Death and taxes.

Ben Franklin famously quipped that "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

Today, a lot of people are thinking about death. And it makes sense.

The coronavirus isn't going away. The death toll continues to climb. Right now, nearly 1,000 people in the U.S. are dying every single day.

And then there are the high profile deaths. Like the tragic and untimely deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks.

This might surprise you, but a lot of your donors are thinking about death - their own mortality - right now.

How do we know?

Legal experts in the U.S. and Canada report there has been increased interest in updating and writing wills since the coronavirus outbreak.


It's a little like toilet paper hoarding. It's about being in control.

We can't control a global pandemic or protests or riots or so much that's happening now.

But we can put our affairs in order.

We can update our will, if we have one. We can create a will, if we don't.

And lots of people (including your donors) are doing that. Right now. And you can help them.

I'm not talking about launching a formal legacy gift campaign. I'm talking about simple steps your nonprofit can take now.

You can start small, but you need to start now.


When you've finished reading this post, go and check your organization's website.

Do you have information out there about "planned giving" or "leaving a legacy?"

If so, that's good and bad.

It's good because you've thought about special gifts, like charitable bequests.

It's bad because that's not what donors are looking for.

Phrases like "Planned Giving" and "Legacy Gifts" are jargon that fundraisers use. When donors see those words, many think you're talking about high net worth households or mega-estates.

In fact, charitable bequests (or gifts from wills) are the most common "planned gift." And anyone can leave a gift to charity in their will.

You don't have to have mega-donors in order to receive sizable bequests.

Just last year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported "Survey of Wills Created by Everyday Donors Shows an Average Bequest of $78,630."

Many of your legacy prospects are your everyday donors. Those who give modest, regular gifts.

These donors know you. They like you. They trust you. They believe in the cause. And they want to keep supporting it even after they're gone.

And that's why they're looking at your website. For information about how to leave their final gift.


Dr. Russell James has tested Words that Work when it comes to encouraging major gifts and planned gifts.

He found that formal language like "Planned Giving" and "Legacy Gifts" lower interest. However, "Leaving a Gift in Your Will" is much more appealing to donors.

So, now you know. You need a page (or at least language) on your website that talks about "Leaving a Gift in Your Will."

That page should have a minimum of three things that donors will need to name you in their will.

  1. Your organization's legal name
  2. Your organization's Tax ID Number or EIN
  3. Your organization's address

This page from Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres is an excellent example of the essential bequest information any donor would need.

This page from Habitat for Humanity is another excellent example. It includes brief descriptions of four of the most common types of charitable bequests. It also includes sample language that a donor might use in their will.


If you don't have one already, your organization needs a Gift Acceptance Policy.

That is, what types of donations will you accept?

Obviously, cash. Probably life insurance or a 401(k) designation. Maybe stock certificates.

What about real estate? Or boats? Or a herd of goats? (It could happen.)

This legacy giving page from Greenpeace informs the donor exactly what assets they accept.

Your organization's Gift Acceptance Policy is an internal document that clearly outlines what you will, what you won't and what you might accept. (Click here for sample Gift Acceptance Policies from the Council of Nonprofits.)


The world is changing rapidly and we, as fundraisers, must adapt.

Death has never been an easy topic in our culture, but it's one we must talk about.

Because your donors are thinking about it. Now.

For nonprofits, legacy gifts have always been at the top of the fundraising gift pyramid.

And for many donors, this final gift is the largest they will ever leave to your nonprofit.

Some of your donors are looking at your website for information on how to make that all important last gift.

So, don't make it hard for your donor to get the basic information she needs to name your organization in her will.

It would be shame if she left a bequest to another charity - because their website had the information she was looking for and yours didn't.

We know many donors are updating their wills this year. So make it a priority to update your website with information those donors need.

Start small - add a page with your legal name, tax ID number, legal address plus brief, simple language about how easy it is to leave a gift in your will.

Most importantly, start now.

Photo credit(s): Unsplash

Need help writing targeted legacy campaign materials? Laura Rhodes can help.

Send a message to start the conversation and learn how Laura can help you and your organization.

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