Your Legacy Society

Because August is “Make A Will” month, I’ve been writing each week about how you can encourage your donors to designate your nonprofit in their will.

So far, I’ve focused on the importance of using phrases that work better than our industry estate-giving language.

I’ve also conveyed the top facts that can guide you to raising more planned-giving revenue.

Plus I shared the key sentences you’ll want to use in your donor communications.

This week’s focus is on establishing, or advancing, your Legacy Society.

Establishing a Legacy Society

An absolutely essential aspect of a robust planned-giving program is thanking and recognizing donors for remembering your organization in their will and estate plans. This can be accomplished by establishing a planned-giving legacy society.

A legacy society is a prestigious “club” open to donors who have made a planned gift to benefit a nonprofit upon their deaths. The honor associated with membership in a legacy society encourages others to follow suit and increases your overall number of planned gifts.

The society provides yet another highly visible way for your nonprofit to create awareness of its planned-giving program, while donors receive a conspicuous acknowledgment of their devotion and generosity to a favorite cause.

Establishing a society is not difficult and can significantly spread interest and awareness of planned- giving opportunities among your donors. A simple board resolution establishing your legacy society is enough to get you started. Thereafter, through your gift-acceptance policies, you can work out the goals and protocols of your legacy society.

Advancing an Existing Legacy Society

Many legacy societies go stale, and they often need to be spruced-up. I can assure you that while you may know the purpose of the legacy society, everyone else will need constant reminders.

Consider taking these steps:

  1. Provide a link in your donor communication materials for the reader to learn more about your planned-giving options.
  2. Ask for new testimonials from existing members which highlight why they joined. Short videos should be recorded, along with pithy quotes.
  3. Do at least two mailings a year thanking existing members for their unique participation, reminding them of the benefits of membership, and inspiring them to feel good about having taken this step.
  4. Invite legacy society members to special online or in-person gatherings or briefings with the board chairperson and/or CEO, and/or an industry leader.
  5. Refresh your invitation language with an innovative approach describing the urgency behind the legacy society and using more compelling, more dynamic language.

Naming Your Legacy Society

Thoughtful consideration should be given to your legacy society’s name.

  • How do you want the legacy society portrayed?
  • What image do you wish to invoke?
  • What do donors value most about your organization?

You’d be wise to choose a value-oriented name. That is, you can opt to name it after a major donor, a community leader, or even a historical figure whose legacy is in line with your agency’s mission (e.g., The Neil Armstrong Legacy Society as a name for an aerospace nonprofit).

Choosing inspirational words or phrases also works: The Carpe Diem Society, Dor L’Dor (“generation to generation”), New Century Society, Founders Legacy Society, Guardians Circle are all real examples.

Many nonprofits name their legacy societies after the year in which the organization was founded. This naming approach emphasizes the stability of the organization—crucial for donors who are considering planned gifts.

A motivating legacy society name is a powerful influence; it can attract and retain donors who feel strongly about your mission. A good legacy society name embodies the noble ideals postulated in your  mission and vision statements. The legacy society name can symbolize the values motivating your nonprofit and what it hopes to achieve. Donors feel honored to belong to a group that stands for a worthwhile cause. Your legacy society name sets the bar high to showcase what members can accomplish through charitable planned giving.

Preserving Your Legacy Society

Finally, you must decide how you will acknowledge your legacy society members.

Their names can be listed in your annual report, impact reports, in your newsletter, at your website, on your letterhead, or through an online or in-person event devoted specifically to the topic.

For those planned givers who want to remain anonymous, that’s fine—just go ahead and say that you have xx number of donors who have made a planned gift but wish to remain anonymous.

No matter how you shape your planned-giving strategy, in order for it to be effective it must regularly identify, cultivate, educate, listen to, meet with, and solicit donors.

If you’re scrambling to raise cash today, it’s because your organization didn’t pursue planned gifts in years passed.

Make this pledge now as one of your ongoing goals: “I pledge that I will do all I can to invite every one of our donors to remember our nonprofit in their will, or to make some kind of arrangement benefiting the organization from their estate.”

The National Council of Nonprofits offers this Guide to Legacy Giving that you may find useful.

Please share this post with a colleague who may appreciate it.

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