All Fundraisers Should be Having Legacy Worthy Conversations during COVID-19

By Nanette Fridman

Events and galas have been cancelled and postponed. Original spring appeals were pulled. Nonetheless, over the last three months, I (and many other fundraising experts) have encouraged nonprofits to continue to communicate with their donors and to keep fundraising. This is certainly true for critical services and programs during this pandemic and also for your mission in general, albeit in a more targeted and updated way. Hopefully, during the last few months, staff and volunteers have reached out to donors to check-in and see how they are doing and to share how your organization has pivoted and is responding to this crisis with resilience and innovation.

Here we are in June and many organizations have regrouped and formulated a new plan for their annual campaigns. The question now is what about legacy or planned giving campaigns? My answer is don’t stop. Here is why:

Legacy prospects are consistent donors. You should be talking to them anyway.

Planned giving is a series of conversations over a long period of time, sometimes years. You can deepen relationships and learn more about donors as initial planned giving campaign steps during this crisis without ever talking about planned giving explicitly.

The conversations that I hope after check-ins and updates development professionals and volunteers are having with donors (and documenting) are deep and meaningful. Some sample questions to ask include: how are they coping; what is giving them strength and hope during this difficult time; what does this period of isolation have them thinking about; what matters to them; what are the first things they want to do when this is over; what are their hopes for your organization and its mission; how do they think your organization will change as a result of Covid-19; and what are their wishes for your community and the world.

People are already thinking about the meaning of life, the fragility of life and their mortality. To be sure, it would be more than tone deaf to ask people to become legacy donors to your organization now in case they die of Coronavirus. I also would caution sending out a dedicated planned giving mailing that can be misinterpreted. However, making it easy for people to learn more about planned giving on your website by having a designated and easy to navigate resource, on social media by highlighting donors’ stories who have already made a legacy gift, and by mentioning your ongoing efforts subtlety in communications are appropriate. Further, if planned giving naturally comes up with a prospective donor, sending information to them would be just fine with a hand-written note connecting it to your conversation.

Everyone has the ability to make a planned gift. It’s a misconception that only rich people can leave planned gifts. The stories of the social worker and the janitor leaving millions are true. Bequests are the major gift of the middle class. Anyone can make a planned gift and feel wonderful about it. Make sure you are talking to all your consistent donors and not just your major donors.

This crisis may cause people of all ages to update their estate plans. The average age of someone who makes their first charitable bequest commitment is 40-50. You want to be on their radar.

According to Michael J. Rosen, author of Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, 33% of Americans are willing to consider a charitable bequest.  Only 5.3% of those over 50 have made a charitable bequest commitment. Keep having deep and meaningful conversations that both steward your annual consistent donors and count towards your planned giving efforts. Your organization needs legacy gifts to best be able to weather future storms like COVID-19.

Nanette Fridman, MPP, JD, is a strategist and coach for values-driven organizations and leaders. She is the President of Fridman Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in governance, fundraising, strategic planning, and leadership and team development. Nanette speaks nationally and is the author of On Board: What Current and Aspiring Board Members Must Know About Nonprofits & Board Service and Holding the Gavel: What Nonprofit Board Chairs Need to Know. She can be reached at