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4 Simple Steps to Build a Bequest Program

If you want to provide your donors with an opportunity to make an impact, while also creating a sustainable revenue source for your organization starting a legacy giving program is the way to go – and it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. This program involves promoting bequest gifts to your organization. Bequests are the most common planned giving vehicle used by donors to create a legacy gift – in fact, they make up over 80% of the gifts out there. By focusing on only bequests, you can limit your marketing budget since you are only focusing on one type of gift and your staff training is much more focused. Bequests are also easier to speak with donors about, since most people understand the concept of a will, whether they have one or not, and are easier to administer.

With the following steps you can get a legacy giving program up and running within months.

1. Start with your Board Chair (and board)

You Board Chair is important to the success of your program for a number of reasons.You need your Chair to be supportive of your program to allocate resources such as your time and budget to be used to grow the program. A legacy giving program may take years to see the return on the investment and it is key that your board is aware of this and willing to wait for those great results. Also, your Board Chair should be one of the first to do a legacy gift if s/he hasn’t created one already. It sets the tone for the rest of the board and also shows leadership support when you start to speak with your donors about their own legacy gifts. Ultimately, your board chair should be your most engaged donor and should set the example.

After you speak with you Board Chair, start to work your way through the executive committee and the development committee. You don’t need to solicit all these members in the beginning. Your initial goal is to get their support of the program.You will also want to identify at least one person that will serves as your ambassador. This is someone to stand up at board meetings to discuss the progress of the program, encourage others to make a legacy gift and make a legacy gift themselves.

2. Develop your marketing

Start with a strong legacy case statement. Many people try to bypass this step thinking it is an unnecessary task. That is a big mistake. When you do the exercise to think about your organization’s goals, why it is unique and why it needs legacy gifts you have done the bulk of the work leading to training your board and staff, creating marketing materials and soliciting your donors.

The next step in your marketing is to gather all the external communication your organization has sent out in the last 2 or 3 years. Review them – what is the tone? Do they include stories? Do they highlight legacy giving? If you have any previous legacy messaging, make certain it is in line with your new case statement. If not, revise it and determine where you can add legacy language by using what you already have. Add it to anything electronic, like the website and e-signatures, and then to any printed materials that will be going into production anyway (annual reports, gala journals, re-orders, etc.)

As you consider marketing, think about the different messages you need to promote. Remember, your donors (and legacy giving prospects) all have different levels of engagement, passion, giving, family involvement, etc. For example, how you discuss legacy giving with your board members will likely be different than your direct mail donors. Which leads us to the third step.

3. Segment your legacy prospects

A legacy program can’t go anywhere without donors. A tip to remember is that you already have your legacy giving prospects right there in your donor base. No need to look outside your organization to identify and cultivate new people. Start with what you have. The best way to do this is to segment your donor base.

Look to the following criteria. First, segment your most engaged donors. These are the donors that you know love your organization. They donate more than money; they donate their time. This will include your board members (past and current) and your volunteers.  Hint: you likely already have a relationship with these individuals. They should be your initial legacy conversations.  After engagement, segment by other factors such as age, gender, children, planned giving interest, leadership (other than board), major gifts to a restricted use, and past capital campaign donors. Notice I didn’t indicate wealth factors. This is because while indicators of wealth may be good for a major gift ask, it is not as important as engagement for a legacy ask. Don’t get sidetracked on only focusing on the wealthy. Legacy gifts come in all amounts.

After segmenting by interest and engagement, the next segmentation should be the pool of donors that have a history of frequent giving over a long span of time. This query will vary from organization to organization. This pool of donors are likely donors that have given you small gifts several times a year for years. You may not know them personally but these donors care about the organization and are excellent legacy giving prospects. Continue to send your marketing communications to them and offer them opportunities to make legacy gifts.

4. Build your systems

If you ask for legacy gifts without a system in place you don’t have a program. Before you ask for bequests to build your bequest program I recommend having policies such as gift acceptance, endowment, and investment policies in place to help guide you and your donor on what assets you can accept, how to structure the gift and how it will be invested. You will also need materials for marketing your program and documents donors can sign to indicate their interest.

A legacy program doesn’t happen on its own.  Besides the systems and materials you develop, the following folks will contribute to your legacy program’s success:

  • Development department (to have the legacy conversations with donors)
  • Finance department (to process the gifts and keep financial records)
  • Lay leadership (to support the overall program and create legacy gifts)
  • Marketing and communications (to develop marketing materials to communicate the need for legacy giving)
  • IT department (to setup systems, pull donor lists and segment your database)
  • Legacy advisory consultant (to help plan the program, set up systems, help develop marketing and segmentation so that you invest your time and resources wisely)

By following these four steps you can streamline your legacy program into an efficient way to offer your donors an opportunity to make an impact.


Questions about Legacy Giving?

Contact Lori!
Lori Kranczer, Esq.
Founder and Principal Consultant,
Everyday Planned Giving, LLC
[email protected]

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