Most persons of modest means have a will, having come to the conclusion that having one is much better than not having one, especially if they have children.

Why? It can usually be boiled down to a few basic reasons:

  • Complex tax codes
  • The possibility of significant tax consequences
  • The rules of intestate
  • The ability to make their wishes for their assets come true
  • The ability to leave a legacy of some nature

Knowing that the above reasons are happening daily is vital to the mindset of any person and organization engaged in fundraising. This is true even for smaller, entry-level fundraising organizations. Without this knowledge and mindset, taking any action to create a successful planned giving program will be difficult, if not impossible.

The term “planned giving” sometimes raises fear among many fundraisers. Sometimes that fear stems from not being too familiar with the subject. It’s one of the most complex areas of fundraising.

The first (and most important!) step in any planned giving program is being named in a will.

Understanding that a reasonably large portion of your donor database is going to be creating a will, your goal should be to be named in as many of those as possible.

How can you or your organization make that happen? The solution is simple.

Ask your donors about their will!

There is no magic email or letter or brochure that will work as well as just plain asking about it. Yes, it is all about having a conversation of one nature or another where this important topic is mentioned.

Most fundraisers and board member volunteers know it is much easier to ask for a major gift after having made a gift of a larger nature themselves.

Guess what?

This type of reciprocity holds true in regards to this very first step in planned giving. One should not talk about naming the charity you represent until after you have done exactly that with your will!

The charter members of any “legacy society” or whatever name you choose for people who have stated they named your organization in their will should be your charity’s entire management and fundraising team!

Once you have this key ingredient in place, the first step of asking about the possibility of being named in a donor’s will come much easier. In addition, once you achieve some success in discussing wills and being named in them you are well on your way to a full functioning planned giving program for your organization!

Does it Work?

Please allow me to share my own personal experience here as a point of reference. My wife and I actively support more than a dozen charities annually. Only three of them have discussed or asked about our estate planning thought processes.

Guess which three are named in our will?

img via


Jay Love

Jay Love

Co-Founder & Chief Relationship Officer at Bloomerang
A 30+ veteran of the nonprofit software industry, Jay Love co-founded Bloomerang in 2012. Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth. Prior to starting eTapestry, Jay served 14 years as President and CEO of Master Software Corporation. MSC provided a widely used family of database products for the non-profit sector called Fund-Master. He currently serves on the board of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and is the past AFP Ethics Committee Chairman. Jay is also the author of Stay Together: How to Encourage a Lifetime of Donor Loyalty.