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  • Otto Reinisch

Your Donors [Finally] Are Talking About Planned Giving. Here's How to Join Their Conversation

There’s never been a better – or easier – time to help your donors talk about estate planning.

“In planned giving, important conversations happen around life events,” says FreeWill.com CEO, Patrick Schmitt. “And, today, the entire country going through a life event together.”1

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, FreeWill.com saw a 600% increase in bequest commitments among people who created or updated wills on their website. Closer to home, a private K-8 school I’m working with saw a 300% increase in inquiries from financial planners in response to a mailing promoting charitable bequests. And, there’s no sign this interest is slowing down.

In a minute, I’ll share proven ways your organization can start planned giving conversations with donors about charitable bequests which, by the way, represent 90% of all planned gifts made. But first…

What’s at stake?

· The RBC Wealth Management’s Wealth Transfer Report claims US$4 trillion of wealth will be passed down to the next generation.

· A recent CIBC Capital Markets report states Baby Boomers stand to inherit $750 billion within the next decade.

· In 2019, charitable bequests totaled $39,710,000,000 (or, 9% of all gifts made in 2019). That amount is expected to increase in 2020.

And, Did You Know?

Charitable bequests are among the easiest gifts for donors to make. A phone call from your donor to their attorney asking to include a gift to your organization as part of their estate plan is all it takes. But, these also are the easiest gifts to lose. Why?

When a donor remembers your work in their will, it’s incumbent on you to do what every donor deserves: cultivate and nurture a meaningful, authentic relationship built around shared values. If this relationship is violated, for any reason, once again all a donor needs to do is to call their attorney and the gift can vanish.

Proven Ways to Promote Bequests

· Mail a special offer for donors to request for information about charitable bequests. The goal is to have donors self-identify they’re thinking about estate planning. This is the first step in building a relationship that culminates in the largest gift a donor will make. Vendors can provide custom mailing materials at reasonable prices. Email me for a list.

1. Include this wording on every response device for every solicitation, whether direct mail or online: [ ] I/we have included [organization name] as a charitable beneficiary of my/our estate plans. Yes, it’s that easy. This self-identification becomes the first step many donors take in starting the most important and personal relationship you’ll ever have.

2. Every time you communicate (that’s right…every time), let donors know they can support your work through a charitable bequest. For example, make this the post script of your next fundraising letter: P.S. Did you know it’s easy to perpetuate your support of our work through a gift in your will? These special gifts make sure our work continues to make a life-changing difference for years to come. For more information about becoming a special bequest donor, please contact [name, title, email address, phone].

3. Post language on your website that donors and their advisers need to ensure their bequest goes to your organization. For example: I hereby bequeath to [organization name], presently located at [corporate headquarters address], or to its legal successors, --% of the residual value of my estate. While I always recommend encouraging donors to make their bequest a percentage, they also can specify a specific amount.

4. Recognize past bequests in newsletters, appeal letters, and on your web site. Show potential donors the impact other bequest donors have, how much they will be appreciated, and the encouragement they will provide to others. Make these human-interest stories about the donors and not about your organization.

My Living Legacy

My Living Legacy is a unique, highly effective program that helps your best donors and prospects use a charitable bequest for your organization to create a powerful, meaningful legacy. This values-based program:

· combines direct mail strategies with an interactive small-group presentation to guide prospects and donors through the entire planned giving cycle,

· is equally effective for organizations of every size and [planned giving] sophistication,

· uses your mission to help donors create their own living legacy by breathing life into the values they share with your organization,

· engages board members in fundraising as hosts for My Living Legacy small-group presentations donors consistently rate "excellent",

· can be customized to meet every organization's budget, size, and planned giving experience, and

· requires little additional staff time to implement.

Click here to learn more about My Living Legacy. Or, contact me at otto@whywegive.net


1 Stiffman, Eden. “Planned Giving Is Having A Moment.” Chronicle of Philanthropy, July 2020, pp. 22–23.

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