legacy giving

In Parts 1, 2 and 3 of this four-part series I introduced a ‘4-Step Strategy to Cure Your Current Fundraising Headache.’ Because the times we’re in are trying. Donors, however, are still giving. You can succumb to the crisis, take two aspirin every four hours for the rest of the pandemic, economic recession and period of social turmoil — or you can buckle up and put sensible fundraising strategies in place.

  1. FORWARD FACE Equilibrium: Balance your fundraising strategies
  2. FUEL the Machine: Charge your annual contribution income engine
  3. FUMES Provide Accelerant: Prepare for ‘retirement’
  4. FUTURE Proof the Mission: Leave a legacy for generations to come

If your intention is to be around for the long haul, it’s time to assure you don’t sacrifice your future for the present. If you keep putting good plans and approaches ‘on pause’ you’re going to get stuck where you are. You can live your life and also prudently prepare for what’s to come.

Today it’s time to talk about planting for future generations.

FUTURE Proof the Mission

We plant trees not for ourselves, but for the future generations.

-Caecilius Statius, 220-168 B.C.

Imagine if past generations had left a legacy endowment from which your organization could now be drawing upon. 

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough that they did! If not, it’s your turn. 

You now know firsthand how challenging it can be to live under the yoke of having to raise your entire budget – every single year – starting from scratch. 

So… do something about it!

Promote leaving a legacy for generations to come.

If you’ve been around for 10 years or more, you should be thinking long term. We often think of legacy giving in terms of what donors do. But what about what staff do? When you promote and secure legacy commitments today, you leave an inheritance for those who’ll come after you tomorrow.

Legacy programs enable organizations to further diversify their income strategy by setting aside one piece of their annual funding pie as “investment income.” And it’s just there; no one has to actively work on securing it (just make sure it’s prudently invested).

Talking about Legacy Giving is Not Creepy

You may feel talking about mortality right now is a big “no-no.” You’d be wrong.

I know some of you will argue with me. I’ve already seen one fundraising guru (who I generally admire greatly) say this is the only type of fundraising they’d not recommend right now. They called it “creepy.”

I understand the impulse to avoid this subject. Especially now. Because it may feel insensitive. A bit like ambulance chasing. Yet that’s not what legacy philanthropy is about. Not today. Not ever.

Whether we live or die, we’re all thinking about what life will be like on this planet moving forward. Yes, we’re in a pandemic. It’s scary and uncomfortable as all get out. Yet, let’s face it: People are seldom comfortable confronting the notion of their own death. Nevertheless death is as natural as birth. It’s inevitable, sooner or later, for everyone. Of course, we all hope for later.

What’s true right now is that more people are thinking about death. They’re visiting their attorneys and financial professionals. Essentially, you’ve been handed a golden opportunity to talk about a subject that’s on peoples’ minds.

Putting off Legacy Giving is Irresponsible

I recently wrote on whether your legacy program should now be on hold. I say, emphatically, no. Because right now people are questioning the meaning of life, and their own mortality, in a way that’s unprecedented. More people than usual are thinking about ‘just in case’ scenarios. 

People are wondering: What will their legacy be?

Just possibly they may wish part of their legacy to be supporting the causes they cared about during their lifetime. As a philanthropy facilitator, you have the opportunity – and responsibility – to help.

We’re in a pandemic. It’s scary and uncomfortable as all get out. And while people are seldom comfortable confronting the notion of their own death, its inevitability is being laid bare. News reports state online searches for how to create a will have doubled or even tripled in the past month.

Right now, while everyone is thinking about this subject in terms of sooner, you have an opportunity to broach it. 

It’s one more way to offer supporters the opportunity to find meaning and purpose

Legacy Giving is Not Just for Rich People

In fact, most legacy donors are not major annual donors. They’re folks who care a lot about what you do, but who weren’t able to make significant gifts during their lifetime. Their legacy gift will be the largest charitable contribution they’ll ever make. Sometimes legacy gifts from these donors can be well over $1 million (e.g., they leave you their house when they die). Sometimes they may leave you a gift of $5,000. It all adds up. 

