Bequests: Planning Ahead … Way Ahead

For most of us, the fundraising we do is not the stuff of legend. Instead, it’s the bread and butter of our organizations—the consistent, hard and thoughtful work that reaps results online, through the mail, at events, in personal meetings and via other means.

Or perhaps it really is legend—because our fundraising is what keeps the lights on, so to speak, day after day and year after year. Our work allows programs to continue, results to happen and stories to be told because the organization’s mission is being accomplished.

But one way we may become people who are remembered for years to come is to make sure we are consistently reminding our donors how important leaving us a legacy in their will or trust is to our organizations—and to them.

A lot of planned giving is specialized and even confusing. CRUTs, CRATs and CGAs may sound like a foreign language, but the basic legacy gift is something we all can understand—and should be asking our donors for.

Added to that, bequests are easy for donors to understand. They don’t need law degrees or specialized training. All they need is a desire to have a long-term impact on your mission, an awareness that leaving a legacy is both desired by your organization and relatively easy for them to accomplish, and some remaining assets at the end of life after all debts are settled.

So to ensure your legacy to the organization by setting in motion bequest gifts for what potentially may be the next several years, get started today with these four steps:

  1. Ask. Like all fundraising, asking matters for bequests. The best ways to do this are simple and cheap—who could ask for anything more?! Add a small insert in with your receipts that tells the donor that he or she can continue the important work he or she believes in far into the future by leaving a bequest. This insert can just be a single panel (a third of a sheet of paper, or approximately 8.5 x 3.5”) so it doesn’t increase the weight of the receipt mailing to over an ounce. You can also include one article in each newsletter, talking about someone who has left a bequest (with his or her permission, of course), and reminding your donors that it is very easy to leave a legacy. (I do not recommend including a bequest message in direct mail, however. We tend to gravitate to the easiest of multiple requests, and a bequest generally is easier than making a donation.) Not sure what to say in an insert of a newsletter article? Online, you can find everything from copy to purchase and personalize to brochures printed with your logo and organizational information. At the very least, you can easily find examples of what others have done, and these can be the seed for your own effort.
  2. Encourage people to tell you when they leave a legacy.Why? Because bequests are easily changed (i.e., the one designated to your organization is revised and given to a different organization), so you want to maintain a relationship with the donor for life. He or she may cut back on current donations or stop giving altogether due to any number of concerns, and could feel unappreciated if you move him or her into the lapsed-donor file. Bequest clubs, societies, etc., are often really about getting donors to self-identify. But keep in mind that even the best managed bequest program gets a few unexpected bequest gifts in from time to time.
  3. Don’t build bequest income into your budget unless you have a history to base it on. They say two things in life are certain—taxes and death. But the “when” of death is generally not booked in the calendar well in advance. Not to be crass, but assuming someone will die in time for you to make payroll next month, or even next year, is reckless. The exception is if you have a history over several years and can safely assume that a certain amount of money will come in each year based on past experience.
  4. Unless you are using a model, don’t stereotype who will leave a bequest. Yes, older people are most likely to be thinking about preparing a will. But people prepare wills at various milestone times in their lives—marriage, the birth of a child, becoming empty-nesters or moving to another state, to name a few instances. Provide information to all your donors at numerous times during the year because you never know what may prompt someone to include your organization in his or her will.

Bequest gifts often allow an organization to move beyond a giving transaction to a truly transformational gift. And this old dog knows that being the impetus behind a future gift that allows an organization to do something truly transformational truly is the stuff of legends.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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