Q & A Thursday – Reporting Legacies

Tuesday’s post on was the most read thus far. I hope it fostered an honest conversation about how

Tuesday’s post on was the most read thus far. I hope it fostered an honest conversation about how we are not only reporting on legacies but also evaluating legacy programs and fundraisers, and it has.

I would like to use today’s Q & A Thursday to address some of the questions and concerns the post may have stirred up.

But first, let’s answer the biggest question: I *have* to report revenue and expenditures so what do I do? It’s inevitable, I know. We still have to report this way because that is how budgeting is done and that’s fine. What I suggest you to to calculate your projected revenue is this:

Calculate the expected amount of the confirmed gifts (death notifications) that you have on file. Then based on the average delay it takes for the estate to be finalized (every country and situation is different – whether the estate has to go through probate or not), calculate the total amount you think will be settled for the fiscal year.

Next important point: as fundraising professionals we have a responsibility to educate senior management about the reality of fundraising and the work that we do. As such, if they don’t understand how legacies is a long-term fundraising channel, their expectations and understanding will be skewed or inaccurate.

So how are you going to help senior management understand that legacy fundraising is a long-term endeavour? Share your pledgers’ stories – what their aspirations are for their gift and the organization. You can share these stories when you get a new pledge or when the gift is realized.

But remember one key thing that you need to include in your story: when the donor started donating to your organization and when the donor confirmed her legacy pledge.

Why? Because it provides proof of how much time and effort it took to get the pledge, to maintain the relationship, and for the gift to be realized. Then while you are sharing your donor’s story, you can use the opportunity to talk about how having key performance indicators focused on legacy acquisition, conversion and retention will be a better indicator of how your legacy program is growing which, inevitably will result in higher revenues.

This brings me to another point: professional accountability.

Setting KPIs as mentioned above means having to continually demonstrate that you are working your legacy program. Now let me make this point very clear, I am not in any way insinuating that fellow fundraisers are not doing their job. However, if you have a quarterly reporting mechanism that focuses on these KPIs and there is no movement after 2-3 quarters, you have reasons for concern. As a Fundraising Director, you need to ask questions. If you are the Legacy Professional, you need to re-examine your engagement or moves management strategy (whatever term you wish to use).

Do not let this slow down negatively affect your future income – because it will! Here’s an example: a few years ago I asked to train a new legacy professional and review their legacy strategy. For years the organization had enjoyed impressive legacy revenue and was boasted as “the model to follow”.

After analyzing data on their legacy program, we discovered that for the past 5-8 years there had been no acquisition or conversion work done. The only thing this person’s predecessor had done was maintain relationships with current pledgers. As you can imagine, revenue was down, the organization was facing a huge budget shortfall and they were restructuring in order to cut jobs (caveat: there were also other extenuating circumstances in this case and the decrease in fundraising revenue is not entirely due to legacies).

The lesson here is this: if more attention would have been put on acquisition and conversion rates, they could have continued growing their program and avoided this situation altogether. Now, it could take between 5-10 years to rebuild their program.

In future posts, I will delve deeper into the topic of KPIs and dashboards and managing a healthy pipeline so stay tuned. Or better yet, sign up to receive notifications of new posts the moment they are published!


If you want to know how to implement a pipeline approach to your legacies, write to me. It’ll be a pleasure to discuss this further.

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