I'm working on a presentation for early June to a mix of fundraisers and stewardship folks about Planned Giving.

It led me to reflect a bit on what holds many people back from even initiating a conversation about bequests with their donors.

I realized that when many of us think of talking to someone about whether their money might go to the cause we represent when they die, this (photo on right) is what we think we have to break through.

Good news is that more often than not, once the question has been asked, "I'd like to speak to you about your thoughts around considering a charitable bequest to (name of organization), would you be open to that?"

This image is usually more like what we run into once the door is open.


Richard Radcliffe
 often speaks about how asking for a planned gift is most like a marriage proposal. It's personal, it's relational, it's between people who know each other and it's life-giving for both parties involved.

The "legacy gift" conversation is not about death, hellfire and taxes...it's more like a marriage proposal: an entrance into a life-giving partnership.

Ask Better? Give Smarter?

Don't abandon hope! Look for opportunities to open the conversation about charitable bequests. Approaching people who already have a close relationship with your cause are likely going to be open to the conversation.

As a donor, look for charities that are respectful and personal in their communications with you. Feel free to open the conversation yourself if you haven't been approached. Never give if you feel pressured and always check in with your lawyer and family first. Good professional fundraisers will not create an uncomfortable situation if you decide after exploration that the idea is not for you or if your plans change in future for any reason.

This blog focuses on two ideas: "What can a Philanthropic Advisor do for you?" and the concept of "Ask Better | Give Smarter."

I want to direct my readers today over to a blog called 101Fundraising where one of my Canadian colleagues, Kimberley Mackenzie, has posted an excellent article, "Connecting with your Most Loyal and Senior Donors." She does a very good job of showing what a smart advisor in philanthropy can do for your charity and gets at the idea behind why relationships are key to asking better and giving smarter.

Ask Better?

Kimberly's post is very well-researched and she's a great example of the type of thinking and inquiry that charities should be expecting from their fundraising leaders. There are a lot of questions in the sector about "how much money have you raised?" "how much money will you raise this year?" - both of which relate back to how do we measure performance in a quantifyable way for planned giving programs? The level of perceptiveness from Kimberley in working to innovate and build a program that works for her charity is what makes her a diamond in the rough - let's start focusing on those qualities and achievements when we evaluate our fundraising staff.

Give Smarter?

If you are reading this as a donor to charity, I ask you to reflect on the efforts Kimberley has made to honor the dignity of each of her supporters. To honor the value of their relationship to her charity as legacy and potential legacy donors. Sometimes fundraising gets a "bad rap" - please know that there are professionals out there like Kimberley who are doing wonderful work. This is what you should expect. This is what you should be helping your favourite charities to create.

You can find Kimberley Mackenzie at http://kimberleymackenzie.ca/


While this blog typically focuses on the personal or marketing side of fundraising and philanthropy, I found a very helpful article yesterday that addresses some of the technical planning and administrative aspects around charitable bequests.

Though it does cover more of the technical side, I found it fairly easy to follow and full of useful information for donors and for charities.

I'd also like to make a personal, unsolicited reccomendation of the Charities and Not-for-Profit Division within the Miller Thomson law firm. If you are not already a subscriber, you might want to get on their Charities Update emailing list, which is how this article found me.
I've worked with a number of the lawyers at this firm and what stands out about them is how much they give in terms of free educational information - newsletters, conference presentations, informal conversations - to me their investment in helping fundraisers is a sign of their commitment to the charitable sector in Canada.

Thanks  @CharityLawCan @EstatesLaw @SusanManwaring and the rest of the gang at @MTCharity !

Practical Considerations When Making a Charitable Gift by Will
Karen L. Weslowski, Vancouver

(Reprinted with permission from the June 2012 Miller Thomson Charities and Not-for-Profit Newsletter)

A legacy can be created by leaving all or a portion of a person’s estate to charity.  Such a gift can reflect a testator’s personal values and beliefs while making a difference in the lives of others.  However, in order to ensure that the charitable gift is realized, there are some things for a testator to consider before leaving an estate gift to charity.  Once that gift is made, charities may wish to know what steps they must take to protect that gift. 

The Requirement for a Proper Will

Without a proper Will, a person’s estate will pass on intestacy to their next of kin. However, before a person can make an estate gift to charity, their Will must make some provision for their dependants, if any. 

