Back in the 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin quipped, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Yet Franklin knew the importance of planning for the inevitable; in his will, he left a bequest that was still benefitting charity 200 years later.

Bequests have long been a mainstay of the fundraising program. Whether it’s a more passive approach such as including articles in a newsletter or inserts in receipts, or a cadre of estate planning specialists, the legacy gift has been an impetus to growth (and occasionally, survival) for nonprofits.

Some facts about legacy giving seem counterintuitive, but they have been proven again and again over the years. These include:

  1. Modest givers are the best legacy givers. Those people who have supported you over the years, giving consistently but not at a major donor level, are your best candidates to leave a legacy.
  2. The majority of people will not tell you they have left a legacy to your organization. Richard Radcliffe, a UK-based consultant who has held focus groups around the world to understand supporter’s views on legacy giving, has found that 72 percent of Americans do not want to discuss their legacy plans with a charity. He also notes that 95 percent of people who leave a legacy gift do not tell the charity in advance.
  3. Asking for a 1% donation is the biggest trigger for legacy gifts worldwide. According to Radcliffe, asking for this amount makes people feel good – and they often will give more.

One of the most important drivers for your legacy fundraising strategy needs to be a constant awareness of the fact that a bequest in a will is easy to change. Donors often change their wills around the time of certain triggers – moving to a new state, the birth of a child, the onset of the “empty nest” stage of life, the death of a spouse, etc. Because your best candidates are your modest donors, you may not have a personal relationship with them. You must plan your communications to them so they know you are still achieving great things because of gifts from people like them. These people may be lapsed donors, but they are great legacy candidates – if you are strategic in helping them continually feel part of your organization even if they aren’t giving much or at all.

Bottom line when it comes to legacy giving? It’s not about asking; it’s about putting the idea in the minds of your donors. Keep communicating about the benefits of a legacy gift – and how they can impact your mission – and your program can benefit in the future.