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Aren’t All Gifts Planned?

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

I’m feeling a little sad as I write today’s blog post; I spent an hour this afternoon sharing in the Zoom funeral service for my friend’s father. Unlike so many others (especially) this year, this family did have notice and an opportunity to be together before his passing. They had a chance to share the most important messages - “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “thank you.” Over the last year this family was able to tell stories together and hear, from their husband/father/grandfather, about the things that were most important to him. They were able to make amends where it was necessary - and make assurances aloud that provided comfort. These words, and the coming together of the family in the traditions of their religion were important to him. And the memory of the time together is part of the legacy he leaves behind.

Today, my friend and his brother had an opportunity to share with friends and other family members who joined them, what sort of a legacy they believe had been left by their father. His loyalty, love of family, a belief in the value of youth sports and higher education.

And what do you know… it all left me thinking about how fundraisers talk about legacy. I guess that comes with the territory of having experience working with donors to create estate gifts - and working with fundraisers to explain what legacy giving can mean to a donor and an organization.

The basics: Legacy Giving describes gifts that may come later - but always come from “extra” dollars. Most often, planned gifts come from bequests (in a will) and designations (when a charity is named as the beneficiary of an IRA or insurance policy). The legacy however, comes from the work that can be done because of that gift… and the recognition that an organization is able to provide for the donor. The legacy is the continuation of a donor’s commitment to a mission after they have passed.

A perspective: I often say that fundraising jobs are mostly about saying please and saying thank you - but saying thank you is much more fun. This is tricky with legacy gifts because often the organization doesn’t hear of the gift until a letter arrives from the donor’s attorney or financial advisor. When a donor generously shares their estate plans and hopes for the impact of a gift that is one way of shaping their legacy for those who they will leave behind. And these conversations are also a way to make sure that the true intent of the gift is understood and captured by the organization they hope to support.

What happens to the gift: Organizational goals and culture impact how estate gifts are treated. When received without limitations, sometimes they are used immediately to address current needs or budget gaps. Alternatively, they may be added to an endowment that will provide support to the mission in perpetuity. It serves a donor’s interests, and coincidentally results in larger gifts, when plans and promises are made together. A policy to address “surprise” bequests, especially those that are unrestricted by the donor, is important for reasons of transparency, equity, and impact.

How do we get more of these?

Adding a planned giving program may be a way to bring new language to your current donor engagement efforts. It may also open the door to other conversations about unusual gifts. Be prepared to get creative with endowment and program ideas, be aware of the challenges inherent in gifts that may not be realized for years to come, and be careful not to make promises that your organization may not want to keep in perpetuity.

1. Make sure your most loyal donors are aware that you are able to accept estate gifts.

2. Engage your Board and be sure that Gift Acceptance Policies are in place that will provide guide rails for you in working with donors.

3. Create incentives to encourage donors to share their plans - bonus, it will allow you to say thank you.

4. We all have blind spots - and planned gifts can be complicated. Don’t be afraid to ask for the help of an attorney, CPA, or insurance professional.

To learn more about creating a Legacy Giving program and mobilizing your team around the tactics and teamwork that might work for your organization – Reach out to Team Kat & Mouse. We are Nonprofit Consultants with one goal….to make your team GREAT.


Amy (Mouse)

Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying, “Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree long ago.”

If you want your legacy to be shade - plant the seeds now.

And remember that a fundraiser at your favorite nonprofit would love to help you find the garden, say thank you, and make sure that there’s a bench placed under the tree once it is tall enough.

fundraiser family at home

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