Imagine this math problem:

You have an unknown amount of money that will appear at an unknown time and will fund unknown areas at your organization. Give me the number I should put in next year’s budget for legacy giving revenue.

Hmmm, not so easy.

This is the reality of forecasting legacy giving. Even if you get it all together and start contacting donors to invite them to consider making a gift in their will, what if they don’t (or can’t) tell you how much their gift will be worth? They certainly won’t be able to tell you when they’ll die or how many months (or years) of probate it will take to resolve their estate! And what if they specify that their gift goes to a program that your organization is going to cut from the budget next year?

Okay, the last one you can resolve. Make sure in your legacy conversations that you ask what inspires the donor about your organization’s work and be sure to let them know about the importance of giving to what is most urgent in the future.

Legacy giving might look like it makes more of a mess of budgets then cents. (Ha!)

But do not fear, we have identified a few key lines that will help restore order and give us some numbers to work with in a world of unknowns.

The pipeline:

In our case, a pipeline is the expected flow into your organization, flow being the number of legacy gifts coming to your organization in the future, or the number of dollars.

It includes the number of estate notifications. This would be when you’re notified by a lawyer or an executor when a donor has passed away and there is indeed a bequest in their will for your organization. It also includes the number of gift expectancies on record at your organization. In this sense we’re calling expectancies those individuals who you’ve talked to who have let you know that there is a bequest in their estate plans, but they are still alive. And then it could include the number of prospects, those individuals who you believe are considering the idea, but need more time for any number of reasons.

The baseline:

In order for your counting of either donors or dollars to make sense, it is important to establish a baseline to compare with your current situation. The baseline includes what happened in the past. Questions to ask about the past include: How many legacy gifts have you received? Were you notified about them prior to receiving the gift? What was the value of those gifts?

Then you can stack that up against the current state of your legacy giving program today. How many invitations have you made this week? This month? This year? And how many donors said, “Yes, I’m interested”?

Finally, you can situate your results against the future potential of your organization. For example, what percentage of the board has left a gift to your organization? What percentage of the board has been invited to leave a gift?

The bottom line:

Quick, you have a meeting with your board in an hour, and they want to know the value of legacy giving for your organization so they can set their priorities – what do you say?

Try this one: look at the potential of your database, the cost of staff time and the future dollars raised.

Still sound overwhelming? Well, you’ll need to do some educated math, but between all the unknowns, you can arrive at an answer that will help you and your board measure the value of time spent in comparison to the dollars raised.

(And, we’re going to bet that you’re going to come out well ahead of your colleague over there who manages the annual gala!)


Want more details? This post is taken from one of the lessons in Legacy Jump Start, our program for anyone who is ready to start asking for legacy gifts for a cause that matters. Check out more lessons for free here.

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