas! But how will you have time for all this? Jim Langley suggests that you stop thinking of it as something only you can do. Everyone is looking for community; here’s your chance to create more. Ask your volunteers, board, alumni, or others to help by interviewing or visiting people. And don’t forget, Canopy can help you have a two-way conversation throughout the year, even without extra staff! Contact us to find out more. 


Jim Langley is the President of Langley Innovations, offering a full-service team of coaches and proven leaders in philanthropy and data. Watch the full webinar How to Get Ready Now for the Great Wealth Transfer here.