Turning Legacy Giving Upside Down
by Gary MacDonald
As a former executive director of a nonprofit for 35+ years, I attended various workshops around “planned giving." Generally, one of two things happened. Either my eyes glazed over because there was such an emphasis on the "product" (ways of giving), or I fell asleep because it was very, very boring. I knew there had to be another way of approaching it.
I was privileged to receive some words of wisdom and advice from Liz Jones, who was then in the development department at University Hospitals Kingston Foundation. She took time to share her experiences and introduced me to a book by Fraser Green entitled Iceberg Philanthropy. That changed everything. The lights came on.
In 2007, I began a consulting company. One of my contracts was with an international faith-based organization called Youth for Christ (Youth Unlimited) with whom I had previously served. At the Canadian level, I was helping 32 chapters across the country (representing 450 staff) with their legacy giving programs. The approach had to be simple and cost-effective or it would not work, and we had to get it right because there was so much at stake. According to a 2014 Canadian Environics research poll sponsored by Good Works, 1.18 million English-speaking Canadians have bequested $165 billion to charity. This work with Youth for Christ was my training ground, and I discovered three principles that guided the process: perspective, the power of stories and the important role of volunteers.
After many conversations with donors I realized that it was not about us and the organization, but about the donor's passions and dreams. This changed the way I had a conversation. I focused on active listening and asking great questions. For example, we designed a national program with the theme of, “Being a Bridge Builder,” which was inspired by a poem by Will Allen Dromgoogle with the same title. In this campaign we shared the vision that a donor name Jim had for his community. The opening page simply stated:
Last Tuesday night Jim Dyck provided a meal and community bible study for 64 local teens.
Jim passed away 7 years ago… Jim is a Bridge Builder.
Power of Stories and Impact
Jim’s story was just one of hundreds we collected from across the country. We considered all angles. For example, a youth centre in London, Ontario, received a legacy gift by Will that allowed them to complete a new community youth cafe that serves young moms. We intend to shoot a new video in that café with the daughter of the woman who gave the gift together with a young mom and her new child. We want to capture the impact that gift makes today.
The very best advocates for your organization are volunteers who already have “skin in the game.” Use those volunteers who have self-identified as legacy donors to share their stories and become champions for your cause. It is worth the time to develop a program to identify, train and mobilize these individuals. Your volunteers don't need to know anything about "the products" of legacy giving but simply act as passionate listeners. Having the additional support of community professional partners, with expertise in both legal and financial planning, is the final piece to a successful and effective legacy giving program.
Gary MacDonald has 44 years of experience in nonprofit leadership and is known for his ability to inspire and motivate clients to achieve excellence in their own work and enhance the performance of their organizations. A dynamic facilitator, Gary has extensive experience developing communication and leadership competency skills with individuals and groups. Gary is Founding Partner at Clearview Consulting in Stirling, Ontario (www.clearviewcc.ca ). He also serves as Allied Counsel with KMA Consultants in Toronto and is a facilitator at Loyalist Training and Knowledge Centre in Belleville.