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Planned Giving Websites: Questions and Answers

A planned giving website for your donors and financial advisors is not an add-on to your marketing plan. It’s the hub. A must. Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) on best practices for planned giving websites.

How should my planned giving website be linked from my institution’s home page?

An organization’s website should be one of the best sources to direct donors to their planned giving pages online.  However, prospects find many websites difficult to navigate to these pages. Nonprofits often fall short in developing effective wayfinding due to other pressing matters.

The solution?

  • Develop a custom, user-friendly URL and promote it yourself.
  • Work closely with your colleagues in IT to create logical links from the main site to planned giving.

Here’s a typical navigation path nonprofits take:

“give > advancement > planned giving”

The fact is, most people do not even know what “advancement” stands for — it’s like saying “foundation.” We’re all using words that only we understand! Your donors will not intuitively see value in following this path above.

You have an easily remembered URL, and you’re promoting it?  Good.  Now, ask for/insist on/bribe your webmaster for a link on your organization’s home page, plus any pages that tell visitors about the good work your organization is doing. The link should say something like, “Creative Ways to Support Us” and lead to your gift pages.  Throughout your institution’s website, find interesting stories about new projects or memorable events.  Work on embedding a line or two within those stories that hyperlink to planned giving.  For example, “You can help support this new research endowment with a gift that costs nothing during your lifetime.” (links to giving through a will).

My planned giving website is live. How should I announce it?

Never simply announce that you have a new planned giving website.  No one will care.

Instead, wrap news about your website into a larger fundraising message. It thanks your prospects for past support and encourages them to explore ways to give that benefit their and their family’s welfare while also benefitting your organization. It then directs them to your planned giving website, where they can learn more.

Send that letter out several times a year.  There’s something called the “stickiness factor” in consistent direct mail.  Remember that fewer than a third of your letters will be read, and that fewer than 5% of the people who did read the letter will remember what it said 4 months after receiving it.  So, send the same letter again — don’t reinvent the wheel (or, even worse, send out just one marketing piece and then drop the campaign).

Are my prospects actually using the Internet?

Absolutely. U.S. seniors are the fastest-growing sector of the PC-purchasing public. They also hold the majority of the wealth in the U.S. and are your main market. As they migrate to the Internet, you should be there to meet them there.

[Tidbit: According to the latest data from Pew Research, 73% of Americans aged 65 and over use the Internet, compared to 14% in 2000. And 96 percent of adults aged 50 to 64 use the internet.]

Should my planned giving website be customized?

Successful for-profits work very hard to establish unique, identifiable “brands” or public images for themselves, and ensure that all their communications project that identity.  They know their customers, and market their services based on niche market segmentation.  For example, ABC Corporation may place a national display ad in Time Magazine, but its look, feel and content may be different in Kansas City than it is in Miami.

Using a boilerplate website means that you can’t achieve those same standards of brand identity for your nonprofit.  Why not show your personality?

All of our planned giving websites are highly branded that make your presence unique. We take branding very seriously.

If I want a unique URL for my planned giving website, how do I register a domain?

Domain registration services are a commodity.  Just Google the terms “domain registration” and you will have plenty of choices.  Popular ones are GoDaddy.Com, NetworkSolutions.Com, and 1and1.Com, among many others. We can help you acquire a unique URL. We also own top level domains and can incorporate your URL into them. Three such domains we own are:


Can I count on prospects finding our planned giving website through search engines?

Search engine registration should be on your to-do list, but it shouldn’t be your top priority. Most people do not know how to search the Internet proficiently, and a general search term such as “planned giving” can easily locate tens of thousands of pages, many of them irrelevant to your prospects.  We have consistently found that a well advertised (and easily remembered) URL is a much better tool to direct visitors to a planned giving page.

Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first,” says artist and business mentor Wendy Piersall — and she’s absolutely right. Market your planned giving website to your prospects, and the visits will come.

We don’t even have a general fundraising site. Why bother with a planned giving website?

Don’t put off the benefits of marketing to your most motivated prospects. Put your planned giving web site up now, and incorporate it into an overall fundraising site when that’s ready to go live. Having a presence on the Internet will give you exposure to a medium that has become integrated into the daily life of your prospects.

Why do we need a planned giving website?

The Internet engages visitors, encouraging them to explore, linger and learn in a way that print materials cannot match.  So  when prospects visit your planned giving site, they’ve come to you on their own time, receptive to learning about creative ways to support you. That’s the opposite of the direct-mail experience.

The Web has also become our acknowledged source of information: Tax forms?  The hours at the museum? Directions to Peoria? Get it online.  For many baby boomers (the rising generation of planned gift prospects), if the information they are looking for does not exist online, it does not exist, period.  As your prospects become increasingly Web-proficient, you need to take advantage of the medium that will communicate with them best.

Should I have a planned giving calculator on my website?

Here is a hint or reality check: If you, yourself, have even the slightest difficulty in using a planned giving calculator, your prospect will not be able to use it at all. We don’t take a position on the question, but we do know that confusing and poorly designed calculators will frustrate and turn off prospects.

The obvious “pro” of a typical online calculator is that it makes the financial benefits of a gift plan more tangible to prospects, and thus can engage prospects in the gift process more deeply. Here are some of the “cons”:

  • Donors who use them may end up finalizing gift plans without talking to you.
  • A donor can easily choose the wrong gift plan to calculate.
  • What if a donor calculates a high payout rate and becomes disappointed when your organization can’t offer it?

