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Make 2010 the Year YOU Start Planned Giving, Part V

Hello again!

You are reading article five of six to get your planned giving program going this year. We’re starting your program with bequests—gifts by will—because they are the most popular of all planned gifts and the bedrock of every program. I had a lot to say on that subject in this piece I wrote last year.

It's not too late to get on board with bequests. On the right you'll find links to the previous articles in this year's series.

This month we're looking at stewardship—how to say "thank you" to your bequest donors—including starting your recognition society. You have recognition groups for your outright gifts. Don't your planned gift donors deserve the same?

I'll start with a letter that came in:

"What do you do once a donor says, 'Yes, I want to join your [recognition society] and leave you in my will.' What kind of paper work does this entail? What kind of information do we provide? What kinds of letters are sent?"

First, send a heartfelt thank you. I like handwritten notes on organization stationery, but a formatted letter also works. It need not be long. Brief and sincere are preferred, with a welcome to your planned gift recognition society (more about that below). If you're a small or mid-size nonprofit, your planned gift program enjoys a big advantage: you have access to your CEO and board chair. Write the note and ask one of them to sign it. That's if the person has told you they've named your nonprofit in their will. What if they ask for more information about doing so?

The potential donor needs your legal name and federal tax ID number (also known as your Employer Identification Number, or EIN), so his or her attorney can properly name your organization in a bequest paragraph. There's more on this subject in my April article, including a suggestion that you provide a sample for your donor to share with the person drafting the will.

I counsel our clients not to seek proof of the gift—and none do. A lesson I learned early on from the delightful and smart, now deceased, practitioner Robert Sharpe Sr. has never left me. This series would not be complete if I didn't mention just one example of his influence on my career.

He taught: imagine telling your grandchild they are in your will, and the darling's first reaction is, "Can I have a copy of it?" Your nonprofit is not a grandchild, it's a business, but from your donor's perspective it's more like a grandchild. It's distasteful to ask for documentation. Plus, you gain nothing by having a copy of the will, or the bequest paragraph, or knowing the amount, or having the donor sign some document. The gift remains eminently revocable, so your donor can change his or her mind any time. And there is a downside to asking for proof: you risk alienating the donor. Don't ask.

On the other hand, if your donor offers documentation, do not refuse it. Accept it graciously and assure the donor that it will be kept in a secure place. Then keep it in a secure place. It doesn't belong on your desk or in a file basket, because it likely contains private information about a good number of people. Treat it the way you treat Social Security, birth date, and credit card data.

I hope that answers the questions that were sent in. Let's look at the next step in saying "thank you"—your formal recognition of donors.

Start Your Recognition Society

As you learn about new bequest donors—following the steps laid out in the previous articles—you'll welcome them to your recognition group.

It should be named for someone or something iconic and unique to your nonprofit. I don't care for "legacy circle," "heritage fund," and the like. They're too generic. If Miles Isosceles was a co-founder or first executive of your nonprofit, and people recognize his name, have the Isosceles Circle. Maybe you have an iconic building or architectural feature. One of our clients inaugurated the Belltower Society.

You never have to spend a lot of money to show your gratitude appropriately. You might host an annual lunch or reception for members. To save money, host it before a larger event you're already planning: cocktails before a dinner, for instance. You might offer members preferred seating at a performance you've already bought tickets for.

Your chief executive should attend the group's gatherings, so the gratitude comes from the top. The members have put you in their wills for gosh sake, alongside their spouses, children, and grandchildren.

Think about age-appropriate outings. You can host them or ask members to pay, with your office doing the legwork and planning. When I was director of planned giving at a university in New York City, we hosted a day trip to the Culinary Institute of America. The McCallen Society members paid for round-trip bus transportation and lunch, and the school picked up the tab for the walking tour. That group was named for the school's first treasurer, who was beloved by those who graduated in the 1930s and 1940s, because he gave families extra time to pay their $15 tuition for the semester.

Looking Ahead

There is just one article remaining, and the year you start planned giving will be in the history books.

In December, we'll go beyond bequests, with a look at other planned gifts that don't require technical expertise and that you can market inexpensively, starting in 2011. You'll always want to keep up your bequest marketing—it's the bedrock of every planned giving program.

Happy fall!

Read the Other Articles in This Series

Tony Martignetti, Esq., Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC
© 2010, Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC

Tony Martignetti, Esq. is managing director of Martignetti Planned Giving Advisors, LLC and hosts Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio, Big Nonprofit Ideas for the Other 95 Percent. He is a frequent speaker and trainer, and you can find him on his blog, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Topics: Fundraising