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Legacy Giving: How to Inform Your Donors

At some point, each nonprofit organization should introduce a Planned Giving Program. The question is, when is the right time?

I think Planned Giving logically builds out from the annual fund. As your annual fund grows, maybe by the fifth year, and you have a newsletter in place, it’s the right time to ask donors to consider your nonprofit as a beneficiary in their will.

It helps to have an estate planner on your board. A person with expertise in writing wills or working with financial institutions in creating trust documents that can protect assets from probate. It’s very important to identify an experienced attorney in this area. Some States have Estate Planning Councils, and some States have persons certified to prepare such documents.

If your donor requests some help in this regard, you can provide some language to recommend for inclusion in the person’s will. I do not recommend that the nonprofit get involved in recommending specific attorneys to write wills. there should be an “arm’s length” relationship between the donor and the nonprofit so there is no conflict of interest that can call the ethics or even the legality of a document into question. Contact your State’s Bar Association and learn how they refer inquiries to competent estate planners. If it’s clear that only qualified, experienced planners make the list, you can feel reasonably confident that referring donors to the Bar Association can be beneficial.

When you look at newsletters of universities, hospitals, and voluntary health organizations you will see ads or articles on this subject with recommendations that the individual follow up with a person in the development office for advice on how to proceed. Your nonprofit may not have a development office. But you can have a volunteer attorney with estate planning experience who can assist you properly and help guide donors in a proper and ethical way.

There are other options to investigate, like charitable remainder trusts or charitable gift annuities that can be beneficial to the donor. Recruit competent volunteers to help you get organized. It might take a year of three to get this properly organized. But it’s worth the effort.

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