If you encourage broad-based participation for legacy giving you may be surprised at the folks who express interest. When I worked in the trenches I was often pleasantly surprised to receive bequests (sometimes significant ones!) from folks who’d never been cash donors. Or who had been consistent modest donors.

Simple Legacy Giving Strategies for Any Nonprofit

  1. Include this simple phrase on marketing collateral: your outer envelopes, email signatures, business cards, letterhead and wherever else you can think of:  Please remember [your name here] in your will or estate plan.
  2. Include basic planned giving messaging everywhere. You never know where your prospects reside; they aren’t confined to specific age groups or giving levels. And this includes the internet. Don’t waste any opportunity. If you’ve done some predictive modeling around planned giving likelihood you may have a better idea who your best prospects are, so save more expensive targeted legacy campaigns for them (or for folks who’ve given frequently and are clearly loyal).
  3. Showcase the outcomes legacy gifts make possible. Whenever you tell stories about what donors’ gifts are accomplishing, include a line or two (where appropriate) about how these outcomes were made possible by a legacy gift. Your purpose here is simply to create awareness of the impact legacy giving can have. It may be obvious to you, but a lot of folks just don’t think about it. They think bequests are reserved for the wealthy. Dissuade them of this notion.
  4. Profile legacy donors in your print and online newsletters. Be sure to include a range of supporters at various donation sizes so that everyone can see themselves as a future legacy donor. It’s great to showcase a $1 million bequest, but the $5,000 insurance policy that someone left you deserves mention as well. There are a lot of unneeded, forgotten policies sitting around in people’s drawers at home. They don’t need them and their kids don’t need them. You do. So it’s your job to plant the seed.
  5. Include legacy giving information under “Ways to Give” or “Donate” on your website. Stay focused on donor benefits, not on vehicles (i.e., “Income for Life” vs. “Charitable Remainder Trusts”). On this page include one or two stories or videos showcasing outcomes made possible through legacy gifts.
  6. Make it easy for folks to reach you for more information. Give a live person’s name and contact information. Don’t make them call a general number or a generic “director of development.”

Seeds Can Be Time, Not Money

When you think about legacy giving prospects, don’t ignore your volunteer program. 

Often bequests come from people who loved your organization, but may have never given a gift during their lifetimes. Rather, they gave their time.

Do you have opportunities for folks to engage with your mission by contributing their time and talents? 

If not, now is a time to take this off the back burner and develop some ways folks can be actively involved with your mission. This can be a terrific way to grow future legacy gifts. Here’s what one donor had to say on this matter:

“At least 90% of my assets (which are substantial) will be donated to certain not-for-profits when I die. Those organizations have been designated in my will. In the meantime, I contribute two to four days per week in volunteer time, offering my business acumen and specialized professional skills. I am very comfortable with the way I have approached giving and volunteering.”

— Anonymous donor, Burk Donor Survey

Here are some volunteer engagement options:

  • Direct service ongoing program
  • Direct service one-off project
  • Board service
  • Committee service
  • Advisory group service
  • Ad hoc panel service
  • Focus group participant
  • Engagement survey

Carpe Diem. If Your Nonprofit Won’t, Others Will.

What you don’t do right now will come back to bite you in the butt.

Because you exist within a fast-moving, competitive environment. 

If you’re not actively cooking things up you’ll have little nourishment to offer.

So, whatever is on your back burner, move it to the forefront and get cooking!

Other nonprofits are planning…. adapting… communicating… asking.

Other nonprofits are not freezing in time; you shouldn’t either.

Time to get your bearings so you don’t lose your way.

  1. FORWARD FACE Equilibrium: Balance your fundraising strategies
  2. FUEL the Machine: Charge your annual contribution income engine
  3. FUMES Provide Accelerant: Prepare for ‘retirement’
  4. FUTURE Proof the Mission: Leave a legacy for generations to come

These 4 strategies are the basic rubric for a well-oiled development machine that will stand your organization in good stead – today and tomorrow – in good times and bad.

Make a plan to work through them methodically, and SEIZE THE DAY!

Nonprofit Sustainability

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