Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser who isn’t sure if they should maintain an existing legacy society as they reboot their planned giving program.

Dear Charity Clairity,

Is there research to support that legacy societies matter to folks? We are rebooting our planned giving program, so this is important to know: retain the society & offer some benefits or start anew and just say thank you.

Unsure about Society

Dear Unsure,

You’ve essentially just asked if it matters to folks to be recognized and appreciated.  Of course it does! Have you ever known a grandma who didn’t appreciate receiving a thank you note from their grandchild? If asked, they might say “it’s not necessary.” But… come on!

There is research showing folks who inform charities they’ve made a legacy gift give two to three times more than those who do not notify you. From this we can infer people like you to know about their generosity. And if they want you to know, they likely also want you to show them you know. And that you’re pleased with them. It’s just human nature. I’m not aware of any research specifically on the subject of how much legacy societies ‘matter,’ but I’d be very suspect of it. The only way you could know if it matters is by asking. And since people don’t like to appear needy, and would rather seem humble, what they tell you and what they really feel might not match. Plus there’s no way to do a control study to see if legacy donors not in your society stay committed at the same level as donors in your society. Because what charity would ever do that? 

Keep your legacy society. It’s a great marketing and stewardship tool. It’s okay if you want to rebrand and give it a new name. But take the opportunity to once again warmly acknowledge your current members, assure them they’ll continue as valued members of the renamed _________ Society, and let them know about the benefits of being a part of your family and community.

Most legacy donors care most about the impacts of their giving. They don’t need a bunch of trinkets. They do enjoy occasional get-togethers where they can rub shoulders with their peers (virtual works just fine), connect with leaders in your community and keep up-to-date with your work. It’s super important to maintain ongoing contact with legacy giving donors because many of these gifts are revocable. If you don’t continue to show donors how much your support means to them, they may decide to switch their legacy to another nonprofit that does recognize them.

Hopefully this will help you feel confident about building your legacy society moving forward!

— Charity Clairity

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Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.
Claire Axelrad