Updated March 24, 2022
Fundraising is quite the beast. It’s a sprawling, various, intricate process, and there are areas of it that nonprofits (especially new ones) tend to avoid. One of these areas is legacy giving. Legacy giving is a type of donor-based fundraising that scares a lot of organizations, causing them to neglect it altogether. But it’s not that scary—at least it doesn’t have to be. Let’s go through the basics so you can decide if legacy giving might be the secret ingredient to your fundraising strategy.
What is legacy giving?
Legacy giving, sometimes generally referred to as “planned giving,” is a donation made by an individual through a will or other formal designation. Legacy gifts are typically prepared with a financial planner and are meant to reflect the values and desires of the donor. As the name suggests, most donors want to leave a legacy or memory of their life through their posthumous giving.
In most cases, a legacy gift is made upon someone’s death, but not always. Legacy giving can take a number of forms, including recurring donations that begin while the donor is alive and continue after they’re deceased. And legacy gifts don’t have to be monetary, either. They can include material goods, property, stocks—anything that’s of value to the beneficiary.
How to solicit legacy gifts
Most nonprofits don’t receive legacy gifts because their donors don’t know that it’s an option. Make your donors aware with a letter, an email or a landing page on your website. You should also educate your donors on what a legacy gift is and how they might go about setting one up with their financial planner.
Donors likely won’t leave a significant gift if they don’t have a strong personal connection to the cause, so make sure you know your audience. You don’t want to ask a one-time donor or volunteer to leave a legacy gift upon their passing. Focus on nurturing relationships before soliciting for this kind of gift.
What’s perhaps more crucial than educating your donors about how to leave a legacy gift is why they’re important to your organization. Just like any other form of fundraising, if a donor doesn’t see a need to be filled, they probably won’t donate. Explain to your donors the impact a legacy gift would have on your organization and the people you help.
Cut the jargon
A major barrier to legacy giving is the financial jargon that goes along with it. Bequest? Residuary? Annuities? What? These terms are important for donors to know, but it’s not your job to explain the specific financial details. Leave that for their wealth manager. Instead, use concise, emphatic language to explain the benefits of legacy gifts for your organization. You don’t want to scare them off before they understand your need.
Honoring the gifts
If a donor grants your organization a legacy gift, it’s especially important to express gratitude. Honor their legacy with a dedication, a plaque, or public thank you. If the donor had any specific wishes for their contribution, such as funding a particular program, be sure to abide by those requests. It’s also a good idea to keep staff and volunteers informed of the impact the person had on your organization and cause.
*Originally published in 2017