Legacy Seeds

Legacy Seeds

Editor’s Note: the following is a guest post from John Lepp of Agents Of Good.  John’s book, Creative Deviations, is a must have if you’d like to get better at raising money through the mail and email. 

Before we cultivate, we must plant. And when it comes to legacy giving, the best time to plant the seeds for legacy gifts was about 20 years ago. HOWEVER… it’s not too late. You can still start today – but please start.

I wanted to share with you a few ideas on how you can plant some seeds that will help your legacy giving program start to grow immediately.

Your donors are, in fact, real humans that have their own story to tell. We do a remarkable job talking about our story all the time but often leave little space for them share bits of theirs with us.

They can also be moved by the smallest of gestures at times.

Let us never forget, your charity is a vehicle for your donor to do something that they care deeply and passionately about. They care about your cause and want to take action for something they believe in. They want to help. They want to fix something. They want to make an impact, and they want to feel good about it.


Our job is to connect to our donor’s values and emotions in every conversation we have with them, for the first time, for the 100th time. Not just when we want to have a conversation about legacies.

So, one of the greatest lessons you can learn is that money follows value. It was one I learned a very long time ago. And when you believe that to be true, your life and your fundraising program will be transformed.

24 hours before every organization like yours was founded, a bunch of restless people got together and insisted on action. They knew they had to do more for something they believed in: human rights, social justice, saving the environment, the health of loved ones.

These are not transactions. These are things that define us as individual humans. These are things that speak to our core values that we are emotionally connected to.

Tell stories that connect to the shared values of your donors. Demonstrate how their gifts allow you to put those values into action.

Legacy seeds are tiny seeds planted in your donor’s heart that, if tended properly, will grow into something beautiful.

An effective annual program should be constantly planting these seeds. I’m talking about something beyond that basic legacy check box on the bottom right corner on the back of your tiny reply form. Seriously… that’s not how you run a legacy program.

Here are a few examples.

Hopefully you send your donors a simple but moving thank you letter that gushes some appreciation for a recent gift (please, oh please tell me you do at least this) and lets them understand the impact of that gift. You might also send it along with a receipt for that gift for taxation purposes.

I’d like you to consider adding a simple “buckslip” (so named since it literally was the same size and shape of a dollar bill) to your mailing.

The message on the buckslip should point out the importance of a legacy gift to your organization regardless of size, what a legacy gift will help do and absolutely should invite personal contact to a real human at your organization. Ensure you include a photograph of that person so the donor can see who they will be talking to if and when they call.

This is a pretty big “seed” to a donor who just made a $50 gift to the holiday appeal, but it is very intentional.

Another place to plant a legacy seed is in your donor newsletter (please, oh please tell me you an actual donor newsletter), which already gushes love and appreciation for the hard work of your donors.

This type of newsletter is a fantastic vehicle for celebrating all donors of all shapes and sizes – not (or never ideally) just the ones who come baring large cheques and entourages.

We often place articles about volunteers, monthly donors, annual donors and legacy donors on the back page where the reader is least likely to miss it.

Your donor gets to read a lovely story that shares the “why” of this donor deciding to leave or give a gift to your organization. Other donors will be nodding along to their story, recognizing bits of themselves in her words and her shared values. Once again, space should be provided to invite personal feedback.

Another opportunity in your print materials would be your gratitude report.

One example of a good gratitude report is a collection of donor voices. Undoubtedly, they will represent just a sampling of the completely normal and utterly amazing humans who support your organization!

Sharing a story of a donor or two or three and the “why” of their legacy gift is an easy way to remind donors that these types of donors are valued by your org.

Two final examples.

If you print your own membership magazine, you can hopefully find space to do some advertising for your legacy program. The ad should be direct, inspiring and share your organizational vision for the future and why legacy gifts are so important. Once again, it should invite a personal connection to a real human that is standing by to talk more about this.

Lastly, let us not forget there are a lot of other channels for reaching out to current and new potential donors for your organization. Digital options are Google Ads, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, moving Youtube ads as well as traditional channels like press ads in community newspapers, short or long format direct response television ads again on small community channels – these are all great vehicles for planting seeds for having these types of conversations.

The next 20 years will witness humankind’s largest generation to pass to whatever greatness lies beyond these pastures – you have the beautiful privilege of allowing these inspiring people we call donors leave something remarkable behind.

The “past” truly can be a part of a glorious future.

How to Convince Your Boss to Invest in Planned Giving (warning: involves math)

Planned Giving

We’re doing a series of short posts called Mastermind Lessons.

The Fundraising Mastermind is transformational consulting for nonprofits that we do with Chris Davenport of Movie Mondays and The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference.

Today’s post is the third top-level lesson we’ve found that every organization in the Mastermind needs to learn…

Most Organizations Under-Invest in Planned Giving Because They Don’t Understand the Potential Windfall

For most nonprofit leaders, “Planned Giving” is a bit of a black box:

Your organization has some donors . . .

. . . you get some legacy gifts . . .

but you don’t really know how many legacy gifts you’ll receive or how large they will be.

Because leaders don’t really understand how planned giving works, they are loath to invest real money in it.

So they work on next month’s event, and then the appeal after that, and then the website needs to be updated… you get it.

Planned giving becomes an afterthought. Or underfunded. Or not thought about at all.

Here’s What to Show Your Boss

What I’m about to share comes directly from this blog post by Jeff Brooks at Moceanic. When I read it, I immediately added it to my toolkit of information to help nonprofits with. It’s powerful.

The formula to calculate your future planned giving income is:

It’s A x B x C = D.

A = The number of your donors who have given 2 or more gifts, and at least one of those gifts was made in the last 18 months.

B = Your successful pledge rate. This is the big variable, the number you can change by what you do or not do. It most likely is somewhere between 0.01% and 5%.

C = Your average bequest. For US charities, it’s around $35,000. If you don’t know your average, this is a good number to use.

Multiply those three numbers, and you’ll have the value of future bequests to your organization.

Let’s play it out with these assumptions. You can adjust these to your realities:

Here’s how it looks for an organization that has no bequest program or does almost nothing to cultivate bequests:

A = 10,000 donors who’ve given 2 or more gifts, and their last gift was within the last 18 months

B = 0.01% successful pledge rate (very low because you aren’t actively seeking bequests)

C = $35,000

D = $350,000 in future bequest income

Ok. Not bad for doing nothing. And a lot of charities skate along like that, seeing that $350,000 as a kind of random windfall. They’re happy with it. They’d be a little less happy if they thought about the opportunity cost they’re paying for doing nothing!

Here’s what it looks like for an organization that has a not-terribly-effective bequest program. They’re consistently doing something to encourage bequests, just not the most they could:

A = 10,000 donors (that meet the criteria I’ve listed above)

B = 1% successful pledge rate

C = $35,000

D = $3.5 million in future bequest income

The difference between $350,000 and $3.5 million is a big difference, no?

Two Big Lessons

There are two big lessons I’d love for your organization to take away from this.

First, the average value of bequests is really high. So you can (and should!) invest real time and money into landing legacy gifts. That can meaning hiring a Bequest Manager or a Planned Giving Officer. It can mean sending out mailings that are only about planned giving (instead of just mentioning planned giving in some other mailing or email).

Second, it’s just math. Calculate how much money your organization is projected to be receiving based on today’s numbers, and how much money you could be receiving if your organization ups its game. Then show your boss.

I did that for two “Bosses” last week, and it changed how both of them think about investing in planned giving.

It will take time to get great at identifying prospects and then landing legacy gifts. But it’s worth your time and investment!