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Should legacy gift notification forms die?

Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

Should legacy gift notification forms die?I once heard a story about a legacy gift that was about to be “closed” until the organization’s CFO fumbled the ball in the end zone. Here’s how it goes:
 
The fundraiser did a great job.
She’d been meeting with this particular supporter for years. She knew all about her goals and desires. Indeed, they had a very real and special relationship. They understood one another. They had a bond. And they were on the same page.
This wonderfully skilled fundraiser was told that the bequest would be in the amount of $1 million. Then, during a regular meeting with the senior staff at her organization, she was asked about how the cultivation process was going with that particular supporter. Of course she was happy to report that she had been informed about the gift. It was set. She “closed” the gift. Touchdown!
But, sadly, that’s when things started to unravel.
Not so fast! The CFO asked for the legacy gift notification form. “Where is it?” he asked. “Didn’t you get the supporter to sign it? We can’t count the gift if we don’t get that signed!! Please arrange a lunch right away so we can talk about it with her!”
The fundraiser dutifully arranged the lunch. Things were going relatively well (although the supporter was a little uneasy having never met the CFO before).
Then, came the fumble.
The CFO pulled out the Gift Notification Form and asked the supporter to sign it on-the-spot. It looked like a contract. It was intimidating. The supporter became really uncomfortable. Rightly so.
Undeterred, the CFO explained that signing it would help the organization plan for the future and help inspire others to make legacy gifts. But the donor simply didn’t want to help in that way. She couldn’t see how it benefitted her to help the organization plan. After all, she was giving them $1 million dollars. Hadn’t she done enough?
Of course she didn’t sign it. 
And, a few years later she passed away. As time passed, no gift came their way. Instead, another organization received it.
Funny thing is… it didn’t matter much to the CFO because he had already moved on to another job. Yet it was so darn important for him to get her signature at the time (for his score card). Clearly it wasn’t very important to him later.
 
In most cases, I really don’t think Planned Gift Notification forms should be pushed on supporters so your nonprofit can keep score. Do you?

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13 responses to “Should legacy gift notification forms die?”

  1. If you get unease, discomfort, push-back or downright refusal, back off and reassure the supporter that the decision to complete a form or not is entirely up to the supporter. It’s not about your organization’s counting and credit rules; it’s about a very personal decision that your supporter has made.

  2. Emily says:

    As a fundraiser, the only way I’d feel comfortable is to 1) meet with the donor one-on-one since I had the relationship with her, without the CFO, and I would explain to him why it should just be me. 2) I would only bring it up with the donor as a suggestion, let her know why its desired, and ask if she would be comfortable doing it. Only then, with her ok, would I go forward with any paperwork. It really has to be at her comfort level – after all its her money and her estate – not the organization’s (not yet anyway and it was not to be as a result of the CFO’s heavy handling of the issue). We have to remember that the donor is trusting us with their gift and not merely reduce it to a transaction because staff want their numbers to look good for that month or year – that’s insulting and I would have second thoughts if I was that donor!

  3. C French says:

    I have to agree. Admittedly, we have a form as well, but it’s designed more as a request or application for recognition. Basically, “I’ve made a bequest to you for $XX, so I’d like to be recognized at the YY Level and receive my recognition items.” It serves triple duty: permission to (or request to not) publicly recognize them, how they want their recognition to read and, most importantly, acknowledgement of the gift. For donors who don’t want to fill anything out, for whatever reason, we simply send them a letter, restating the verbal gift. “Thank you so much for sharing with us your intent to include a $1M estate gift for our org,” and “we’ll be in touch as to where and when you’d like to be recognized.” If the donor doesn’t contact you to the contrary, I don’t know why that isn’t good enough to count.

  4. John Bacon says:

    I have never used them and we no longer even ask for copies of Will provisions because so few people sent them in when we did. Only a handful of unpleasant surprises since then where bequest restrictions did not fit our funding/operating needs, but that is a conversation we usually have upfront. Finally, while booking bequest intentions sounds like a great idea for the reasons the CFO in your story stated, I think it also low balls some gifts where if we were a residuary beneficiary we would receive more than the sum certain the donor signs for.

