“Planned Giving” vs. “Gift Planning”

Our clients, friends and prospects often ask which term is better to use for their marketing efforts, “Planned Giving” or “Gift Planning. This is a decades-old dispute and I am getting tired of it. So I decided to write this blog to end the argument. If anyone is ready to spar, sharpen your blade (well, pencil is okay).

A few nonprofits have migrated to Gift Planning because it sounds more “sophisticated.” Others argue that Planned Giving has been around too long and it’s time for something “new.” And some “feel” it makes better sense and sounds better.

This is all just self-serving theory. [By the way, we own both domains: giftplanning.org and plannedgiving.org; so we do not have a reason to be financially biased in this article.]

“Sophistication” is in the eye of the beholder. “New” doesn’t necessarily mean “better.” And beware those vague intuitive “feelings.”

So let’s get practical, not philosophical. Ask yourself: do you close a “gift plan,” or do you close a “planned gift?”

The Answer Is Obvious.

Although neither term is well recognized by the lay public, after decades of education by AFP, NCPG/PPP, AHP, CASE, et al., the term Planned Giving is finally getting some traction.

This is no time for nonprofits to force the whole familiarization process back to square one by introducing something “new.” That something “new” is just another shiny star.

Gift Planning? Macy’s Does It.

When I ask strangers if they know what Planned Giving means, I get a “yes,” a “no,” or a “tell me.” When I ask what Gift Planning means, I get a question back such as “Isn’t that what Macy’s does?”

The answer is “yes.” Retailers have their gift planning departments, too. Just Google the term Gift Planning around the time of any big holiday such as Mother’s Day or Christmas, and you will end up with “paid advertisement” results from Target, Macy’s, and other retail gift providers.

That is, Gift Planning is not a “pure” search term – it has other attributes and definitions recognized by other industries. All of which distracts from the meaning you want to focus on.

Google Picks Planned Giving.

When we look at Google’s own metrics about the use of these terms, it’s clear which term wins.

  1. The words Gift Planning are out-searched about 100-to-1 nationally by the words Planned Giving. Even in Cambridge, MA, where academic institutions prefer to use Gift Planning, the search rate for that term is vanishingly small. So if you believe in search engine optimization (SEO) for your planned giving website, Planned Giving is a better choice.
  2. Google has scanned over 13 million books for its digital library. When you plot a graph of how often the terms we’re discussing are used, Gift Planning is again vanishingly small compared to Planned Giving. Planned Giving is by far the popular and preferred choice.

In addition, in the financial advisors world, the term planned giving pretty much dominates 99%.

As an aside, since we own these domains, we can uniquely provide you a search-engine friendly (SEO) planned giving website URL such as yourname.plannedgiving.org.


work for me!

Well done and insightful. I never knew the information regarding search engine optimization. As a development officer, I preferred the term planned giving because that is the official name.

I agree with the conclusion. If “planned giving” is not that well known by donors, it’s because NFPs have not made it a priority. Why confuse them a second time by changing the term?

I would personally like to see more of the research like this that supports our philosophy and methods. Very helpful.

I don’t like the argument! How do you get to close a planned gift? By the planning that led up to it.

Are we huckstering gifts, or are we assisting donors and friends in integrating their charitable goals with their family-related goals?

Do people prefer doing what is best or what is most enjoyable?

The last commenter is surely taking this seriously 🙂

If I understand his general drift, he thinks the emphasis on “planning” is more donor-centered than planned “gifts.”

I can understand that, but I think it misses the point: If you want to communicate with prospects, use language they understand. The Google data shows they understand “planned giving.” And that’s why “planned giving” enhances SEO.

In fact, the “product” he’s calling “gift planning” is actually a form of donor-outreach, a service. It is the process of determining what the correct “gift” is to meet donor’s expectations and needs and arranging for their expectations to be met. I think this is a critical service for fundraisers to provide, but I don’t think it outweighs the marketing communication and SEO advantages of the term “planned giving.”

In short: “Planned Giving” is the branch of philanthropy we are working in. One of the duties of fundraisers in this field is to provide donors with the close, one-on-one service (the “gift planning”) that enables them to choose the right gift vehicle and make their most rewarding gift.

To try to force the use of the term “gift planning” is to foster miscommunication and actually make it harder to get to the place where the planning gets done.

if one prefers, they could be the person responsible for gift planning who happens to work in the office of planned gifts – or vice versa. if the terms used are more important we are missing the target.

This is a marketing issue, and fundraisers need every advantage. Ignoring the SEO advantages of the term “Planned Giving” is like leaving money on the table. Even if we do not use the terminology “planned giving” or “gift planning” in our careers, it is important to seriously consider the complex algorithms Google uses in its search queries. — Viken

Through a year long program, I earned a certificate in planned giving, Certified Specialist in Planned Giving CSPG) through the American Institute of Philanthropic Plannking at CSU Long Beach, CA. Then our flagship national organization for “these gifts” changed its name, (NCPG to PPP) and “gift planning” was deemed (by ???) as the proper term. However, all this aside…I don’t think people think Macy’s when they think of gift planning…that’s wedding planning…or anniversary planning. Like so many, I rarely use either set of words with consituents/donors. Finally, I do believe the SEO is fueled not so much by naive “users” but by the professionals. There’s really no way to tell who is searching for “planned giving” and my bet it is on professionals looking to learn more (directors of development; major gift officers, etc.) much more so than on potential individual planners of gifts. (evil grin) Your thoughts?

All good points, Richard. Most professionals think “planned giving”, a minority uses “gift planning”. We’ve been lucky enough to own plannedgiving.com as well as gift-planning.com. But wait until Christmas time and try Googling “gift planning” … you will likely see Macy’s and Target in the paid advertising column 😉 It did at least last year when I wrote this post. — Viken

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