Legacy Giving – Starting the conversation

Posted by on February 5, 2011 in Uncategorized | 6 comments

Every gift in every will makes a difference, no matter how large or small.

In my previous post about Legacies Colin Kemp asked how I bring up this subject with donors? This is a GREAT question. The answer to which, in my opinion, is: You Don’t.

So how have discussions about bequests with donors become a regular part of my work? I believe that we have done a number of things to create a climate whereby donors come to me when the time is right for THEM to have this conversation.

I started really thinking about legacy gifts in 2008 at my very first International Fundraising Congress (IFC). Anyone who has attended a session on legacies with Richard Radcliffe is probably smiling right now. He does that. Makes you smile.

At one point Richard very enthusiastically made the statement above and then he shouted, ‘PUT IT ON YOUR BLOODY BUSINESS CARD!’ So I did. Richard may have been joking but I was earnest and this is what my business cards have looked like ever since.

My interest continued and I attended a masterclass on Legacies facilitated by Richard in 2009. It was fun and I learned stuff, but I still didn’t know how to start the conversation about bequests.

In 2010 I started working with the AGENTS of Good and in particular friend, mentor and Canadian Fundraising ‘Guru’ (yes we have a few Gurus of our own) David Love. Our mission? To revitalize the Planned Giving program in my organization. Working collaboratively with The Agents we have made a number of key strategic changes that I believe have made a significant difference.

1. Personalizing the ads we use
I was reluctant to put my picture on our legacy ads. After all, contrary to how it might look on this blog, I believe the fundraisers are mere facilitators of the gift and that program staff and the CEO should have the public image in any organization. The AGENTS insisted and I now know they were right. Simply adding my picture with a statement inviting people to call me if they want to discuss their legacy has had a profound impact. I now have the sheer pleasure of receiving some of the most sincere and personal phone calls from donors. I still remember the first email I received after running the ad below. It said: ‘My partner and I have included your organization in our will. We just thought you should know.’ Wow.

2. A special, highly personalized mailing to long time supporters
I wouldn’t do this every year. Every three maybe. With the help of the Agents we sent a very high end personalized mailing to everyone in our database who has a history of ten years or more – regardless of the size of their donations. This letter was a very soft sell. We talked about the importance of legacies on an emotional level – not the tax incentives. We let donors know that we could serve them better if they shared a little bit about themselves with us and that is why the survey included was important. The survey also connected them with our mission by asking them to ‘Tell us about a time when nature took your breath away.’ Everyone who responded to the survey has raised their hand and said ‘Yes, I would like to have this conversation with you.’ All I have to do now is reach out to them.

3. We tell stories.

The Agents call it ‘Creating the opportunity for yes.’ Telling stories about other donors helps people imagine how they might be able to do the same thing. Here is a story about Graeme. True this is a planned gift and not a bequest. Still the story is a good one. Graeme’s mother also gave me permission to talk about her here.

4. Include an ask in speeches
At large gatherings of donors our President always mentions the importance of leaving a legacy. Sometimes he uses humour sometimes it is more sincere. But mentioning it to a crowd lets people know we are keen to talk about it without pressure on anyone in particular.

5. We are starting a Legacy Grove.
For every bequest we receive we will be planting a tree. This demonstrates to those who are still with us that when they are gone we will continue to think of them and respect them. Their legacy will live on in a hardy Canadian Red Maple.

I’m really not sure what a legacy ‘expert’ would think of this experience that I am sharing with you. I certainly don’t remember learning any of this stuff while studying for my CFRE, in fact I haven’t had to use the words ‘Charitable Gift Annuity’ once. I really just know two things: Legacy messages need to permeate throughout your organization and we must focus on building solid relationships through conversations that our donors initiate.

Should you choose to work with the AGENTS on your legacy program or any other initiative I must warn you. Your donors will become more engaged, some will even complain and you WILL raise more money for your cause. I just thought you might want to know that going in. (I’ll blog about the complaints next weekend).

Thank you for spending (SO MUCH) time here.

Share the love:)



  1. Wondeful Kimbelrey. I'm flattered.

    I'm also jazzed by your eloquence and passion for legacy fundraising. The ultimate win-win-win.

    The donor (always number one), the cause and, the fundraiser.

    These are our finest moments. They delight donors, they change the world and they energize we fundraisers to continue our important work.

  2. Testing…someone emailed and said comments function wasn't working so I'm writing my own comment just to see.

  3. I followed you on twitter (stairwellcarol)– some great info. Thanks 🙂

  4. Thanks Kimberley…
    Some really good stuff here. The lead & example from the top of the organisation is crucial. We are making progress there.
    We have been collecting our own inspirations: 'if you have already left a gift to support our work in your Will, please tell us what inspired you to do so…'. Great feedback coming from that.
    I'll be chatting with our major donor team about both these legacy posts in a few days. I'll report back – I might even be driven to blog myself!

  5. Hi Holly,

    How nice to meet you. Thank you for your comment. I'll go seek you out on twitter now.

  6. Hi Colin,

    Thank you for asking the question that inspired this post. I look forward to hearing more about how things are going in your organization.

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