  5. Emily says:

    Excellent topic, Greg, as usual. I believe Emily has hit it on the nose .I seek out documentation for a legacy gift not for the “counting” but rather for the sake of the institutional knowledge that resides in that information.
    Legacy donors have raised our respective institutions to the level of family, it is true, but even family deserves information and documentation surrounding the gift that they will receive.
    Should it be…..
    Required?
    Probably not.
    Suggested and encouraged?
    Absolutely!
    Besides, the person who knows the information surrounding the gift will in most instances be long gone by the time that the gift matures. A clear and accurate (to the extent that the donor is willing) picture in the donor’s file about the gift and it’s preferred designation will go a long way towards more effective and speedy processing of the estate.
    That means more money going to the cause that the donor wished to support faster.
    And that is a good thing for the donor, and the institution.

  6. Greg Warner says:

    Great input. Terrific comments everyone. Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  7. Sheila Hard says:

    We present it as a stewardship issue surrounding their intent. We ask donors to sign a Gift Agreement as well as an estate gift intention form, and we tell them that signing the form enables us to enter an estate pledge on our books. This will help us to quickly link their gift to its intended purpose when the funds are received (esp. important if it is a beneficiary designation, since the forms don’t have much space on them). Admittedly, the two documents are a “belt AND suspenders” approach, but most donors seem comfortable when put in these terms.

  8. Paul says:

    We have always asked for any documentation they are willing to provide, but do not require it in order to become a member of our Legacy Society if they are interested in being part of it.
    We also ask for them to complete a Letter of Intent (which is non-binding) but allows us to 1) Make sure we honor their intent of the gift (i.e. specific program / use) and 2) Confirm how they would like to be recognized (Donor wall / Legacy Listing). Some feel comfortable listing specifics about the gift, some do not.
    Often, it is simply “You’re in my will” to which we say Thank you!

  9. Chuck Miller says:

    Here’s a suggestion: let the donor know that the notification form is important….it records their generous gift plan. It’s all about the donor’s intent and our organization wants to preserve mutual understanding for future generations. The gift is the donor’s legacy and the form will forever document gift goals & purpose.
    Now, the donor regards the form as an essential task. And signature is much easier.
    Too many fundraisers make the form about the organization’s planning, attainment goals, recognition needs, blah blah blah. Instead, talk about the form from the donor’s viewpoint. In so doing, the fundraiser becomes a trusted resource.

  10. I have used them as a relationship-building tool. I don’t push them on the donor right when they commit. I do let them know I’ll be sending them a form that will include a space for them to write anything they might wish future generations to know about why they left this legacy. I tell them that often, by the time a donor’s legacy is realized, there may be no one left at the charity who knew them. I tell them I hope this happens, and that they do live a long, full life!
    I have often wished I could have gotten to know some of the folks who left us bequests a bit better. If only to better honor their wishes and make sure their gift is used, and recognized, as appropriate.The form is also an opportunity for them to indicate how they’d like their name to appear in print whenever we recognize members of our Legacy Society.

  11. Sharon Wangman says:

    I have a form l attach to my thank you letter. “Record of my Wishes Form:. It is optional to complete and is branded that we wish to respect the donors wishes and ensure their future gift is used in accordance with their wishes.
    Majority of the form is tick boxes. It is not legally binding, it is optional to complete, it is not wanting copies of Will wording – it is a double sided one page document that allows us to know how the donor would liked to thanked and acknowledge.
    Yes, l have included XXX in my Will.
    My future gift is X percentage of my estate
    X residue of estate
    X momentary gift
    Other gift _______________
    I would/would not like to receive invitations to your bequest society functions
    I would/would not like my name published in the annual report
    I would like my name to appear on the certificate as ________________________
    etc.
    This forms has worked very well. Not only do you have a record of your donors wishes, but also a good insight into the value of your bequest program (by the number of forms are completed and returned)
    Hope this helps the discussion.
    Cheers
    Sharon Wangman
    Bequests Made Easy!

  12. marketsmart says:

    Excellent. Thanks for contributing Sharon.

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