Planned Gift Options: Charitable Bequests


In “7 Benefits to Starting a Planned Giving Program” and “Donor Benefits to Giving a Planned Gift” we looked at planned giving at a high-level and how it can benefit an organization and the donor. The next installment of posts will explore the different types of planned gifts to set a foundation for a successful program. 

First, we will explore the most common types of planned gifts: charitable bequests. A charitable bequest is a gift given by a donor when they designate an organization to receive a specific amount or percentage of your estate through the donor’s will or revocable living trust. Charitable bequests are the simplest types of planned gifts to give to a charitable organization and they can be a staple in planning for the future of your organization.

Bequests offer financial stability in the future for your organization and they also provide significant benefits to the donor:

  • The amount designated in the bequest is generally not subject to state inheritance or estate taxes.
  • Assets remain in the donor’s control during his or her lifetime.
  • A donor can designate his or her bequest to a particular purpose (endowment, a special fund, etc.)
  • Allows the donor to leave a legacy with an organization without gifting cash in the short term.

To build your organization’s bequest program, it is important to do the following:

  • Inform your donors of the option to include your organization in their will through a personal visit. If you are approaching a donor for an outright gift, do not be afraid to talk to them about leaving a legacy gift as well.
  • Develop collateral that effectively communicates your planned giving opportunities to engage potential donors who are interested in leaving a planned gift to your organization. Targeting certain age groups with this collateral can prove to be an effective strategy. Examples of effective planned giving materials are postcards, placements in magazines and e-newsletters, and testimonials in annual reports. All marketing pieces should include a response card that allows your donor to express their interest in making a bequest and can inform the organization if he or she has already included you in their will.
  • Create a bequest intention form to give to your donor after you have spoken to them about a gift. It is important get a donor’s bequest intention in writing.
  • Follow-up with the donors who you are most confident are ready to have a conversation about a legacy gift and discuss how it would benefit your organization’s future stability and success.

After you receive a notification that a donor has left your organization in their will, it is important to label this gift as a “bequest expectancy” and place it in an expectancy file for stewardship touches by staff members and possibly volunteer leaders. 

Stewarding donors in the expectancy file is key to building a successful bequest program. It is important to remember that charitable bequests are revocable before they reach maturation and therefore the organization should keep in touch with the donor and express their gratitude for their generosity.

You can continue your relationship with these donors through events honoring members of a planned giving society, sending an annual report or magazine, including them in a planned giving list in a publication, sending them a note or meeting with them each year to update them on the progress and plans of the organization. Since bequests are revocable, they can also be amended to increase gifts to your organization, so stewardship is critical!

Stay tuned for our next planned giving post about gifts of life insurance.


Fundraising Tips, Planned Giving

Caitlin Bristow

Caitlin Bristow is a Senior Consultant at Campbell & Company. A leader of our Higher Education practice and alumni engagement work, she partners with nonprofits across sectors to help them build philanthropic support and deepen donor relationships.