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Raising Money Through Bequests - a Review

The Time Is Ripe

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Setting up a bequest program is easier than you may think. Now is also the time. It has been estimated that the Greatest Generation and their Baby Boomer children will pass on some $14 trillion by 2052.

We have found an easy-to-read book that takes the stress out of setting up a bequest program. It is Raising Money Through Bequests: How Your Organization Can Profit from the Biggest Intergenerational Transfer of Wealth in History. The book is authored by David Valinsky and Melanie Boyd, and explains the steps to setting up a bequest program, how to market the program, and what to do when bequests start rolling in.

Why Do People Give?

First, it is wise to internalize the reasons why donors make bequests. Valinsky and Boyd provide a number of these, including:

  • They believe in the mission. Donors are inspired by what your organization does to change or save lives in the community.
  • They've seen the mission realized first hand. A donor may have worked as a volunteer in your nonprofit. They may serve on the board and taken a tour or heard testimony to what your organization does.
  • They know you'll use their gift wisely. Donors must trust you to steward their gifts. That means that you are upfront about finances and don't squander their money. Tell donors frequently how their gift has changed the lives of others.
  • Your organization has directly impacted their life or the life of a loved one. Serving well is the key to gaining gratitude as well as gifts and bequests.
  • They feel like they know you. Build relationships. Stay in touch. Reaching out to donors must be your first priority.
  • It feels good to give. Many donors feel that they're only trustees of the money they have earned or inherited. It is fun and fulfilling to give money to help those in need.
  • They hold the staff and volunteer leadership in high regard. How your CEO or your Board President is perceived, especially their integrity, may dictate whether a donor leaves a bequest.
  • They appreciate your organization's products and services.
  • It allows them to honor or memorialize a loved one.
  • It serves the need to be accepted and to belong. Most people want to belong. Family and friends provide this, but charitable organizations do too.

Important Organizational Tasks

There are a number of organizational tasks that must be done in the process of setting up your bequest program. One of the first is to get your board's approval. How? Valinsky and Boyd suggest a presentation that includes several elements:

  • Include a report on the history of bequests your organization has received. How many of those bequests were unsolicited? When were they received? Who were those donors? How were they connected to the organization?
  • Explain how a bequest program will benefit donors. The program will allow you to educate people about the importance of having a will; and you will be offering a real opportunity to donors of making a dramatic impact on the community.
  • Review the benefits to your organization and present the cost to introduce and operate your bequest program. Revenue from a bequest program will take years to realize. If board members balk at this, point out that if you had started this earlier, the organization could have been enjoying its fruits by now.
  • Suggest personnel to staff the program. Although new staffing might not be immediately needed, board members need to understand that as time goes on and the program grows, new personnel will be needed.
  • Address some common myths of donor bequest decision making. These myths include that donors' estate planning is driven by tax consideration; and that donors want to leave their entire estates to their children.

The other big organizational task is forming a Bequest Advisory Committee. Valinsky and Boyd say that the best bequest committees are made up of a mix of volunteers and board members...regardless of their profession. The diversity will strengthen your group. The responsibilities of the bequest committee usually include:

  • Attend Advisory Committee meetings and actively participate.
  • Assist in the creation of the bequest society:
    • develop a format
    • establish membership eligibility and appropriate recognition
    • create initial marketing plans
  • Review and recommend gift acceptance policies.
  • Assist staff in implementing and marketing the program.
  • Serve as ambassadors and advocates to the board and in the community. This includes the willingness to speak to groups about the bequest program.
  • Identify prospects and when appropriate accompany staff on personal visits.
  • Become a member of the bequest society.

This book is packed with real-world help such as a sample agenda for the first bequest advisory committee meeting, a sample brochure to introduce prospects to the program, how to develop your case for support, and more. If the task of setting up a bequest program seems daunting, this book will shrink the task from gargantuan to manageable.

Raising Money Through Bequests, by David Valinsky and Melanie Boyd, Emerson & Church Real World Guides, 2007, 112 pp. ($24.95 U.S.)

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