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Talking with donors about bequests

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Patrick Weiner

Patrick Weiner

Patrick Weiner

For many nonprofits, starting a successful planned giving program is as simple as encouraging bequests.

In the United States, 80 percent of all planned gifts are simple bequests, and those account for about 80 percent of money raised through planned-giving programs.

Are we ready?

There are some important questions your staff and board need to address when considering expanding development efforts to include seeking bequests:

Is your organization ready to ask for bequests? Is your annual campaign in good shape so that your staff has time to take on new duties? Has your organization been in existence long enough to have established a track record? Do you have a good base of donor support? Are there a good number of people out there who understand your mission and support your vision?

How do we start?

Start a recognition group for donors who include your organization in their estate plans. Make the name of this group something meaningful and distinctive for your organization and mission.

Promote this recognition group regularly and prominently in all of your marketing materials, providing some means for people to inform you that they have included your organization in their plans.

Ask known donors who have already made provisions for you in their wills to allow their names to be listed. The initial group of members should include many from your Board.  If they expect others to join, they should “walk the walk” by including your organization in their own estate plans.

Who do we talk with?

You should of course recruit legacy support from your committee members and volunteers. They know your organization best, and will be your best prospects.

Next, examine your donor database to identify your regular, long-term donors to your annual campaign.

From among those, concentrate on donors whose children have graduated from school and are out on their own, are looking toward retirement or have already retired, and are re-assessing their estate plans.

Do not concentrate just on those who you know to be wealthy, because they are on everyone else’s prospect list as well. Persons of modest means could be just as interested in providing legacy support for your cause, and you will have many more of those in your database. Plus, you never know who might be the “millionaire next door.”

What do we say?

Call to ask for a personal visit, emphasizing that you want to thank them for their long-standing support and update them on what is going on at your organization.

At this meeting, ask them open-ended questions about what attracted them to your mission and what their impressions have been of the work done by your organization.

Tell them how important their support has been, and what it has enabled you to do.

Tell them about the start of your recognition efforts for bequests. Let them know how others like them (including yourself) have included bequests in their planning, and how important such long-range support is to your work.

Ask them to consider doing the same, but do not ask for a decision. Follow up your visit with a personal letter thanking them for their time and support. In that letter, include sample bequest language for them to share with their attorney, and a registration form for your recognition society.


Patrick Weiner is vice president of development and gift planning for the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro in Greensboro, N.C.

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