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The Ultimate Guide to Legacy Gifts  

Author: Marlena Moore
February 12, 2024
🕑 6 min read

Fundraising in the nonprofit arena is a never-ending quest. Balancing budgets, tracking down donors, coming up with new fundraising ideas year after year and making sure donors feel loved. It is easy for fundraising efforts to feel stagnant over time. I mean, how many ways are there that you can ask for people to support the mission of your organization?   

Often, nonprofits focus on something other than legacy giving as their primary fundraising method. This could be for a few reasons. Usually, asking for legacy gifts can be uncomfortable, or the organization does not want to spend time and money on a donation that could be years away from becoming a reality. However, legacy gifts could be just the thing your organization needs in its fundraising toolbox.   

One of the most famous legacy gifts was given by Ben Franklin in 1790 when he left $4,000 of today’s dollars to be divided between the people of the state of Pennsylvania and the city of Philadelphia, only if it wasn’t touched for two hundred years. In 1990, when the two hundred years were up, the legacy gift was worth $2.3 million. While this is an extreme example, let’s take a look at what legacy gifts are and how legacy gifts might be an important focus for your organization in the future.    

What Is Legacy Giving?  

Legacy giving is a fantastic way for nonprofits to harness the passion their regular donors share and turn it into lasting impacts. This is sometimes referred to as a bequest or a planned gift. Legacy giving is when individuals contribute to charitable organizations through their wills or estate plans. Legacy giving can be in the form of a bequest, proceeds from life insurance, a trust, an annuity, a life estate or even a retirement fund.   

Legacy giving allows individuals to leave a lasting impact on causes they care deeply about even after they die. Legacy gifts can include not only money but also a percentage of one’s estate or assets like property or stocks given to a chosen charity. By incorporating philanthropy into their estate planning, individuals can support the missions and values of organizations that have played a significant role in their lives, ensuring that their legacy continues to make a positive difference in the community or field of interest they hold dear.   

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Why Is Legacy Giving Important?  

In the nonprofit world, acquiring and keeping donors is often tricky. While legacy giving will not replace regular donors, legacy giving can help fill those gaps and create a pathway to future donors. Here are a few reasons why legacy giving is essential and should be a part of your donor strategy:  

  • Creates long-term support for causes and organizations: Legacy giving lets people continue to support causes and organizations after their lifetime, bringing lasting impact.  
  • Promotes lasting values and beliefs: By including a nonprofit in your legacy plans, you perpetuate your values and beliefs, leaving a positive mark on the world and establishing a lasting legacy.  
  • Incorporates financial planning and tax benefits: Legacy giving can be part of an overall financial plan. In some cases, there are tax benefits associated with charitable donations, and legacy giving can help optimize how assets are distributed.  
  • Honors loved ones: Some people choose to make legacy gifts in honor of loved ones who have passed away, especially if the nonprofit benefits something their loved one cherishes. This serves as a meaningful way to remember and celebrate the lives of those who were important to them.  
  • Sustains nonprofit organizations: For nonprofit organizations, legacy giving provides a reliable source of funding that can contribute to long-term sustainability. It helps organizations plan for the future and continue their mission.  
  • Encourages generational philanthropy: Legacy giving sets a positive example for younger generations, encouraging a culture of philanthropy within families by recognizing the importance of giving back and supporting charitable causes.  
  • Allows for flexibility and variety: Legacy gifts can be structured in various ways, including bequests, charitable trusts and endowments.  

Overall, legacy giving is seen as a way for individuals to make a positive and lasting impact on the world, leaving behind a meaningful contribution to the causes they are passionate about.   

Setting Up a Sustainable Legacy Giving Program   

If your organization is interested in setting up a sustainable legacy-giving program, you should understand that it involves careful planning and consideration of a few factors. Here are steps to help you establish such a program:  

  1. Create an Advisory Committee 

An advisory committee will know the purpose and mission of your organization. Incorporate this into your legacy giving program. Explain how the legacy gifts will support the organization in the long term. The committee should also examine the legal and financial implications of a substantial gift on your organization.   

  1. Brand the Legacy Giving Program 

By branding the legacy giving program, you are defining its structure, goals and strategies, as well as how you will communicate with donors.   

  1. Conduct Thorough Prospect Research. 

Find potential donors by creating and sharing educational materials; this will inform potential donors about legacy giving options. Conduct outreach campaigns through various channels, such as your organization’s website, social media and events.  

How To Solicit Legacy Gifts   

Soliciting a legacy gift is a little different from writing your ordinary donation letter. Death is a sensitive topic for many people, so your organization should have a solid plan for how to go about soliciting legacy gifts.    

  1. Create a Legacy Gift Strategy 

Collaborate with financial advisors, attorneys and estate planners to facilitate the process for potential donors. These professionals can help individuals incorporate legacy giving into their financial and estate plans.  

  1. Build a Legacy Gift Page on Your Website 

Make legacy donors (and their families) understand how important they are to your organization’s mission. Explain where the money is used and how it impacts your organization as a whole.  

  1. Promote Your Legacy Gift Program  

Make sure you let people know about your legacy gift program. You can do this by sharing success stories and testimonials from donors who have participated in your legacy giving program or by highlighting real-world examples. Either method can inspire others to consider legacy giving. Maintain open and ongoing communication with donors. Keep them informed about the impact of their contributions and update them on the progress of your organization’s mission.  

  1. Track Your Efforts 

Know what is going on in your legacy giving program by regularly evaluating its performance. Seek feedback from donors and adjust your strategies as needed. Stay informed about changes in laws or trends that may impact legacy giving.  

Tips for Building a Successful Legacy Gifting Program  

If you think your organization is ready to build a legacy gifting program, you’ll want to make sure you are doing all the right things. Here are a few things we recommend to get the ball rolling on a successful program.   

Utilize software  

The right donor management software can make or break your fundraising campaign. Using the right software, like WildApricot, will allow your organization to keep track of donors’ contact information, communication preferences and interests. The software can also keep track of donation history, gift dates, amounts and designations, as well as automate donor communication and tasks like issuing tax receipts.  

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Engaging Social Media  

Like it or not, social media is here to stay. Using social media effectively can drive up donations like legacy gifts. Someone who may not even know legacy giving is an option for your organization might see your social media campaign and leave a substantial gift in the future.   

Share Your Successes  

Once you have created a legacy gift program, remember to share your organization’s successes. Your organization doesn’t have the sole mission of fundraising, after all. Your organization was created with a specific mission in mind, and fundraising merely provides the capital to advance your mission.   

Don’t underestimate the power of showing and sharing how your organization has impacted the world. This can be done in a variety of ways and should incorporate your recurring donors as well as the world at large.  

Launch Your Legacy Gift Program  

Legacy contributions have the potential to significantly enhance your nonprofit’s capacity to support its beneficiaries, providing donors with the opportunity to make a substantial impact on a cause dear to their hearts. By adopting a purposeful approach to soliciting legacy gifts, your organization can increase its likelihood of securing more of these valuable contributions.   

Explore the tips outlined in this guide to enhance your legacy giving strategy today! When you are ready to incorporate a legacy giving program into your organization’s fundraising toolbox, WildApricot is here to help. Start your free 60-day trial here and see how our all-in-one management software can benefit your nonprofit! 

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