Dear Kim:

I work for a small nonprofit as the development coordinator. While meeting with a prospective new donor, she mentioned that she would like more information on making a bequest in her will to my organization. This caught me off guard because I have little experience with planned giving and my organization doesn’t either. Fortunately, this donor was a very nice woman and understood when I told her I would get back to her with some information. What do you recommend for beginning a planned giving program? This donor also mentioned that she didn’t want to have to spend a lot of money to set something up (i.e., meet with a lawyer, etc). Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated.

Opportunity Knocks in North Carolina


Dear Opportunity:

Generally, a bequest is very easy for the donor. She simply needs to add a “codicil” (amendment) to her existing will saying that she is including your organization. She needs to use your full legal name and, to be safe, should list your address as well. (This avoids confusion if another group has a similar name.) She needs to be very specific as to what she is leaving you. A bequest is a revocable gift—that is, she can change her mind many more times before she dies.
The most common bequests are:

General Bequest: “I give and bequeath $___ to Good Organization to use as the board of directors determines.”

Bequest of a percentage: “I give and bequeath ___percent of the total value of my estate to Good Organization to use as the board of directors determines.”

Bequest of residue: (after all other bequests have been fulfilled) “I give and bequeath the rest, residue and remainder of my estate, both real and personal, wherever situated, to Good Organization, to be used as the board of directors determines.”

There are other forms of bequests and for those wanting more information, I suggest checking out the resources of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (, the National Committee on Planned Giving ( and the International Planned Giving Alliance (which can be reached off of the NCPG web site). The National Committee on Planned Giving has a wonderful program called “Leave a Legacy,” which is on their website. They have excellent materials, can put you in touch with others wanting to promote legacy giving, and are generally very helpful.

Finally, remember that while you want to be as helpful as possible to this person, you do not want to provide legal advice to her or do anything that later would be interpreted as “exercising undue influence.” She will need to decide if she wants to hire a lawyer to help her with her will or trust (it is generally wise to go that route) or if she has a current will or trust, whether she wants to check the wording of her bequest with her lawyer.

Planned giving, or as it is often being called now, “legacy giving” is a great fundraising strategy to get into if you have long time donors and your organization wants to be around in perpetuity. Bequests are the most common planned gifts, and are the easiest ones to start with. Many organizations never expand their planned giving programs beyond bequests, and they still do quite well.

—Kim Klein