Authentic Fundraising: Legacies (Part One)

In 2010 I worked as Director of Development for an environmental charity called Ontario Nature. We had just finished a revitalization of our legacy program. This involved some renewed marketing materials, a few financial planning events and a wildly successful survey to our most loyal donors. We now had almost 70 confirmed legators. These are people who had told us that they intended to leave a bequest to our organization in their will. I knew that just three of those pledges totalled an expected 2.5 million dollars – so we anticipated the entire value of all of these relationships would be significantly more than that. We all know that most donors update or change their will before they go on vacation and within just a year or two of their death. Now that we had secured millions of dollars in expectancies, my job was to figure out how to keep them. So I started to do what many of us in smaller organizations do. I added our legators to the major donor stewardship program. That major donor program was ROCKING. We had just finished a capital campaign to purchase some land and people were excited. We were having parties, going on hikes and having more parties and going on more hikes. Each time we had an event I would phone our legators and make sure they knew that we would love to see them there. The realization that I had made a mistake happened during a phone call a donor who was incredibly candid. She loved nature, went on many outings with the organization when she was younger. She told me she was now at an age where she hardly ever left her house.  She couldn’t drive, she needed to be near a toilet, she found stairs difficult to manage and regrettably she wanted to stop receiving invitations to events she could not attend. It was during that phone call that I realized, every time I was inviting her to come to an event or go on a hike, she felt sad. She loved us so much, and we were – I was making her feel sad and old and isolated. Exactly the opposite of my intention. It became clear that our legators, needed to be treated differently than our major donors. I just wasn’t sure how to do it. Later that summer, all of the staff were siting down together outside in a big tent. It was a warm night with the sound of crickets and really loud bull frogs in the background. We had just hosted about 100 people in nature workshops and a dinner. Sitting there, I started to feel a little melancholy. I was sad...

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