When I think about leaving a legacy, I think about the five years I spent working at a company that provides full service mail-phone planned giving campaigns.

I had never expected to work in fundraising — that was what my father did.  I fell into the profession because I needed a new job. A friend of my father was looking to expand his fundraising business, and I was available.  When my father suggested I apply, I said:

“I don’t know much about this stuff, and I’m not sure this is the right fit for me.”

My father responded, “I’ve worked with them before, and I know you can do this job.”

On that note of parental confidence, I began my career in planned giving.


One of the things that I learned early on was that we would invite just about anyone to make a legacy gift on behalf of our clients, and that some of the most unlikely candidates would tell us they were happy to do so.

One of my first clients gave us a great big pile of prospects who were, so to speak, ‘the dregs’ of their fundraising database. This list included folks who’d given only once many years ago, and those who had never given at all, simply names affiliated with the organization. My job was to coordinate a mailing that invited them to consider leaving a legacy gift, and then work with our company’s phone team to call them, because that was what we were being paid to do, no matter whether they were likely candidates to make a bequest or not.

Part of my job was to liaise with the call centre staff to send reports back to the client. This meant that I would hear stories about the conversations our callers were having on the charity’s behalf.  Sure, some people were grumpy and hung up the phone, but many — many more than we expected — were happy to talk with our callers, remembered the organization with fondness, and agreed to consider making a gift in their will.

As a result of this job, leaving a legacy is a matter-of-fact topic for me.

I’m not bothered about talking about death or taxes or wills, because I’ve been surrounded by people who asked these questions each day, I’ve absorbed the language of invitation and consideration, and dutifully reported on the thousands and thousands of rejections we received over the course of my time working with clients.

At the same time, I’ve been exposed to the magical feeling that would permeate the office on occasion when a caller would finish a conversation, hang up the phone, and the rumors would spread through the office:

“Someone is going to leave an island to our client!”

“She wants us to help her donate her body to medical research,”


“Call our contact at the charity right now, this person says yes to a planned gift and they were just thinking about selling some stocks, but they’d be willing to give them to the charity instead.”

All of these moments were glimpses of people reaching out and taking hold of the invitation to leave a legacy, one that mattered to them, regardless of the amount the charity finally received. It was their moment to contemplate the future and shift it ever so slightly, in a direction that made a difference, a moment that I was privileged to witness.

Join the conversation — What do you think about leaving a legacy?

Are you in conversation with your family or is it challenging, like it was for Dave? Or maybe leaving a legacy evokes your professional context, like it does for Julia.

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2 replies
  1. Heidi
    Heidi says:

    Thank you Julia. The conversations with donors are truly amazing – and like you said, often surprising! On my second phone call, following up on the letter to engage donors on legacy giving, one woman hadn’t even opened the envelope yet but said she did have an estate plan and it needed to be updated and, yes, the GVFB was important to her. We’re going to chat again in a couple months. Wow, that one call was pretty neat!


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