Posted November 1st, 2010

Keeping Up With Bequest Expectancies

When donors include a charitable interest in their will, there is perhaps no better indication of how deeply they care about your mission and its future—enough to help ensure its success for years to come.

By naming a charity in their will, this very special group of donors has elevated an organization to the same level as close friends and family members. While most bequest donors will never notify your charity of their decision during their lifetime (see page 6), those who do inform you may be strongly indicating that they would like their relationship with you to grow.

They’ve made their intentions clear. Now it’s up to you to afford your bequest expectancies the attention and respect they deserve. Remember—a gift made through a will is always revocable during a donor’s lifetime. And with increasing competition from a growing number of charities, it’s important not to take these rare donors for granted.

Below are a few tips for cementing your relationships with bequest expectancies:

  • Don’t assume if their giving slows down or even stops that their interest has lapsed as well! Many of these donors are in their late 70s to early 90s. As donors age in an era of lower interest rates, many are increasingly reliant on a fixed income for the first time. A number of expenditures, including charitable gifts, may be reduced, delayed, or suspended, at least until donors adjust to new income levels.
  •  Keep up the correspondence. Send informative newsletters, magazines, special letters, holiday cards, and birthday cards, if appropriate.
  •  Invite them to join a legacy or planned giving society (see the October 2010 issue of Give & Take). Donors who have already informed you of a planned gift will likely appreciate the recognition and enjoy the opportunity to forge bonds with like-minded individuals.
  • Make sure they receive invitations to special events, such as openings, seminars, exhibits, and dedications. If possible, call them ahead of time to make sure they received the invitation and to answer any questions they may have about transportation, parking, attire, and so forth.
  • If you learn of the passing of a donor’s spouse or other loved one, be sure to send a memorial or sympathy card right away. Make your staff aware of the circumstances so that everyone can respect the family’s privacy in this time of grief.
  •  If feasible, develop a face-to-face relationship. When in the area where they live, make plans to visit these donors. Take the opportunity to drop off a planned giving society gift, invite the donor to lunch or dinner, or deliver a holiday card. As the saying goes, “people give to people.” A donor will feel much more comfortable contacting you if he or she has already met you or someone from your office.
  • Keep careful notes of your interactions with donors. If you learn that a donor is especially interested in a certain aspect of your mission, make a note of it. You may later be able to send the donor a note with the latest news on that topic. The donor will appreciate the extra effort you made on his or her behalf. It’s also important to remember names and relationships of family members and close friends.
  • Introduce donors to new staff members, either in person or through correspondence. Include a photograph if possible.
  • Engage family members, advisors, and others as appropriate. Forging relationships with these individuals during the donor’s lifetime can ease the probate process later.

Few, if any, organizations have the time or staff in place to provide highly individualized attention to every bequest donor. The key is to orchestrate actions that can be mechanized, such as annual reports, magazines, and newsletters, with others that are more individualized, such as personal notes, phone calls, or visits.

Maintaining regular interaction with bequest expectancies can go a long way toward making sure your donors continue to view your charity as part of the legacy they eventually want to leave behind.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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