The $6 Bequest: Why Planned Giving Isn't About Money
Through the years, I have been in nonprofit organizations that have generated millions of dollars through planned gifts. Whether these gifts came from bequests, trusts, gift annuities, life insurance or other mechanisms, it was a wonderful feeling to know people cared enough to make the ultimate and last gift. The planned giving credit in my organization goes to my outstanding planned gifts team. These humble and caring individuals come to work each day and do their jobs.
They treat people with respect and build lifelong relationships for our organization. It is not a job to them, but rather a calling. The joy I see on their faces when someone happily makes a planned gift is priceless. At times, when a planned gift is realized, you do not know what the net value of the gift will be until it arrives at the office. I recently opened paperwork from a donor who left our organization a grand total of $6. That gift touched me as much as a gift many times larger. The reason for the emotion is the lesson of the widow’s mite.
Presented in the Synoptic Gospels of Mark 12:41-44, the lesson tells the story of a widow who donates two small coins while wealthy people donate much more. Jesus explains to his disciples that the small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the extravagant, but proportionately lesser, donations of the rich. Years ago, the term "mite" referred to the smallest copper coins in Europe. The widow sacrificially gave from her heart, whereas the wealthy man gave to show off his wealth and to feign being religious. This was to show that God desires a voluntary, cheerful giver rather than one who gives to show off and feign piety.
All of us in this profession love what 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 calls a "cheerful giver." We want donors to give from their hearts, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. In fact, when donors are happy and pleased with their donations, they are more likely to encourage others to donate. Nonprofit professionals love the multiplier effect. If the solicitation process is successful, everyone is pleased with a win-win scenario. Positive emotion and perception is vital to long-term engagement and continuous successful financial results. We move from a transactional to transformational process that is rich in scope.
The $6 planned gift made me realize that planned gifts of any amount are important to the organization—and to the individual making the gift. With faith, hope and love, planned giving donors know that the ultimate revenue from their bequests, for example, will not be realized until their passing.
According to Giving USA 2015, giving from bequests totaled $28.72 billion, which represented 9 percent of all funds generated by Americans. It is estimated that between $6.6 trillion and $27.4 trillion in charitable bequests will be made between 1998 and 2052.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, Fla., lists in its planned-giving literature some reasons a donor chooses to make such a gift:
• To leave gifts to an organization that has made a difference in their life
• To retain a stream of income for life for the donor or other beneficiaries
• To reduce income tax through a charitable deduction
• To avoid capital gains tax on a gift of long-term appreciated property
• To eliminate potential federal estate tax on property passing to charity at death
In our education of prospects and donors, we should be more global in our discussions over time. Your job should be to build a relationship of trust representing your organization and the donor. It is about first meeting the donor’s personal needs and wants, followed by seeking their charitable gift intentions. I constantly strive to encourage the same donors to make annual gifts, major gifts and planned gifts, if possible. It is never about the amount of funds given—it's about helping the donor attain the ultimate joy in giving.
Isn’t the widow’s mite the greatest gift of all? I did not know the man who gave $6 to my organization, but I wish I did. I would have loved to discuss the creation of his will and to see the satisfaction in his face that every last dollar he gave would be placed in responsible hands. That is now my organization’s obligation to see that his final wish is fulfilled. What an important obligation for all of us, dealing with this situation on an ongoing basis. Take this task seriously, and do it well in memory and honor of these important donors.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.