In British Columbia, dependants include a testator’s spouse, minor children and, in most instances, adult children, even if they are financially independent.  In most other Canadian provinces, the category of dependants is not as broad and includes spouses, minor children and adult children only if incapable.  If a testator’s Will does not make adequate provision for these people, there is legislation in most provinces which permits dependants to commence litigation challenging the Will. 

Litigation often results when family members are not informed about a testator’s intention to leave a charitable bequest.  Testators should tell their family about their wish to leave an estate gift to charity.  Although the charity has a duty to protect the gift, charities may be reluctant to engage in acrimonious and expensive litigation to do so. 

The Will needs to be very specific about which charity the testators wish to benefit.  For example, if the Will simply provides a bequest to the “diabetes society”, it may be challenged on the basis that the identity of the charity is unclear.  This is due to the fact that there are several charities associated with diabetes.  Even if the Will is not challenged, a court application may still be required to figure out which charity the testator intended to benefit.  This will cost the testator’s estate money that could otherwise go to the charity and the estate beneficiaries. 

The Charities’ Duty to Protect a Charitable Gift

Charities may become involved in estate litigation by virtue of being a beneficiary of an estate.  Common issues that involve a charity are challenges to the Will, applications for interpretation of the Will and passing of the executor’s accounts. 

Charities are not always sure what role, if any, they may have in estate litigation.  As a beneficiary of an estate, a charity is entitled to notice of any estate proceedings which may affect its entitlement or require its consent.  Charities are also entitled (or, in some instances, may be required) to fully participate in the litigation, including settlement of the proceedings.

Charities must ensure that their interests are protected under a Will and by the person administering the estate.  Charities must take reasonable steps to ensure that a testator’s gift is realized.  This includes monitoring the administration of the estate and making inquiries of the estate solicitor or executor as to the status of the estate.  If necessary, it may also include taking active steps in any litigation to protect their interest in the estate. 

The need to defend a donor’s charitable gift by becoming involved in litigation can affect the charity’s image.  In a fight with disinherited family members, the charity may be perceived as “greedy”. Charities generally want to maintain a positive public image. 

This consideration may affect how a charity conducts itself in litigation and cause it to be less assertive in defending a testator’s gift.  Although charities have an obligation to defend the donor’s charitable gift, it may not be practical to do so where the amount of the gift is small relative to the cost of litigation.  Charities may choose to decline a bequest where the public relations issues resulting from litigation would adversely affect the charity disproportionately to the value of the bequest. 


Testators should strive for open communication with their dependants as to their intention to leave a gift to charity.  This can assist in ensuring that their intended gift is realized and reduce the potential for litigation after the testator’s death. Charities must recognize their duty in protecting charitable gifts and take appropriate steps to that end.

Yep, this one needs a "just in case" disclaimer to let you know that this blog post should not be taken as legal advice. Christina Attard is NOT qualified as a lawyer or financial advisor and information on this website does not constitute advice - please consult with a qualified advisor before proceeding with any legal or financial course of action.

Have you ever had a friend who worked as a professional fundraiser who approached you about a (major) gift for an organization that you don't normally support? 

Since this hasn't happened to me yet, I'm not sure how it feels - was it uncomfortable? completely welcome?

What I have seen before are charities who ask about a fundraiser's personal connections in the donor community. "Did you work with donor X in previous role and would you be able to approach them and others on behalf of new charity?" To me, that question is a huge red-flag for me as a professional.

To be honest, I'm not sure what others have experienced and whether my position is the correct one, but I want to share my own thoughts on this - with the strong caveat that what I'm talking about here is a very small number of charities and fundraisers/consultants and I'm mainly focused on significant donations.


It's not easy to find the right fundraiser or consultant. You are looking to hire someone who is not only professionally competent (in a profession that is not always well-understood by the general public) but who can represent a cause-based brand in a compelling way. 

I would suggest to organizations that they should be looking for a fundraiser who is extremely well-connected. BUT, the key here is in which circle.

Fundraisers with lots of personal friends are not as valuable for your organization as fundraisers with lots of professional connections in the non-profit sector. LinkedIn is a good place to glimpse at this network, but don't forget to dig deeper and look at relevance of contacts vs. sheer number. My development contacts on the site are more important in this case than my mortgage broker.

