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It’s (Always) Time to Talk Legacy Giving

As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is today.

I say this a lot when talking to clients about legacy giving—sure, it’s a hackneyed cliché, but that doesn’t make it less true.

If your organization had started a purposeful legacy strategy (aka a planned giving program) 20 years ago, today you’d likely have a steady, reliable stream of revenue from donors who included your organization in their wills.

But even if your organization has done little to promote legacy giving in the past, today is the next best time to start!

In fact, right now, at the beginning of the year, is the ideal time to talk to your most loyal, regular donors about legacy giving. Tax time means that financial planning is top of mind—it’s likely your supporters are having those conversations with their accountants or financial advisors, or they’re making plans and perhaps thinking about how to maximize their tax savings. Either way, they’re primed to hear from you about including your cause in their estate plans.

Why We Need to Talk Legacy Giving Now (and always)

As demographics shift and our population ages, we’re in the midst of the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in history. In Canada alone, over $1 trillion is expected to change hands via inheritance by 2026, so reminding donors that they have an opportunity to leave a legacy to a cause they care about could have a tremendous impact on your organization’s mission in the future.

People tend to create or update their wills when something significant happens in their lives, like the birth of a child or grandchild, a change in relationship status, or even a serious illness.

Since we as fundraisers can’t possibly know or predict those moments, we need to ensure we’re sharing legacy giving messages with supporters all the time—increasing the chance that donors will see those messages when they’re most relevant to them.

Take An Integrated Approach

That’s why when it comes to legacy giving, in the words of Ethel from the hot sauce ads, you want to put that $#*! on everything! Integrating legacy giving content into your existing donor communications and stewardship materials—starting with your website, donor newsletters, and annual reports—is a cost-effective tactic.

Share stories from living legacy donors that focus on the values they share with your organization, rather than the steps involved in making a charitable gift through your will. Emphasizing the why rather than the how of legacy giving allows potential donors to see themselves in the other person’s story, and fires up the autobiographical part of the brain involved in legacy giving.

Consider adding a legacy-focused appeal or two to your annual direct mail program. This tactic is particularly effective at the identification and cultivation stages, and can help feed your legacy prospect pipeline.

Targeting Your Legacy Appeal Audience

You don’t need to send a legacy appeal to your entire donor list. Start by looking at those who have already made legacy gifts or commitments. Their previous giving and connections to your cause may offer some hints about who else in your database might also be potential future legacy prospects.

If you don’t have a lot of legacy data upon which to model, here are some general guidelines about who tends to be the strongest legacy giving prospects:

  • Loyal donors (of any amount) who have given consistently for 5+ years

  • High number of lifetime gifts (of any amount)

  • Last gift in the past 5 years

  • Loyal volunteers

  • Regular event attendees

  • Membership or other measures of loyalty and commitment specific to your organization

Legacy giving is a beautifully meaningful way for donors to ensure their values live on in perpetuity, and for your organization to fulfill its mission for as long as it’s needed. There’s no better time to start talking to your donors about legacy giving than today.

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Holly H. Paulin, CFRE and Brock Warner CFRE are the co-founders of Broccoli, and have over 30 years combined experience helping nonprofit fundraisers and charities do more. 

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