Leave it for tomorrow

Having lost a spouse to cancer, I wanted to make sure her legacy and her accomplishments are never forgotten. Since we were both in our late 20’s at the time a bequest did not make sense.  I worked with her alma mater to develop a scholarship in her name, and after joining Convio, I started a personal fundraising page in her honor. Both met my goals of keeping her legacy alive.

As people age they often start to think about their legacy. In fact, my alma mater must know something I don’t, as I’ve starting getting information about how to set up a bequest.  It has me thinking what I can do today that will impact tomorrow – help create a legacy with my gifts.

You can help your constituents leave a legacy they can be proud of through a bequest giving program. Understandably, there’s anxiety about discussing the final chapter with your constituents; after all you like them and wish them a long, happy and healthy life.

Starting a Bequest Giving Program

1) Start at the top: With many demands on your time, you must make the case to your superiors and the board that this is worthwhile work. Also, some of your best prospects are board members who have a personal investment in the organization.

2) Start locally: Find out if your agency has received bequests or been notified of bequest intentions (a gift included in a living person’s will). Learn who, when, why and—where appropriate—how much. Document and share those stories. For example: “This year, we were honored to receive a gift from the estate of Diane Jones, a long-time supporter of our work.” This not only celebrates the gift, it also suggests to others that they could create a similar one. Be sure to obtain permission if there are any privacy concerns.

3) Start simply: A page of basic information about bequest giving and a formal way of saying “thank you” to people who have included your organization in their plans are helpful at the outset. Create a single page that describes bequest giving and provides donors and their advisors with basics such as the organization’s legal name and sample wording for bequests (for a useful example, visit the “How To Give” page at www.leavealegacy.org) Remember, you are not providing legal advice or offering to write anyone’s will; that’s for the donor’s attorney alone. Your formal thanks could be a handwritten note and phone call, or even membership in a legacy society. Whatever your procedure, make it meaningful and make it consistent.

4) Start now: Set yourself a goal of three or four conversations this quarter that touch on bequest giving. This could be as simple as chatting with your board chair about her knowledge of bequests, or providing bequest information to a long-time friend of the agency. Gifts like this don’t happen overnight, but you’ll be surprised where these conversations take you. You, and your successors, will be glad you took time to begin this important work.

I’d add a fifth tip: record keeping. As with any pledge, note committed bequest gifts in your CRM to ensure your staff and board engages with the constituent properly. Remember, you have a lifetime, literally, of engagement opportunities you want to get right.

The four tips for starting your bequest giving program are republished with permission from MassNonprofit.org and authored by Kris Willcox, a planned giving consultant in the Boston area with a special interest in the needs of small organizations. For more information, email her at [email protected].