Encourage Legacy Gifts to Your Nonprofit

If your not-for-profit focuses most of its fundraising energy on donors who can contribute to your mission and programs now, you may have neglected legacy gifts. Such gifts represent a portion of wealthy donors' estates that go to your organization on their death. Legacy gifts can help position your nonprofit for sustained growth well into the future. Let's take a closer look at the hows and the whys.

Mechanics of Giving

The vast majority of legacy gifts are made through wills and living trusts, as well as with beneficiary designations on retirement accounts such as 401(k) and IRA plans and insurance policies. However, charitable annuities and other more complex estate planning instruments may come into play.


In most cases, your organization doesn't actually need to be directly involved when a donor establishes gifts through a will, trust or financial account designation. But you and your development staff should know how the process works and what your nonprofit can to do to facilitate matters.

For starters, donors should indicate the following information in a legally binding document (such as a will or trust):

The gifting process can be made even easier if donors simply name your organization as the beneficiary of a financial account or life insurance policy. Financial institutions involved typically can provide required paperwork for making these gifts.

Your organization can grease the skids by featuring information about making legacy gifts in prominent locations on your website, in your newsletter and in brochures and other promotional materials. Don't assume that only older, long-time donors might be interested (although they certainly are potential participants). Many people may not even consider making a legacy gift unless you educate them that it's an option.

Take Action

Your not-for-profit can be reactive and accept windfalls that come your way or you can proactively pursue legacy gifts. The latter is more likely to provide significant donations.

To help ensure you're doing everything possible to encourage these gifts:

Observe Legalities

Many legacy gifts come with strings attached — for example, they're earmarked for an endowment, scholarship or other passion project. Be sure to observe the legalities and keep legacy gifts separate from regular funds. If you don't know how to handle a particular gift, or a donor wants to use a complicated trust or other sophisticated arrangement, contact your legal and financial advisors for help.

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