5 Things to Do in Year 1 of your Gifts in Wills Program

Among the many lessons learned from 2020 is the need for nonprofit organizations to diversify their funding sources.

Among the many lessons learned from 2020 is the need for nonprofit organizations to diversify their funding sources. Many that depended on a few fundraising channels suffered more than those who had varied fundraising programs. Gifts in wills income played an important part in the mix and although many professionals in the sector have been saying it for years, it’s about time organizations of all sizes invest in their legacy program.

Whether the organization is small or large, the first year of launching a gifts in wills program is crucial. The most important thing to know is that the fundraising professional needs to be confident that the program can be managed even if they aren’t a legal, financial or accounting expert.

A good and successful gifts in wills program is built on a few solid, basic development principles – many of which should already be in place. For instance, things like:

  • A pool of prospects: even if it’s a small pool of prospects, as long as they’re committed to the cause, you can promote gifts in wills,
  • A regular giving program: bonus points if there’s a monthly giving program,
  • An active volunteer leadership: they must be willing to support and promote the gifts in wills program, bonus points if they’re the organization’s first pledgers.

Setting realistic and specific personal and program goals will ensure the program is reaching key milestones. An example of a realistic goal may be to engage in 15 donor conversations during the year. A rule of thumb: under-promise and over-deliver.

Next, the focus should be on:

Data, data, and the database

Ensuring that the database can capture useful and needed donor data such as year of birth, giving history, communication preferences and pipeline stages (enquirers, considerers, intenders, pledgers) will help the program grow for years to come. Having a clean database will enable you to develop data-focused strategies that will yield the best results.

Policies and procedures

Protect the organization and yourself by developing gifts in wills policies and procedures that include how data will be collected and safeguarded, what type of GiW will be accepted and under which circumstances, etc. If the organization already has a Gift Acceptance Policy, you may simply want to add a GiW section, why reinvent the wheel?!

Marketing gifts in wills

Identify the marketing and communication materials already being used to engage with donors and carve out some space to promote gifts in wills. It should tell the story of someone who has left a GiW to the organization, or it can also demonstrate the importance of GiW to realize the mission of the organization. It should be emotional, inspiring, engaging. It should NOT be about the ways to leave a GiW or the tax advantages. Basically, sell the sizzle, not the steak!

Invest in professional development

Things may be a little intimidating at first but investing in professional development will enable you to gain confidence and it will pay itself in spades. Whether that’s joining a legacy giving professional association, reading blogs or getting a gifts in wills coach, soon enough the legal and financial lingo and the strategies will become familiar and easier to navigate.

Continuous professional development is important because (1) tax laws, estate planning techniques and ideas change and evolve, and (2) networking with other professionals can help provide referrals to legal and financial advisors, share marketing ideas and provide advice on gift management.

Build internal support

Presumably, the board of directors support the launch of the GiW program. They may require some education or training to ensure they support the program’s efforts. Either the fundraising professional or an external consultant can provide such a training and workshop how board members can contribute to the program.


If all is possible during year one, your program will be just fine. Then take the learnings from the first year and use them to grow and improve. Gifts in wills is a race, not a sprint. And trust me, no one gets it right the first time around – give yourself some grace and dare to try new things.

Want to learn more about how to start or reboot a legacy program in your organization? Join the February cohort of our Online Legacy Bootcamp starting on February 9. You can reserve your spot today by adding yourself to our waiting list by visiting this page and look for the banner at the top of the page. Registration will open the week of January 15.

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