Competition for philanthropic dollars has intensified. You know long-term survival depends on strengthening revenue streams.
What are you doing about it?
If you’re like too many nonprofits, you’re missing what’s right in front of your eyes: legacy giving.
The lion’s share of philanthropy in the U.S. comes from individuals. Nearly 70% of people make gifts to charity during their lifetimes; only 10% leave a bequest. Why? No one asks them!
It turns out that the act of asking makes a huge difference. And don’t tell me you can’t ask because you’re too small or understaffed.
Just because you can’t afford (or aren’t quite ready yet) to mount a full-on legacy giving campaign is no excuse to avoid the basics.
Imagine what might happen over time if you began to ask folks to leave a legacy in their wills.
Many legacy gifts are not complicated.
But nonprofits think they are because of the ubiquitous use of the term “planned giving.”
It sounds like you need special skills in order to talk to donors.
One of my favorite questions to ask of donors is this:
What legacy would you like to leave the world?
Almost always, it prompts an interesting, engaged conversation. Even if folks have never really thought of this before, they tend to enjoy thinking about it.
Note, this is quite different from asking: Where would you like your money to go after you die?
No one likes to contemplate their own mortality. Plus, often folks will tell you they’ll be lucky to have anything left at the end of their lives! I’ve even had fairly high income folks answer this way – and this is not a conversation you want to have. You’re not, after all, their financial planner.
Donors (especially well-off ones) have their own financial guides.
Just be your donor’s philanthropic guide.
As such, it’s your job – and privilege – to talk with donors about things that bring them joy, not worry.
And what could be more joyful than leaving a legacy that perpetuates their values?
Even without a dedicated staff person to focus on legacy giving, it’s easy to implement some simple strategies that don’t require a big investment of staff time and resources.
Simply let folks know you’re ‘open for business’ when it comes to legacy giving.
It’s very little work, after all, to accept a bequest.
You’ll generally be informed by an attorney that a donor made provision for you in their estate plan. They’ll then pretty much walk you through what you need to do.
It could mean the donor left a bequest in their will or trust. The attorney will talk to you about the probate process, give you a ballpark idea of how much you stand to receive (it’s obvious if the donor made a specific bequest; less certain if the bequest was contingent on another event or a residue of what was left after other bequests were fulfilled and debts/expenses were paid), and then give you an estimated time frame so you’ll know when to expect to be paid. Make a note of this in a tickler file or calendar, and call the advisor back to check in if you’ve not heard back.
It’s possible the donor made you the beneficiary of a retirement plan or life insurance policy. In that case the plan administrator will notify you and walk you through the paperwork.
You don’t need to go to tax school to do this!
So don’t worry so much about the back end right now. Worry about the front end.
- 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.
- Include basic legacy giving messaging everywhere. You never know where your prospects reside; they aren’t confined to specific age groups or giving levels. Nor are they confined to a single communication channel. Yes, today’s seniors do use email and social media.. 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).
- 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.
- Profile legacy donors in your print and online newsletters. Be sure to include a range of supporters at various donation sizes so everyone can visualize 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.
- 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.
- Let folks know that if they do make a legacy gift, you’d like to know now so you can enroll them in your Legacy Society. You don’t need to ask for proof. After all, these are revocable gifts. But you do want to know so you can steward these donors and build strong relationships with them. Give your ‘society’ a name. Send regular updates that show other donor’s matured legacy gifts in action. Offer occasional seminars on topics of interest, both mission-related and financial/philanthropic planning related. Hold an annual appreciation event. Invite your supporters to tours, volunteer activities, house parties and open houses.
- 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.”
- Focus on specific intricacies of how planned giving vehicles work. This information is readily available and will cause your potential donor’s eyes to roll back in their sockets. Instead, briefly mention the tangible benefits the donor will receive (e.g., income for life, tax benefits, bolstering retirement income, etc) with a heavy emphasis on perpetuating personal values and the lasting social benefit. Donors are inspired by meaning, not process.
- Use fine print or design elements that make your copy hard to read. Most legacy giving prospects are age 40+. Research shows you’re best with 14 point type and a serif font (for print) and a sans serif font (online). Also avoid reverse-out (white showing through black) print.
- Use big words, jargon or technical language. I often tell folks to keep their annual appeal writing at a 6th-grade level or below. The same holds true when you write and talk about legacy giving. It’s not about ‘talking down’ to people. It’s about making things easy for folks to understand. If you fail to do that, you’ll lose many prospective legacy donors along the way.
- Wait to hire a planned giving expert. You don’t need an expert to promote the most common types of legacy gifts: bequests, retirement plan and insurance beneficiary designations or outright gifts of no-longer-needed insurance policies.While bequests require your donor to visit an attorney, you can help them out by providing sample language for their will or codicil. Understand also that less folks are using wills and trusts, so the other types of gifts are increasingly popular and well worth promoting. A bonus is they generally require just a simple form folks can secure from their financial institution or insurance company – at no cost.
Anyone, of any age or income level, can make a charitable bequest.
Leaving a legacy that reflects their values, and perhaps honors or memorializes a loved one, is something that can be very meaningful to people who care about your mission and vision.
Don’t deny them this opportunity.
Just like any other kind of philanthropy, the biggest reasons folks don’t make legacy gifts is because (1) they aren’t persuaded they’re necessary and (2) they aren’t asked.
- Donors who received a letter directly asking them for a bequest were 17 times more likely to give a bequest than donors who were not asked.
- Donors who were asked and thanked gave twice as much as those who were not thanked.
- Donors who were cultivated (notes, letters, visits, etc.) after the thank-you gave 3 to 4 times as much.
- Donors surveyed by The Partnership for Philanthropic Planning found 70% of donors who made planned gifts did so because they were asked.
So… make sure you let donors know what a bequest can accomplish, and how much you’d be honored to partner with them to make a lasting difference in your community and the world.
Want to Be a More Successful Major Gift Fundraiser?
I’m offering my popular 8-week Winning Major Gifts Strategies e-course again commencing January 21st. You’ll learn everything you need to know to set up (or accelerate) a strong major gifts program. The trend has long been towards fewer donors making larger gifts. With the reduced tax incentive to give for small and mid-level donors, this trend will accelerate.
It makes sense to focus efforts on individual donors who want to make impact gifts. If you’re not currently identifying major gift prospects for your organization… or making many face-to-face visits and asks… you need to start.
NOTE: The ‘Early Bird’ discount flies away January 11th, so grab your spot now (slots are limited, so why not secure yours and also save 30%). Questions? Just let me know!
Major gift fundraising has always given charities the biggest bang for the buck. Moving forward, this will be truer than ever.