The Nonprofit’s Guide to Legacy Giving

Donor Acquisition and Retention

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Sustainability is one of the key concerns in the fundraising world, and it’s important for your nonprofit to identify ways to find additional funding so you can continue supporting your community for a long time. One way your donors can help you extend your impact is through legacy giving. Legacy gifts provide your donors an opportunity to help your organization past their own lifetime! By leaving a legacy gift to your nonprofit, your donors invest in your future and to continue supporting the work they cared about throughout their life. 

What’s a legacy gift? 

Legacy giving is a committed donation a donor plans to leave to a nonprofit organization as part of their estate after they’ve passed away. While many may assume legacy gifts are reserved for major donors, any donor can make a legacy gift to ensure a cause they care about is supported after they’re gone. Donors who wish to make a legacy gift can work with their chosen organization to plan what’ll be donated and what the gift will be used for. Legacy gifts can be anything including stocks, money, vehicles, buildings, and more. Your donors can choose to leave everything or just a few things to help your organization! 

The benefits of legacy giving 

For nonprofits 

There are quite a few benefits for nonprofits receiving legacy gifts. Here are a couple major benefits: 

  • Gain a stable source of revenue 
  • Help plan sustainable projects for the future 
  • Provide more flexible donation options 
  • Increase donor loyalty 
  • Strengthen community ties 

For donors 

There are also a few benefits for legacy donors, such as:  

  • Create a lasting legacy  
  • Ensure a cause they care about is able to continue working 
  • Receive tax benefits 
  • Gain recognition for philanthropy 
  • Donate more than they’d normally be able to 

What are the differences between planned giving and legacy giving? 

While planned giving and legacy giving are often used interchangeably, there’s an important difference between the two terms. Legacy giving refers to gifts specifically planned for after the donor passes aways and can be considered a type of planned giving. On the other hand, planned giving includes any charitable gifts that are planned to be given at a later date.  

Types of legacy gifts 

When considering a legacy giving program, your organization needs to decide the type of legacy gifts you’re going to be accepting from donors. Here’s a look at seven of the most common types of legacy gifts: 

  • Bequests through wills and estate plans. The most common form of legacy giving is bequests of designated sums of money, assets, or a percentage of an estate left to a nonprofit in a donor’s will. These gifts can be given for general purposes or to fund specific areas within the organization.  
  • Charitable remainder trusts. A charitable remainder trust allows a donor to donate assets to a trust, which then provides a trustee with an annual payment. At the end of the trust’s term, the remainder goes to the nonprofit beneficiary.  
  • Gifts of life insurance. A gift of life insurance is when a donor names an organization as the beneficiary of an insurance policy or transfers ownership of the policy to the charity. 
  • Charitable gift annuities. A charitable gift annuity is a contract where a donor makes a gift to a nonprofit in exchange for a fixed sum each year for life. After the donor passes, the remaining balance goes to the organization. 
  • Donor-advised funds. A donor-advised fund is a charitable investment account that a donor can create and use to support causes they care about past their lifetime and specify what the money they’ve donated funds.  
  • Endowments. Endowments are invested funds from which a nonprofit can use the interest accrued while preserving the principal sum. Donors can give to term endowments that are set up to be invested until the donors passes and then used to fund specific programs or provide general support. 
  • Beneficiaries. Similar to gifts of life insurance, donors can choose to make a nonprofit a beneficiary on other accounts, such as their retirement fund.  
person writing a letter to appeal to potential legacy giving donors

6 simple steps for asking for legacy gifts 

Legacy giving can be a bit of a touchy subject to approach with donors, but there are ways to get the conversation started. Here’s a 6 step strategy to asking for legacy gifts! 

1. Create a legacy giving program committee 

A legacy giving committee can help lead the development and implementation of your organization’s legacy giving program. This committee can set goals, decide the types of gifts to accept, and develop a strategy for approaching potential legacy donors. 

2. Identify your target audience 

Every donor has the potential to become a legacy donor, but some may be more likely to decide on legacy giving than others. Consider which of your donors have been supporting your nonprofit for a significant period, have a deep passion for your mission, and fall within the age range of those typically thinking of making legacy gifts. 

3. Market your program 

Legacy giving should be a well-communicated option throughout your organization’s marketing channels. Include information about legacy giving in newsletters, on your website, and in direct mail or email campaigns. Or meet with your donors in-person to talk about your legacy giving options. You can include legacy giving with your other donation options to ensure your donors know all their options! 

4. Offer different legacy giving options 

Your donors are more likely to make legacy gifts if they’ve a range of options available. Explain the different types of legacy gifts that your organization accepts and provide resources to help your donors make the right choice for them. 

5. Track legacy gifts 

Establish a system so your legacy giving committee can track legacy giving gifts that have already been pledged. Keeping detailed records ensures that you can follow up with donors, provide necessary documentation, and properly allocate gifts according to their designations. 

6. Follow up with legacy donors and their families 

Maintain a relationship with your legacy donors and their families, and express gratitude for their commitment to your cause. Legacy gifts are meant to provide your donors a way to be remembered while helping their favorite cause. Don’t let their gift go unrecognized! 

Legacy giving program best practices 

Implementing a legacy giving program can be a big project for your organization. By using these best practices, your nonprofit can create a program that’s both effective and inspirational which motivates donors to leave a gift. 

Create a legacy giving plan 

No program is successful without a plan! Draft a plan that articulates your mission and vision for your legacy giving program and set attainable goals for the program. Create documentation that includes any needed policies and procedures to make it easier for your donors to understand the legacy giving process and ensure that their wishes are carried out. 

Connect with potential legacy donors 

Use a variety of methods to connect with potential legacy donors. Develop a stewardship plan that allows you to maintain a personal and engaging relationship with your legacy donors. Your stewardship plan should include who’s reaching out to legacy donors and how often. 

It should also include different types of experiences you can provide your potential legacy donors, such as one-on-one conversations to seminars and workshops that help explain the effect of legacy giving. Their experience with your organization can help motivate them to pledge a gift. 

Work with professionals 

Legal and financial advisors can be invaluable resources for your legacy giving program. Reach out through your nonprofit network to find trustworthy professionals who can provide expertise in estate and investment planning. 

Having trustworthy legal and financial professionals working with your legacy giving program can help ensure both you and your donors have everything needed to make the most of legacy gifts. Legal professionals can ensure all paperwork regarding the gift is settled, while financial professionals can help ensure the gifts are being properly invested. 

Establish how to honor legacy donors 

Honor your legacy donors in a way that’s meaningful and recognizes their contribution to your cause. Here’s a list of popular ways to you can recognize your legacy donors: 

  • Donor walls  
  • Program names  
  • Memorials  
  • Legacy giving societies  
  • Family events 

Final thoughts 

Legacy giving is a great way for your donors to show their dedication to your cause. It creates a connection to your organization that lasts past their lifetime to help you continue doing the work to help the community.  By fostering a legacy program, your organization can offer your donors an opportunity to extend their impact and generate change beyond their lifetimes. 

Additional resources  

If you want to know more about legacy giving, here are some additional resources: 

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