Solution? Make sure to have a good disclaimer!

Do I need monthly fresh content on my planned giving website so that visitors will come back month after month?

You absolutely need donor stories and they should be updated with new ones as often as possible. Even donors who have made large major or annual gifts. Have them online!

As to revolving tax content and Washington news and other technical information, absolutely not. 

Why? Because your planned giving website is not Entertainment Weekly and your prospects will not re-visit your planned giving pages for the “exciting planned giving news” of the day. Popular planned giving websites “pushed” in the marketplace today include Washington tax laws and legislation among many others. This just occupies space.

The next time someone tells you they’ll generate repeat traffic on your website by delivering “exciting” revolving planned giving articles in online reading rooms, stop for a reality check. To the average citizen, planned giving is boring.  (“No one Googles ‘unitrusts’ first thing in the morning.”)

Maintaining monthly “fresh and exciting” stories is simply an unnecessary expense, just as “reading rooms” are overkill. Why? A prospect will visit your website once, twice, maybe three times over just a few days, not months, and then contact you. The site will always look fresh because it is a one-time-visit and is short-lived.

If you really want added benefits, add new and exciting donor stories as often as possible. Download a free donor stories worksheet here.

How many hits should I expect on my planned giving website my first year?

First, let’s get a technicality out of the way. HITS should never be used to track visitors.  In fact,

H.I.T.S. = How Idiots Track Success

Instead, sessions, page views and unique visitors should be your main gauge.

We are often asked, “How will we know how many visits our site gets?” The answer is easy to determine, but the question, by itself, is wrong — similar to asking, “How many times did the phone ring in the Office of Planned Giving last January 7th?” Ask instead,  “How has the Internet been an integral part of our overall marketing strategy? ” Think about the unprecedented ways your site can expand your marketing reach and put your message in front of your best prospects when they are in their most receptive moods.

Tracking your overall website sessions is the best and most accurate way to determine your site’s performance. A session is a unique visit by a single individual. One session is recorded for each unique site visit whether the visitor looks at one page or every page on the site.  Look for trends in visits, page views, and length of stay: Did you have a quick surge in visits after a mailing?  (Remember, U.S. Mail is still the format prospects prefer for messages from you, not email blasts.)  Activity on your planned giving website can be used to measure how your overall marketing is doing.

So, rather than worrying about how many sessions your site receives on a daily basis, it’s better to understand how your site adjustments and marketing efforts affect your site’s overall traffic patterns. Tracking session data from month to month and watching for jumps in the charts after a marketing piece has gone out are the most useful ways to analyze your website traffic reports. If your marketing is done properly you will see growth in your session traffic over time.

As Kevin Li, former head of Yahoo Growth, says, “If there’s one takeaway it’s that it’s okay to do small wins. Small wins are good, they will compound. If you’re doing it right the end result will be massive.”

Regarding my website stats, please help me understand these terms: Hits, Unique Visitor, Visits, Sessions, and the definition of a Page.

Hits: Any files requested from the server (including files that are graphics and scripts).  The word “hits” actually refers to the total number of files that are requested from the server. Therefore the number of hits to a site is always going to be significantly higher than the actual number of visits to the site. This is because a typical visit to a website will include “hits” on a number of pages. Not only is each page counted as a hit, but all the graphics and scripts on every page requested are also counted. Given the number of graphics on a typical webpage, the difference between hits and visits is substantial. It would not be uncommon for a traffic report to show ten or even twenty times as many hits as actual visits.

Pages: Also known as a web page, a page is defined as a single file on a web server. For example, a page could be an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) document, an image, a java applet, a CGI script, etc. Any file that is neither a gif nor a jpeg is considered a page.

Unique Visitor: A unique visitor is an IP address that has made at least 1 hit on 1 page of your website during the current period shown by the report. If this host makes several visits during this period, it is still counted only once.

Visits: Number of visits made by all visitors. Think “Session” here: When a unique IP accesses a page and then requests three others with less than an hour between any of the requests, then all of the “pages” are included in the one visit.  You should expect multiple pages per visit and multiple visits per unique visitor (assuming that some of the unique IPs are logged with more than an hour between requests).

I have been getting tons of visitors on my planned giving website over the last two years, but few people are requesting information from me.

Usually the more activity you have, the more people will contact you.  If this is not the case, it could be that the high number of visits to your planned giving website is resulting from you or your staff members visiting your pages.  Ask your webmaster (or planned giving website vendor) to make sure your visits do not count — there’s a simple setting they can change.

A must read: Who’s Visiting Your Planned Giving Website?

What should I do if my website is getting old and boring?

Boring to whom?  According to marketing guru Dan Kennedy, “A funny thing usually happens in the advertising business: a client will cancel or change an ad campaign that’s working perfectly well just because they got bored with it and assumed everybody else was, too. That’s a bad assumption. There are ad campaigns that sustain success for five, even ten years. These campaigns are old hat to their owners but are new to new customers who are paying attention to them for the first time. If it’s unknown to someone, it’s a secret — regardless of how routine it may be to you.”

This especially applies to planned giving, since your prospects will visit your website over a period of a few days before contacting you, and not visit month after month. Remember, the site will always look fresh because it is a one-time visit.

Do prospects expect privacy on a fundraising website?

Yes, and it’s essential to make them feel comfortable enough to spend time exploring your website. Tell them that they are not being monitored, and mean it.

Can I, and should I, secretly capture visitors’ e-mail addresses from my website?

No, and your prospects are grateful for that.


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