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5 Myths Busted On Why Charitable Giving With Wills and Trusts Is Difficult

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It’s a little known fact that planned giving has one of the highest ROIs (return on investment) of any fundraising activity, contributing to the fact that pursuing gifts from wills and trusts is rarely a key mission funding practice among the average American nonprofit.

Why is this the case?

In my experience, the most common excuses include the following:

  1. Wills and trusts are too time consuming to focus on
  2. Most donors are uncomfortable discussing
  3. We do not have enough expertise
  4. We tried but had no luck after a year
  5. Wills and trusts are only for large nonprofits

I consider all five to be myths in need of busting. Luckily, all of the negative responses above can easily be dispelled by basic exploration. Let’s dig in:

1. Too Time Consuming

Keep in mind that you, as part of the executive leadership team or as part of the fundraising team, do not have to take the time to become an expert (more on this later).

Your task is to introduce the concept of keeping the mission of your charity in mind when a donor is exploring these forms of estate planning. This is much more a matter of marketing the proper concept to the right person(s) at the appropriate time.

The right person is not a first time donor, or even worse, a prospective donor. The concept should be introduced to mostly multi-year donors.

Secondly, if you keep in mind the key life related events that usually trigger the creation or updating of a will or trust, you should be way ahead of most small or medium size charities.   

Legacy Voice in the UK along with the Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy released a research paper titled Everything Research Can Tell Us About Legacy Giving in 2018

Here are the life events triggering action in most families from the report:

  1. Illness of the donor, a family member or a close friend
  2. Death of a relative or friend
  3. Difficulties sorting out an estate
  4. Family change such a birth, divorce or re-marriage
  5. Upcoming travel
  6. Purchase of a house

Being aware of these triggers and just introducing the concept to the multi-year donors should make the process of being named in a will or trust much less time consuming.

2. Most Donors are Uncomfortable Discussing

The solution here ties directly back to our first response about ONLY introducing to the right person and at the right time.  

If the person is already considering a will or trust then finding out how they name your charity is actually assisting them with this key life event.  

The discussion part is easy when the third response below is addressed properly.

3. We Do Not have Enough Expertise

This is where your board comes into play. A key recruit for any nonprofit board is at least one estate planning attorney willing to be part of such discussions when needed.  

If the discussion goes beyond your comfort level and the donor has not engaged a financial adviser or estate planning attorney then you can have your board member address basic questions and explain next steps.

There are also many webinars, seminars and other training methods such as printed publications, which can easily be found through an online search. You can also visit the website of your nonprofit-related association or those from companies serving the needs of charities marketing and/or obtaining wills and trusts.

Keep in mind you are only introducing and facilitating, not advising or creating any legal documents of any nature.

4. We Tried but No Luck After a Year

This might be the easiest response to address. Building an ever increasing flow of wills and trusts does take time, however it is the only way to completely satisfy the philanthropic desires of your loyal donors.

Think about it. Your loyal donors want to be able to do more to enable the long time funding of your mission. Most people who are long-term loyal donors are the ones creating wills and estates and wanting to name charities as beneficiaries!

If you cannot fulfill the need by being willing and able to help, then they will often look elsewhere. Yes, it is a basic human need to give back for most of us!

5. Wills and Trusts are Only for Large Nonprofits

Sure larger nonprofits are more adept and usually more experienced with such instruments for estate planning. They know JUST how important this form of giving is!

However, they certainly do not have a stronghold on all loyal donors, especially those who truly care about YOUR mission. 

The steps above provide a basic and beginning framework for achieving success in this key area of fundraising. Consider this last myth also broken if you agree that you have your fair share of loyal donors!


If you’ve had any of the five myths mentioned above keep you from thinking about or actually starting to fundraise by being named in your loyal donors wills and trust, now is the time to reverse such negative thinking.

Every charity must begin with basic first steps to bring about later success and huge amounts of donor satisfaction. Yes, you can do it!

The research paper noted above is an overall outstanding reference document, even if you are not located in the U.K. Please give it a good perusal and see if you agree!

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