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Asking For A Legacy Gift: 10 Practical Steps To Get Started

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When asking for a legacy gift from a donor to your nonprofit, it’s important to approach the conversation with sensitivity and professionalism. Here are ten practical steps to help you navigate the process:

1. Research and identify potential donors

Begin by identifying individuals who have demonstrated a strong commitment to your organization. Look for donors who have a history of regular giving, long-term involvement, or a personal connection to your mission. I usually start my research with the board, volunteers, and staff members of the nonprofit to see if any of them meet the profile for a legacy gift. 

Your research about the donor can be anecdotal or extensive, depending on your support staff and budget. Anecdotally, you can ask people who know the donor to share information about them. More extensive research (that can be gleaned by engaging a professional prospect research service) would include finding out what they’ve given to other nonprofits and if they have a donor-advised fund or family foundation. Consultants gather this information to guide you in your cultivation and solicitation. 

Profiling donors ready to make a planned gift is not an exact science, but we can identify certain characteristics and indicators that may suggest a prospect’s readiness.

Here are common traits associated with donors most likely to consider a planned gift:

  • Long-standing Support: Donors with a history of supporting your organization over an extended period are always more likely to consider a planned gift. They’ve demonstrated a deep commitment to your cause and have developed a strong relationship with your organization.
  • Passion for the Cause: Donors who have a genuine passion and connection to your mission are more inclined to consider a planned gift. They believe in the long-term impact of your work and may wish to create a legacy for their philanthropic efforts.
  • Affinity and Engagement: Donors who actively engage with your organization–the ones that attend events, volunteer, or serve on committees or boards–are often more receptive to discussions about planned giving. Their involvement shows a higher level of commitment to your organization and a greater degree of interest.     
  • Financial Capacity: Donors who have accumulated significant assets or wealth may be more open to making a planned gift. They have the financial resources to support both their personal needs and philanthropic aspirations, making them prime candidates.     
  • Life Stage and Age: While age alone is not a determining factor, donors who have reached certain life stages, such as retirement or active estate planning, are more likely to consider making a planned gift. They may be evaluating their financial and philanthropic goals, and thinking of ways to leave a lasting impact.
  • Prior Charitable Giving: Donors who have previously made significant charitable contributions or steadily supported other organizations have already enjoyed the benefits of philanthropy. They may be more receptive to conversations about furthering their charitable legacy.
  • Personal Connections: Donors who have been a beneficiary of your services or have a family member that exemplifies your cause, may have a higher inclination to consider a planned gift. Their emotional connection can be a motivating factor for making a lasting impact.

2. Cultivate relationships

Build a strong relationship with potential donors before discussing legacy giving. Engage with them regularly through personalized communications, invitations to events, or one-on-one meetings. Show genuine appreciation for their support and keep them informed about your organization’s impact.

3. Educate yourself

Familiarize yourself with the different types of legacy gifts, such as bequests, charitable trusts, life insurance policies, or retirement account designations. Understand the associated legal and financial implications so that you can answer any questions that may arise. You don’t have to become an estate attorney, but you should try to understand how the various legacy investments are structured. Also, seek out professional fundraising networks you can join that usually are quite extraordinary learning venues. In New York City for example, the association of planned giving professionals is called the “Philanthropic Planned Giving Group of Greater New York” (PPGGNY) which brings together individuals involved in the field of planned giving, including fundraisers, attorneys, financial advisors, and nonprofit professionals. Through webinars, networking, and professional development opportunities, the group strives to promote and enhance the understanding and practice of planned giving. 

4. Develop a legacy giving program

Create a comprehensive legacy giving program that illuminates the benefits of leaving a legacy gift to your organization. Highlight the impact it can make, the recognition opportunities available, and the ways you will steward and honor the donor’s legacy. Our colleagues at share useful steps and examples.

5. Establish a legacy giving committee

Form a committee within your organization, comprising relevant staff members, board members, and volunteers who are knowledgeable about legacy giving. This committee can help guide the process, develop strategies, and provide support during discussions with potential donors.

6. Craft a clear and compelling message

Develop a case for support, a concise and persuasive message to articulate the importance of legacy giving. Emphasize the opportunity for donors to have a lasting impact on the causes they care about and leave a meaningful legacy for future generations. The document should be concise and graphically appealing. A short, high-quality video would also serve well. I always test my written and/or visual messages with a small group of five to ten trusted colleagues before disseminating them more broadly.

7. Arrange personal meetings

Once you have identified potential legacy gift donors, request a personal meeting with each to learn about their philanthropic goals and aspirations. Broach the topic with sensitivity and respect, recognizing that legacy giving is a deeply personal decision. Many donors you encounter haven’t yet given this option much thought. Drawing them out to talk about their legacy should be an inspiring process for them. 

8. Tailor the conversation

During the meeting, listen attentively for the donor’s values and interests. Tailor the conversation to align their philanthropic aspirations with the mission of your organization. If possible, demonstrate how a legacy gift can help achieve the donor and nonprofit’s shared goals. 

According to a study conducted by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, analyzing data from various sources, including the IRS’s Statistics of Income, bequest giving represents 6-9% of total charitable giving in the United States. This indicates that a small, but sizable portion of donors include a nonprofit organization in their estate plans. (In contrast, according to Giving USA 2021, a compendium of comprehensive data on charitable giving in the United States, approximately 69% of American households made a charitable contribution in 2020.)

But look again at the elements that enable us to construct a profile of likely bequest donors, and keep in mind the age, wealth, and connection factors as they apply to the person with whom you’re meeting.      

9. Provide detailed information

Offer comprehensive information about legacy giving options, including written materials, brochures, and legal resources. Ensure that potential donors have access to professional advisors, such as estate and trust attorneys or financial planners, to address their specific questions. Be sure to provide sample language for donors to use in their Will to arrange for your nonprofit to receive a portion of what remains after estate taxes.

10. Follow up and maintain relationships

After the initial conversation, be sure to send your donors personalized follow-up letters expressing gratitude for their time and reiterating the importance of their potential legacy gift. Continue to nurture the relationship by keeping donors apprised of your organization’s progress and maintaining regular communication.

Remember, legacy giving is a momentous decision for donors, so be patient, respectful, and understanding throughout the process. Building trust and maintaining strong relationships is the key to successfully securing legacy gifts. 

What’s your experience with the steps required to secure legacy gifts? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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