One of the key triggers for leaving a legacy in one’s will is the desire to see something accomplished. This means that the wise fundraiser isn’t limiting the language of legacy planning materials to the practical and the technical, but he or she is also showing what an amazing difference a legacy can make. They are constantly showing and telling donors, “Our dream is … and you can make it happen when you leave a legacy to our organization.”

Some of the ways you can keep your legacy messaging fresh and help people connect include:

  1. Communicate the milestones of your organization, and use these to trigger a vision of what is possible in the future. You want your possible bequest donors to realize that because you have done so much in their lifetimes, “the sky’s the limit” as to what’s possible in the future – if they leave a legacy.
  2. Make the message simple. Yes, there are very complicated planned giving vehicles – but most of these will be made with professional counsel. You will most likely spend most of your time promoting – and get most of your planned giving income from – bequests. It is estimated that up to 95% of planned giving income is in the form of a bequest, and this is a relatively easy concept to explain.
  3. Use language that doesn’t overwhelm. Consultant Richard Radcliffe notes that “bequest” or “legacy” imply it must be big, while saying “a gift in your will” is something most people – even modest givers – can relate to.
  4. Put your messages where your likely prospects are. You are planting a seed, so you want to do it where the ground is most fertile – newsletters, receipt inserts, special mailings, annual reports, etc. Your older donors – the best bequest prospects – are likely reading your mail (assuming it is interesting to them).
  5. Keep legacy messages upbeat. “This child is starving” may not be a trigger for a legacy gift because the need is immediate, but the solution is in the future. Instead, show “happy ending” stories and invite the donor to help create more happy endings well into the future by making a gift in his or her will. The will to win is a powerful emotion.

Some fundraisers are reluctant to talk about legacies because it feels depressing; after all, the donor must die to fulfill the gift. But as Radcliffe reminds us, “older generations look back; younger generations look ahead.” Work with your entire team to help them feel confident sharing the legacy message. Remind them that the focus is on tomorrow – what the organization will accomplish tomorrow because the donor leaves a legacy today.