A strong professional network means that the person can grab legal information, a second opinion on a strategy or a form/template/document in minutes. This helps me to do my work better, faster and cheaper and to understand how I can keep the organization I represent operating within the standards set by the non-profit industry nationally.

Personal friends, and even powerful or wealthy ones, might give for a time to causes I ask them to support, but ultimately, they are giving to support me rather than the organization. How many times have we seen organizations that were 'on a roll' with their programs until that 'great fundraiser who knew everyone' moved on along with his/her rolodex?

Charities should be looking for individuals who will take a look at the donors, volunteers and advocates that they already have and the new friends they might want to make and be able to identify, sort, initiate, build and manage those friendships. When I see a list of existing donors that have not been engaged at a high level, what I offer the organization is the ability to prioritize and develop those relationships. My practice is to act as a matchmaker and build long-term connections in the community that don't rely on my personal relationships.


Let's face it, we're more likely to be interested in learning about something because a friend approaches us about it and tells us why it's important to them. 

But, there's a boundary here that needs to be drawn.

When a board member or volunteer who you know makes an intro to you about a charity or campaign and then passes you into the hands of the fundraiser to make the case and ask for support, there is a chance to step away from your personal relationship with the board member. It allows the decision to become donor-centered and based on the fit with the cause. You can say "no" and not lose face. You can hold the fundraiser accountable and not your friend for the use of your gift.

Evaluating "friendraising" as a donor is another good indicator of whether you should be investing in a particular cause. Has the charity hired your friend to drum up business from his/her personal contacts as their main activity? If so, then consider carefully whether this is a sign for you that this organization's mission can stand on its own or whether it rests on your friend's reputation? What happens when you're friend moves on? Will you continue to receive donor reports and contacts? What are they doing to invest themselves in building direct relationships that will be lasting and sustainable? How does that reflect on how the rest of the organization is being built and managed?

What do you think? How do you draw the lines between friendships and fundraising/giving (especially when it comes to major gifts)?
Image via thepublici.blogspot.ca
On Saturday, I returned from the national conference of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners in Victoria, BC.

The format for the conference always includes plenary speakers at meals. 

This year, I reflected quite a bit on those speakers - both those we heard from in 2012 and those who spoke in previous years.

I realized that there is a common thread here: for the most part, they are individuals who have had the opportunity to follow their dream of creating their own charitable foundation focussed on an area of need very close to them personally. 

Mary Tidlund of The Mary A. Tidlund Foundation in Alberta spoke of her journey from adopted child to oil executive to philanthropist working to alleviate poverty for children around the world.


We also heard from Warren Te Brugge of My Arms Wide Open who began as a young industrialist in South Africa and created a foundation in support of breaking down prejudice to improve life for Africans.

But what does it all really mean for the rest of us? The thousands of fundraising and philanthropic planning professionals who work every day in support of donors and world-changing missions?

We're absolutely passionate about our causes, but deep down, what would your mission be if you could create your own foundation the way these speakers have done?

The work we do for charities and the gifts that we and our donors make are bringing the dreams of their founders to reality - these are the dreams of those first individuals who believed cancer could be cured, that education, water, healthcare, security should be for all people, those who first dreamt of public libraries, museums and galleries.

But they are rarely our own personal, original expression of philanthropy in the way that Mary and Warren and many others have expressed their personal and  unique dreams for a better world. 


They* say that when opportunity comes, it's important to prepare in advance so that you're ready to say YES...

So, what if the impossible (or maybe even possible) happened and you had a chance to start your own foundation tomorrow? 
(Would anyone have thought Mary Tidlund could do it?)

What would your unique mission be?

*I'm told that the "they" in this partcular case is actually Neil Galliaford from Stephen Thomas, a Toronto fundraising consultancy.

Ask Better?

This time, it's not about asking others but asking yourself. Really, really, what would you care enough about to turn around and use the "lottery" money for? Once you know this in your heart, you will be ready to move when lightening strikes - it might be a chance to work with an existing foundation that fits your mission perfectly, it might be a chance to start your own foundation. But know deep down what it is you would change if you had the chance - otherwise, the experience of deep, motivating passion felt by the person whose mission you serve will always remain a mystery to you.

Give Smarter?

Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations are not just for big wallets anymore. Most mid to large-size charities, community foundations or institutionally-sponsored donor-advised funds will allow you to start a named endowment fund and the entry level is not outside the reach of most middle-income North Americans. Your will is your next most powerful chance to make your own personal mission known. Consider your giving, then consolidate to see if you can at least begin to realize your own vision for good.

What do you think? What would your mission be?
Lonely office chair

Does it feel like you hear a lot about networking these days?

Sometimes "networking" sounds like a popular buzzword for slick business types. People like me are always going on about LinkedIn and Twitter for business networking. However, I think for many, it feels like yet another thing they should be doing more of but that they don't do and it ends up in the category of to-do items that includes losing 20 pounds and cleaning out the gutters on the house. 

There are a number of books, tools, tips and blogs out there on networking, so rather than belaboring the point, if you do want to learn more and tackle this, my best resources are: 

Adventures in Networking by Paul Nazareth

Shepa Learning Company by the Authors of Work the Pond

SMO Books by Noland Hoshino

What I'd like to focus on here is what I like to call "Lonely Chair Syndrome." It's one of the only diseases that is beneficial to professionals whose work relies on relationship building and is especially beneficial to fundraisers. It's the fact that if you stay in your chair, behind your desk, your networking (and your fundraising/business development), whether it be through new or old technology, will not yield benefits. The more time your chair spends alone, the better!

The old rule that face-to-face meetings are key to adding value to your work and the work of others still stands, despite the variety of new ways that we make initial contact with new people through technology. 

Today, thanks to connections I've made through LinkedIn, and follow-ups by telephone and personal meetings, I was able to organize a province-wide mini-conference with two other non-profit agencies that are separate from mine, but share the same mission. We shared successes, failures, marketing material, strategies, templates and stories. We each saved months of work for our teams in a single day. It was free. It was voluntary on each of our parts. It would not have happened if I hadn't stuck to my commitment of interacting with every member of my online network in a personal way. The value here for me and my team was incredible.

I'd like to encourage you to 

Ask Better

By looking for opportunities to reach out to those around you either in your community circles or online and invite them for a coffee, give them a call, make an appearance at a tweetup! Don't be afraid to ask questions - 9 times out of 10 when I speak with a "stranger" from twitter or LinkedIn to learn more about their areas of expertise, I've got the perfect answer to a different problem that they were working on!

Give Smarter

Of your time and energy and efforts to others who you think you can help. It will pay dividends in ways you will not be able to see until later. And force those in your networks online to tell you how you can help them. Don't accept template networking invites, give your time to those who show you how you can do better together!

A Special Offer

On April 17th I'll be co-hosting a (free) casual networking meet up in Victoria, BC (Canada) with a group of fundraisers, gift planners, financial and insurance advisors. The plan is to meet in the lobby of the Fairmont Empress Hotel at 6 pm and go for dinner locally.

If you're in the city for the CAGP-ACPDP Conference, join us. If you're interested in coming and you're not attending, you're welcome too! Did I mention free? Did I mention that you DO NOT need to eat alone while traveling for business!

Get out from behind that computer screen and let's get to know one another! No reservations necessary, but if you'd like to touch base, email me at christina (at) christinaattard (dot) com

Last year, this networking event led to me spending the evening with a fundraiser living across the country. Unbeknownst to me, we'd be working in the same city on the same volunteer committees only five months later.

A little James Brown to get you going!
Today was a great day for people like me. 

It all started with a long standing Telemiracle fundraising campaign on TV here in Saskatchewan, Canada. It had all the elements you could ask for from high-drama philanthropy - emotional stories, compelling appeals and amazing corporate participation with just under $1 Million donated by two companies for a total of $5.9 Million raised in just two days. For most of us fundraising professionals, those results would indeed feel like a miracle!

Today, the campaign made front-page news. But this year, it was because of one farmer's legacy gift - a bequest in the amount of $1.46 Million presented by his son and daughter-in-law. For legacy gift planning evangelists like myself, it was a dream come true to see the positive power of one person's generosity grabbing the attention of so many.  

I think practically the whole province was celebrating today! But there's a bit of a dark side to it too... I also heard so many comments today about how this must have been an unusually wealthy person, how it's nice that this happened, but we could never expect to do something like this ourselves, about how the children must feel to have so much taken away from them... 

