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Enable donors to create a powerful philanthropic legacy

A legacy gift is a planned future gift that designates some part of an individual's estate as a donation to a nonprofit. Legacy gifts enable individuals to create a powerful philanthropic legacy by making a direct impact on the causes important to them. In some cases, legacy giving can be a source of funding from supporters who haven't had the ability to make a major gift during their lifetimes.

As the population ages, significant transfers of wealth can be expected to take place — which may have a profound impact on legacy giving. In turn, nonprofits are increasingly developing legacy-giving programs to support endowments and contribute to other projects.

Consider 7 ways to encourage legacy gifts:

  • Include legacy giving in your communications strategy. Feature a legacy gifts section in your website. Provide information about legacy giving in your organization's newsletter and in other printed and online materials shared with supporters.
  • Educate donors about the importance of planning their estates. Offer opportunities for potential donors to learn about legacy giving, such as through one-on-one meetings with staff or estate-planning seminars. Some nonprofits create planned giving societies, special groups exclusively for donors who've pledged a legacy gift.
  • Provide options for legacy giving. Most legacy gifts are made through wills and trusts. Other financial instruments, such as pooled income funds and annuities, may be used as well. Legacy gifts can even be made simply by listing a nonprofit as the beneficiary of a bank or pension account.
  • Communicate the tax benefits of legacy giving. For wealthy donors, legacy giving can have some significant tax advantages for beneficiaries.
  • Honor any wishes legacy donors choose to place on their gifts. This might be funding particular programs, expanding an endowment or contributing to a capital project.
  • Recognize legacy gifts with symbolic gestures and honors. Think plaques or inscriptions, dedications and public thanks.
  • Dedicate staff to the effort. Even small nonprofits should have some focus on legacy giving, with staff members communicating to donors the value and impact of legacy gifts. As your nonprofit grows, you might consider hiring or contracting legacy giving specialists. In the U.K., the Remember a Charity consortium, which aims to encourage legacy giving to all charities, provides access to relevant research and marketing resources for its members. The Institute of Fundraising also offers free guidance on its website.



MissionBox editorial content is offered as guidance only, and is not meant, nor should it be construed as, a replacement for certified, professional expertise.



Nolo: Nonprofit fundraising methods: An overview by Ilona Bray



Baltimore-based writer and educator