How to Ask for Legacy Gifts (by changing your mindset)

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If you asked fundraisers what their number one question is about legacy giving, it is most definitely “how do I ask for a legacy gift.”  This question comes up not because the fundraiser doesn’t know how to ask for a donation (heck, they do that all the time!)  It is because of the mindset blocks that fundraisers have around asking for a legacy gift. 

The mindset blocks of uncertainty or overwhelm are very common and hold back fundraisers from asking for a planned gift.  These mindsets are usually cemented in the “what ifs” and not in past experience.  In order to feel more comfortable with talking with the donor about asking for a planned gift, I recommend addressing some common mindsets that may be holding you back.


I am going to show you 3 common mindset blocks and key ways to change your mindset to do this.  Use the handy worksheet (link at the bottom of the post) to uncover your mindsets that may be holding you back. Let’s dive in!

Block #1: Planned gifts are too technical

This mindset block shows up as a fear of not being able to talk about a legacy gift without having to discuss the technical aspects of the types of gifts.

Sure, a planned gift like a NIMCRUT is pretty techie.  But guess what?  You will rarely if ever, discuss a gift like this, or others like it, with your donors.  This is because you will start your legacy conversations with the “WHY” they want to give, not the “HOW” they will give the gift. Conversations about the type of gift vehicle a donor may use only come up after the real conversation of when the donor agrees to make a legacy gift.

Planned gifts are donor-centric, value-based gifts.  The donor will want to make a gift like this only if they want to support a mission that they are passionate about, that they had a positive experience with, or is meaningful to them and their family.

For example, in the conversations that you have with your donors, you want to tap into their values.  This will come out with questions such as:

Why are they passionate about your organization?

Why did they start to give to your organization?

Which program is most meaningful to them?

What do they see for the future of the organization?

How would they want it to expand or grow?

See that?  We just got into legacy territory. Not too bad, right?  This is the way to start planting those seeds about asking for a planned gift. You want to focus on why your donor would want to make a long-term gift to the organization, not how they may intend on doing it.  You do not need to come right out and make “the legacy gift vehicle ask.” [You are not completely off the hook – that conversation may come later!  But for now, ease your way into the conversation and it will be much easier to talk about the type of planned gift the donor wants to do if that comes up].

It is highly likely you have had the value-based conversations with your donors without even knowing it. When you think about the donors you want to have a legacy conversation with, map out where you are with them in this journey.  Many times you do not need to start at square one.

If your donor wants to talk about particular gifts, and you are comfortable doing so, then go for it!  If you are not comfortable speaking with them about planned gifts, it is perfectly reasonable to let them know that someone else can discuss with them the best way for them to make a gift.  Remember, these gifts involve family, financial and philanthropic planning.  So that person may be the donor’s own financial or tax advisor, or someone in your organization can work with them such as a planned giving professional, a CFO, the executive director – anyone that is comfortable working on the “how” part of the gifts.  If that person is you -- great!  If you want that to be you, continue reading my blog articles and watch my tutorials!  I will be sharing lots of information to increase your confidence and knowledge.

Block #2: It’s a personal topic about death and taxes

Another misconception I love to bust through.  Many fundraisers hold back from the legacy conversations because they feel as though it will be an uncomfortable conversation.  It feels like a personal situation you are asking donors about.  What happens if your donor is offended?  How do you talk about death? [hint: you don’t!]

Remember, we are approaching our donors to ask about a legacy gift according to their values, not their death or the tax or income implications.  When you discuss a planned gift with them, you can speak about it in terms of the impact they will make, how it will support their vision, and how they are creating a legacy for themselves and their family. Think “value-based benefits” in the conversation, not features of the gifts (for example, funds transfer on death or taxes saved).   Values are more powerful and are the reason for making the gift.  The “death and taxes” are about how to make the gift.  (You will hear of some donors that are very interested in the tax and income benefits of the gifts, but remember that no one will make a planned gift if they are not philanthropically inclined.  The “why” always comes first.)

Along the same lines, I think it is a disservice to your supporters not to tell them about the opportunities that planned giving provides to them. It provides an opportunity for many of your donors to support a cause they are passionate about, to be more connected to an organization and like-minded people, and to be able to give in a way that they may not have realized before.

Myth #3: It’s too complicated to ask for legacy and annual gifts together

I hear you.  You are going to your donors about the gala, annual fund, golf outing, capital projects, etc. How do you fit legacy in without it feeling disjointed and the donor not feeling overwhelmed?

But legacy gifts are different from annual gifts in many ways, and to understand that makes it easier for you to ask for a legacy gift. 

Annual gifts are transactional gifts that provide operational support each year.  So, each year, you have to go back to the same people to ask them for their yearly gift, usually cash or securities.  On the other hand, a planned gift is considered the donors’ ultimate gift, meaning they usually only create one legacy gift for an organization.  This gift is not transactional, as it may require many conversations and a length of time for this gift to happen.  This is because it is a values-based gift on the part of the donor (not current needs of the organization) and requires more thoughtful planning.  This gift can also use other assets besides cash and securities, which make it a much more flexible gift for the donor.  For example:

Donor Sam wants to support your organization but his income is limited in his retirement so he can only give an annual gift of $200 in cash. However, Sam has many assets, like real estate and jewelry, that can be given to the organization through his estate planning and provide a significant gift while also supporting Sam’s wishes.

When you understand the reasoning behind the gift, the assets that can be used, and the longer horizon for the gift, you can see how you would be able to have conversations about legacy gifts while also continue to ask your donors for annual support.

To recap how to ask for legacy gifts by changing your mindset:

1.     Understand that you don’t have to be an expert in the technical aspects of planned giving vehicles.  These gifts are based on why a donor wants to make an impactful gift, not how they plan on doing it.  Get through the initial phase of the conversation, and if you are not comfortable speaking about the particular gifts, it is absolutely reasonable to bring someone in to assist.

2.     Understand that they conversations don’t revolve around death and taxes and that your donor will not feel offended that you discuss a legacy gift. You are providing them with an opportunity to make an impact!

3.     Understand that annual giving and legacy giving are compatible and that you need to have both in order to provide your donors with flexibility in their giving, and provide financial stability to the organization.

Shifting your mindset may feel strange at first. Use the worksheet to see which mindsets are holding you back.

Take action:

I suggest you ease into it with some conversations with longtime supporters about why they give, what they love about your organization and what they envision for the future.  Starting with the donors you feel most comfortable with will give you the practice, and confidence you need to continue promoting legacy giving with all your donors.