How to Promote Legacy Gifts


It’s essential to hold a long view of donor relationships

You’re focused on inspiring donors to give today, right?  It’s not surprising.  It’s how we’re wired as fundraisers.  Our organizations are tackling urgent needs, and we’re held accountable to make those budget numbers

But as you work to increase net revenue today, it’s essential to hold a long view of donor relationships.  This will play out in several ways as you let donors know how important they are to your cause.  Your appeals will not only offer a compelling reason to give; they will also convey your deep respect for the donor.  Your thank-you calls and notes will reflect genuine gratitude.  And you’ll take the time to report back on the impact of the donor’s gift.

I can already hear you saying, “But I thought this was about planned giving!”

My point is this: planned giving is a long game.  And in more ways than one.  If you want to secure future gifts — legacy gifts that will play an amazing and vital role in advancing your organization’s mission — then you’ve got to adopt a donor-centric mindset that imbues every donor touch-point.  This is prelude to successfully promoting those future gifts

That said, here are nine practical tips for promoting legacy gifts:

1. Tell inspiring stories of women and men who lived modestly and who remembered your organization in their will.  You don’t need to mention the amount of the bequest, but you do need to speak to the why.  Tell about the janitor who gave a little bit to your food bank each year because he remembered what it was like to be hungry as a kid, and then he left a surprising gift in his will.  Tell about the couple who got to know your university, and became passionate long-time supporters, because they hosted student teachers for many years.

2. Use personalized letters to tell these stories and simply invite donors to consider remembering your organization in their will or trust.  Email is an option, too, but letters are more intimate.  And by lifting up examples of legacy donors who might be the neighbor-next-door, you establish a comfort level for a donor to think, “If she can do it, I can do it.”

3. You can also mention charitable gift annuities and other types of planned gifts, but keep the language simple.

4. You don’t necessarily have to have a legacy society to promote future gifts, but it can be helpful.  If you don’t have a branded legacy society, consider launching one.

5. Include a reply form and envelope so the donor can easily request additional information and/or tell you if your organization is already included his or her estate plans.

6. Also include a brochure for the donor to keep handy for the next time she meets with her attorney.  Bear in mind that estate planning takes a great deal of thought … and time.  Expect the return on your investment to be delayed, but significant!

7. Your investment in legacy gift marketing should focus on multi-gift donors, including lapsed, with many years of consistent support.  Predictive modeling can be helpful in selecting donors who are more likely to consider legacy gifts.

8. Don’t promote legacy gifts to donors who have already told you that your organization is in their estate plans.  These donors should receive different communications, thanking them for their generosity, confirming how their names are to be listed in legacy society recognition materials, etc.  You may also invite them to special events as a way of honoring them.

9. Remember that most planned gifts are bequests.  They are revocable.  Be sure to stay in touch with your legacy gift donors!  Send them special notes.  Send them your newsletters and occasional appeals.  In doing so, acknowledge their status as members of your legacy society and tell them that, knowing how deeply they care about your mission, you want to keep them informed.

Once your legacy gift program is rolling, you’ll want to do more to promote charitable gift annuities and other types of planned gifts.  But you really can’t go wrong by focusing on the simplest and most common vehicle for legacy gifts — the will or trust.

If you would like to explore ways that Meyer Partners can help your organization promote legacy giving, please contact us at to get started. 


John Payne