Frankly, this type of thinking makes me go crazy! 

Why? Because the beauty of charitable bequests is that a planned gift is well within the scope of what most of us could do for our communities based on our financial capacity. It's not about disinheriting the kids and it's not about being a wealthy, flashy philanthropist. It's simply about being responsible about what we've been lucky enough to receive in life and considering how that could be shared once our own needs and those of our families/friends have been met. That's what this particular farmer did and he brought joy to many hundreds of thousands of people today as a result. 

Today was also my own lucky day. I had the opportunity and the great pleasure of standing up on my little soap box to speak to Saskatchewan about my passion for legacy giving on the radio thanks to Craig Lederhouse on CBC Saskatchewan's Afternoon Edition. 

The interview is available online here.

Craig asked me on-air how rich one must be before considering philanthropy. It surprised me, but the story of a homeless man who came to the (financial) aid of one woman who had always stopped to greet him on the street was the first thing to come to mind. That news story can be found here.

Ask Better?

Craig was very interested in how fundraisers open the conversation about a legacy gift and I hope my comments in the interview will give some insight into that process. The thing to remember as a fundraiser is that connection, relationship, involvement with the charity were the main factors behind the bequest that made the news today - not tax, not ultra-high-net-wealth, not naming rights.

Give Smarter?

It's about joy. It's about how you feel when a child or grandchild opens a gift from you. When you know that though your contribution may be small, you are changing the world for the better. Really thinking deeply about whether there is an organization you care deeply enough about to make part of your family and include in your will. There is joy and gladness there for you and for so many others who will remember you by your kindness. 

Love to hear your thoughts!
While I realize that sometimes there's no choice but to send out blanket fundraising appeals in hopes of reaching new supporters, this wasn't one of those instances...

You see, this letter is from a charity that my family has supported on a monthly basis for over eight years. No, it's not a huge contribution, but I do send cheques for larger amounts from time to time and it is an important cause to me. 

So why the "Dear Friend"? 

Our name is printed on the bottom of the letter on an attached pledge card, so I know that this organization has the capacity to electronically personalize the salutation of the letter. Is it laziness? 

If you read a little further down, you will see that the sender is asking for a small increase in our monthly contribution - not much more than the cost of a fancy coffee - so not a big deal, right? It's just that the letter started out in an impersonal tone and the way it ends is with an opt-out - ie. "we will begin withdrawing the increased amount from your account unless you are in touch with us to decline."

OK? But aren't donations usually an opt-in transaction? Frankly, I probably would have happily upped the ante at least $10-$15 / month if you'd asked rather than simply informed...

In addition, the timing of this letter was somewhat off too. It came in early January. Right about the time that I would normally expect to receive my annual thank you letter and tax receipt for the previous year's support. But that hasn't come yet.

The whole thing felt a lot more like a bill and a lot less like an "ask" by the time I got to the bottom of the letter. Could I at least have had a new picture of the kid I sponsor? We kinda joke that he must be a teenager now, he was about eight when we started all those years ago, surely he's grown since then?

So what keeps me on the roster despite the bad taste that this left in my mouth? I really don't feel like I could let Rafael in Peru down by moving on to another similar charity. I guess I just care too much about the mission. I guess that's why I felt so sad that the only news of the impact we've been making for our particular sponsored child was in the first paragraph of the letter and frankly, pretty shallow.

Ask Better?

To me, this charity has assumed that I won't be leaving them any time soon and though they're probably right, I think I'd have more positive comments about this letter if it had been personal and provided a genuine connection to what we're partnering in together rather than leaving me feeling like an ATM.

Give Smarter?

I think the experience goes to show that we do give from the heart and that sometimes passion does rule our choices. Though I didn't think this organization did a great job here, I'd feel like a horrible person to abandon Rafael, so there's little chance that I'll be canceling the gift or opting out of their increase. However, I'll probably be looking to spend more of my giving budget elsewhere rather than increasing my contribution to this charity.

What do you think? Am I being too harsh? Would you opt-out?

*Update* (April 2012)
There is a full discussion of this fundraising campaign happening at a national level following a CBC Marketplace report: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/2012/busted/

You can check in over at the Agents of Good blog for more commentary and a response from the charity that sent this letter.

