Back to basics series: this post covers the basics of legacy giving. If you’re new around here, you might find it especially helpful. Go ahead and check out back to basics for other articles covering key concepts.

Charitable gift annuities, changes to CRA guidelines, and insurance rates.

Are you feeling confused yet? Or overwhelmed? Are these terms bringing up a little bit of anxiety that you might not know enough about them? Maybe you know a little bit, but not enough to feel comfortable to speak with a DONOR about them?

Well, stop right there. Take a deep breath. And another one.

You already know everything you need to know.

One of the most common concerns I hear from legacy fundraisers is that they feel uncomfortable with legacy giving because of the technical details.

There is so much information out there, and they just don’t have time to figure it out. How can they keep straight all the ever changing details of estate planning?

Well, I want to set the record straight. Here’s why fundraisers should stop worrying.

Let’s start with the role the fundraiser in legacy giving: Here’s what a fundraiser can do about legacy giving:

Educate people about what legacy giving is and how it works.

Most people have never heard of leaving something in their will to a charity, they probably don’t have a will to start, and they were going to leave it all to their kids. Just introducing the idea is a huge part of a legacy fundraiser’s job. And if you are starting with an introduction, you certainly don’t need to get into the complicated ways of making a legacy gift. 80% to 90% of legacy gifts are straightforward bequests, so start there.

Help people understand the value of legacy giving at their organization.

Why does this matter? Well, if you’re a fundraiser, you’ve probably heard the clichéd story of the little old lady donor with seventeen cats and no children who makes a gift to a charity and doesn’t tell anyone. One day, after she dies, the charity receives a call and all of a sudden their next budget discussion at the board meeting is focused on how to spend the money, instead of what cuts to make.

These are the stories that you as a legacy fundraiser need to know. Especially if they’ve happened at your organization. Legacy gifts make the impossible possible. Who doesn’t want to hear about that?

Work with individuals to understand how a gift will impact the charity and how they will be recognized by the charity.

These are conversations about the needs of your organization. What are its future and long term goals? What are the dreams of the staff if the budget suddenly got bigger? What could be possible? The work of the legacy fundraiser is to share these opportunities with donors in a compelling way.

And, if how we treat others is a measure of our own character, the role of the legacy fundraiser is to be appreciative of current donors. Because recognition = appreciation. And it’s the job of the legacy fundraiser to make sure donors understand their gift will be used appropriately and appreciated. (In other words, their gift MATTERS.)

Work with the estate to receive the proceeds of the gift.

Ok, this is the less glamourous side of legacy fundraising. But all jobs have it. This is the grunt work, the paperwork, doting the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s. Not fun, but mostly a combination of persistence and patience. You’ve got that.


Now, let’s talk about what a fundraiser can’t do.


The fundraiser can’t actually write the will or financial plans.

This critical step is up to the donor and independent advisors – like financial planners, lawyers, etc. These are the people who can assist with the drafting and provide expertise on local tax law and estate planning.

The ethics of gift planning include that the fundraiser cannot receive direct or indirect benefit from the gift (for example, fundraising by commission) or exert undue influence as is the case of making suggestions about making a gift to an organization to someone who is not competent to make their own decisions.

So, good news, the most important thing for a fundraiser is to be an expert in the mission of their organization, and a proselytizer of why legacy giving is so important to achieving that mission.

AND, ready for this?

A legacy fundraiser doesn’t have to be an expert on the technical details of legacy giving.

What? All those big words at the beginning – they don’t even matter. Don’t waste your time worrying for one more minute about technical details.

A fundraiser also doesn’t have to be an expert on how to make a will or estate plans – there are lots of lawyers and financial planners out there. (Although some fundraisers who do legacy giving full time are experts on the technical details. I know, it seems weird, but I’ve found that many of these people so love the details that they are very generous with their knowledge. If you know one, put their number on speed dial.)

So take a deep breath and go out and have those conversations. All you need is confidence in the mission of your charity and a willingness to speak up about legacy giving. And if you get stuck, give me a call.

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