Make This the Year
for Your Legacy Program

Susan E Mangels Senior Vice President Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald Author

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D, Senior Vice President of Consulting Services

As we turn the page to a new year, what are your top fundraising priorities? I’d suggest one should be starting or revitalizing your planned giving—or legacy—program.

Sometimes we are slow to enact a planned giving program because we fear that talking to donors about making a legacy gift will be awkward. Who wants to bring up a conversation about someone’s impending death?!

But fear not! If done well, these conversations can actually be empowering for a donor, and informative for your fundraising team. Donors get to share about which aspects of an organization’s mission really matter to them – this is a good time to really listen. They also get to imagine a legacy beyond themselves and envision an ongoing purpose to their life’s work.

Keep in mind that a legacy gift may be the largest gift a donor will leave to your organization, and is often much larger than their typical annual giving. Here are some tips to ramp up your legacy program this year:

  • Remind donors frequently. Invite donors to join your legacy society at least twice a year.
  • Make it personal. Highlight legacy donor testimonials in newsletters and annual reports; note how rewarding the estate planning process has been.
  • Make it easy. Show donors how simple making a legacy gift can be. Over 80% of planned gifts are simple bequests in a will. Always highlight your legacy website in communications, so information is easy for donors to find.
  • Give donors options. In addition to bequests, there are many simple planned giving options, such as gifts through retirement accounts or life insurance policies. And don’t forget about donor-advised funds! Donors with DAFs can easily establish legacy giving through their accounts as this report from the National Philanthropic Trust reminds us.
  • Focus on loyal donors. Most legacy gifts come from an organization’s most trusted and reliable donors, no matter their giving level. Remember, small, but loyal donors can leave big legacy gifts!
  • Educate donors about the financial benefits of legacy gifts. For many donors, allocating an estate gift can help alleviate their tax burdens today and those of their heirs in the future. Encourage your donors to talk with their financial advisors about their options.
  • Provide tools to your development team. Equip major gift officers with brochures about the planned giving program and guide them in starting conversations with donors. Develop easy prompts, such as: “As you think about your future giving, would you consider making a legacy gift to us?”
  • Strategize about blended gifts. With your most loyal donors, explore the possibility of including a planned gift in their next commitment.
  • Finally, thank and celebrate legacy donors. Create a legacy society recognition and a special event or signage that honors your donors.

Remember, this really can be a rewarding topic to bring up with trusted donors. These gifts are not about death, but rather, about a legacy living on for a better tomorrow.

Susan E. Mangels, Ph.D. serves as Senior Vice President of Consulting Services at AC Fitzgerald. She uses her expertise in fundraising, management, and leadership development to oversee our consulting efforts and deliver exceptional service to clients.

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