Though it seems like Christmas was only last week, we are, in fact, coming up on Valentine's Day shortly.  For many charities, early January is also fiscal year-end and a time where the gift processing managers are hurrying to record and receipt and account for a rush of donations that were made at the end of December so that the books can be closed from the previous year.

It got me thinking about the similarity between a donation pledge card and a Valentine's Day card. They're both small, they're usually an odd size, and they're both an expression of love. Let's pause for a moment and talk about the expression of love part; that person chose to skip buying a Starbucks coffee, pass up a chance to pad their retirement account, included you on the list of Christmas and birthday presents they plan to buy this year - it's possible to imagine any number of situations, but the point is that that little card is what they used to express their love for your work and their financial sacrifice in doing so. 

But sometimes, it can seem like the relationship between donors and their charities are a one-way love affair!

From the charity perspective, maybe it's time to focus on saying, "I love you" back to donors this Valentine's Day! 

There are a bunch of good discussions happening right now about writing better thank-you letters. My addition to the conversation would be to think about writing these from a "love letter" or "love song" perspective. Skip the impersonal and start with "I" or "we" and make the tone about "you're awesome, I admire everything about you, and without you, life would not be as bright for me..." - of course the tone would be tied into the core mission of the organization.

Gail Perry has a great tip sheet on "How to Craft a Killer Thank You Letter" here.

An example of something that didn't work for me this week was the letter I received from one charity where I'm a monthly donor. It had a somewhat apologetic tone, but it was basically a bill letting me know that they would be automatically increasing my monthly direct withdrawal unless I wrote in to opt-out. There was no BRE included. The worst part? I still haven't received a donation receipt for my 2011 contributions or a thank you letter or phone call.

Kinda left me feeling like our relationship is pretty transactional and not like I want to take this date home to meet my mom or dad!

Ask Better?

One idea that I had is to pick a small group - your volunteers, your board members, 25 of your first-time donors - and to send them a Valentine this year. If it's a bit of a less-formal group, maybe you could even use a set of those cards that kids usually exchange at school. Otherwise, maybe a plain note card with your logo and a heart surrounding it on the front?

Dear Ron, 

Sending our love and gratitude to you - thank you for choosing to be a volunteer with us. Life wouldn't be as rosy without you!

Happy Valentine's Day, 

Julia at Save the Unicorns Intl

Do you sometimes wish that you could have a doctor or therapist who understood some of the frustrating parts of working with a team or with clients and could help you learn to approach things better? Better meetings, better conversations, better outcomes?

Let me introduce you to Alan Kay at the Glasgow Group

Alan lives by Seth Godin's principal that we should give our best work, our art, away for free, as a gift to others, every day. He has challenged and influenced my own thinking and helped me to be able to give away more of what I have to share with others.

After several months of following Alan via Twitter, it feels like I've had my own personal life-coach teaching me all about an approach called Solution Focus (SF). SF for organizations is based on asking better questions that focus not on problems and roadblocks, but on what is working in any given situation and building on those successes. 

The "gold" is not in the 144 character tweets themselves...it's in the links to Alan's Youtube channel which contains all kinds of short videos with ideas of how to apply SF to any number of situations. Alan also keeps a blog with many of the same ideas from his work AND THE BEST PART is that there are a number of excellent cheat sheets that can be downloaded for free.

Alan's book is called Fry the Monkeys and it's a handbook that takes the reader through a number of different situations and outcomes and teaches some practical ways to manage conversations with others. A hugely important help for anyone managing a team, working with clients or representing an organization in a PR capacity. 

 I think we all want to be better at working with others and I want to thank Alan for his virtual mentorship over the past year and for sharing so much of his wisdom as a free gift to me. I encourage you to check out a few of the videos or tip sheets and perhaps you will find his coaching as inspiring as I have.


Giving is very much about asking better questions and listening more carefully, both for the fundraiser and for the donor - and isn't philanthropy, at its heart, about creating better outcomes? 

I think Alan's work can be helpful for anyone participating in a charitable relationship because, to some extent, it's about all parties involved working to imagine together how our world could be a better place based on the good work that has happened so far.

(I will disclose that the only consideration I've received from Alan was a free copy of his e-book this fall and that this review is unsolicited by him.)

© 2011-2012 Christina Attard. All Rights Reserved