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Legacies focus of push

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Anyone can be a philanthropist.

That’s the message of a Charlotte group that is part of a national effort to promote charitable giving through wills and planned gifts.

“It’s in everybody’s interest to focus on planned giving to generate additional resources for the future,” says Rusty Brink, executive director of the Presbyterian Hospital Foundation and a volunteer for the Charlotte region of the national Leave A Legacy initiative.

Charlotte is among 145 Leave A Legacy regions, affiliated with the Indianapolis-based National Committee on Planned Giving, that target individuals, nonprofits and professional advisers such as lawyers, accountants and financial planners.

The group, which has raised $35,000 from local foundations, has held employee workshops at Bank of America and Wachovia, with volunteer lawyers talking about how to write a will and make a gift.

Six or seven individuals in 10 don’t have wills, and fewer than 8 in 10 with wills include charitable gifts, says Brink.

That creates a big opportunity for charities, says Bart Landis, senior vice president for donor services at the Foundation for the Carolinas.

Boston College researchers estimate at least $41 trillion will be transferred between generations in the next 50 years, with at least $6 trillion of it going to charity.

“When you die, you’re going to be a philanthropist, and it’s a question of whether you decide where it goes or Uncle Sam decides,” Landis says.

Charities should encourage donors to remember them in their wills, he says.

“If you don’t do this, you’re going to miss out on the money,” he says.

Leave A Legacy trains nonprofit boards about planned giving and assigns volunteers to help nonprofits develop planned gifts, says B.G. Metzler, Charlotte region director.

“A lot of nonprofits and their boards are not aware of how to start planned giving,” she says.

Nonprofit boards and staff first must agree on the need for planned giving, says Brink.

Nonprofits then should take every chance they can to encourage people to include the organization in their wills, he says.

And fundraisers, particularly those with other tasks, should make cultivating donors a priority.

“A fundraiser has to get their butt out of the office,” Brink says, adding it can take five to seven years for a planned giving program to begin generating gifts.

Getting started does not require a lot of technical expertise, says Mary Ellen Shuntich, planned giving coordinator at Aldersgate Retirement Community, formerly The Methodist Home.

“An agency doesn’t need to do a thing except to educate the public to begin thinking about it,” she says.

It may not occur to long-time supporters of a nonprofit’s annual drive, for example, to provide for the group in their wills, she says.

“Some donors don’t think about this,” she says.

The key, says Landis, is to “be in front of your donors, asking them to think about a planned gift.”

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