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 how to create an ask letter for their new endowment campaign.

Dear Charity Clairity,

We are preparing to start an endowment. I am trying to get a feel for the original “ask” letter. I see lists of things that I should be avoiding, but I still can’t figure out the letter. Are there templates?

— Endowment Do and Don’t Newbie

Dear Newbie,

First, when you ask for an endowment gift you’re generally asking for a major commitment; this is best done in person. Would you expect someone to make a $5,000 gift in response to a letter? Sure, sometimes this happens. But it’s rare, and even then it’s usually a repeat donor.

You say you’re ‘starting’ an endowment, so that means you have to first make a case for support. In essence, you’re building a campaign strategy. I think of endowment campaigns very much the way I think of capital campaigns. You must first persuade your leaders (i.e., board members and major donors) of the wisdom of building an endowment. Once persuaded, ask them to put their money where their mouth is. Discuss with them different ways they might make a legacy gift they would specifically designate for permanent endowment. Depending on the types of gifts you’re set up to accept, this might include: Outright gift to endowment; bequest via will or trust; retirement plan beneficiary designation; insurance beneficiary designation; charitable trust or charitable gift annuity.

If you’re asking about language to include in any of the above-described gift forms that assures the gift is earmarked for endowment (meaning your charity is restricted to use of income, not principle), I would refer you to this sample gift agreement article. I would also suggest you simply “google” ‘language to create an endowment’ and review what other organizations are offering to donors on their websites.  Here are a few I found for you:

Good luck!

— 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.