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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.

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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.

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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.
 
 
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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. 



Conclusion


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.
 
 
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!
 
 
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Is it nice and hot and sunny where you are? Chances are pretty good that your donors are also enjoying the summer weather and not giving too much thought to charitable bequest planning right now.

As with many things, I found that gift planning had high and low seasons through the year with mid-July to the end of August and mid-November to January being the two times when bequests just weren't top of mind for people.

This being said, two of the best times of the year to talk about bequest planning are September and January. Making a will can often fall into that category of "New Year's Resolution" and both of these times are a "new" time of year when people are feeling re-energized and interested in tackling administrative projects.

If you are a development professional, this is a great time to organize some strategies that will put your charity top-of-mind when the high-season returns in the fall. This is also a good time to start thinking about program strategies for January as well.

Why not try:
  • Gathering your list of individuals who have expressed an interest in some way from the past 12 months. Put the list by your phone and resolve to spend at least one hour per day in September on the phone. By providing a reminder and forwarding any further information that they may require right at the start of September, there will be lots of time for them to get in touch with the rest of their advisory team and complete their gift before the hectic holiday season gets started
  • Writing a short direct mail piece about bequest giving to arrive around the first week of September. No need to send it to your full mailing list, you can limit it to a small handful of loyal donors. Mention in the letter that you will be following up by phone and be sure to make the calls
  • Choose a date toward the end of September and set aside a block of time to meet face-to-face with donors to discuss gift planning - can be either local, travel or an event. By planning this now, you will have a chance to send out a letter or invitation card early in the season. After a busy summer of travel and with kids returning to school, people tend to stay closer to home around this time of year and often aren't as tied up with social events as they will be come November and December
  • Design and send out a small note sheet with a to-do list for the new year. Include consulting with your estate planner and leave the rest of the lines blank for the person to fill in themselves. Print some information about your charity and estate planning tips including charitable giving on the back
What if you don't have a dedicated gift planning person on your team? Any of these strategies can be sized up or sized down to fit into a work flow. If you wear all of the "hats" in your organization, you might limit yourself to focusing on your top 5 most interested potential donors. If your time is 100% dedicated to gift planning, you might want to think of creating a larger appeal for January based on the "New Year's Resolution" theme.

Anything else that you would suggest? Any estate planners out there willing to share when their high and low seasons fall?

 

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