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  • Writer's pictureNonprofit Learning Lab

How to Build a Legacy Society to Cultivate Planned Giving Donors

Are you seeking to grow planned giving donations at your nonprofit? Are you looking for ways to cultivate potential planned giving donors? Is your nonprofit seeking additional fundraising cultivation strategies for legacy donors?

What is a legacy society? 

A legacy society is a tool to steward current planned giving donors and cultivate unanticipated planned giving donors. A legacy society is a donor cultivation strategy that recognizes and thanks donors for a future gift. 

How to cultivate donors? 

Nonprofit fundraising professionals who cultivate and build relationships with donors can use a legacy society as a donor cultivation strategy tool to find unanticipated plan giving donors. An unanticipated plan giving donor is an individual who intends to leave a planned gift yet the non-profit staff is unaware of the donor’s gift intentions. A legacy society serves as a donor cultivation strategy to find and cultivate potential planned giving donors and those that have already committed to leaving a planned gift. 

How can a legacy society help cultivate and build relationships with donors? 

Nonprofits can use a planned giving legacy society as a tool to cultivate donors and find unanticipated planned giving donors by promoting the legacy society in the following ways: 

  • Nonprofit’s website 

  • Collateral materials (such as an annual report)

  • 1:1 donor conversations 

Through these marketing strategies, donors who intend to make a planned gift to a nonprofit will find out about the legacy society and potentially make their intentions known to the organization. Additionally, a legacy society is a tool to cultivate and steward current planned giving donors.  

Why should an organization have a legacy society and when is it time to start a legacy society? 

An organization can create a legacy society when they have around four to six identified planned giving donors. These are individuals that have communicated to a non-profit they intend to leave a plan gift - whether it is in the form of a bequest, a gift of life insurance, or another type of planned gift. 

Why does a nonprofit have a legacy society? How can a legacy society support donor cultivation? How is a legacy society a tool for donor stewardship? 

A legacy society helps a donor reinforce a gift decision. Ultimately a legacy society builds a relationship between the organization and donor since it is a tool for cultivation. A legacy society can also help a donor feel recognized. Lastly, it ensures a donor does not “fall through the cracks” during a staff or leadership transition. Fundraising staff may leave an organization due to staff transitions but a planned giving donor needs to continue to be cultivated long past the tenure of a fundraising staff person.

Who is a member of a legacy society?

Organizations need to determine their own internal policies around who might be a member of a legacy society. A legacy society member is not the same for all organizations. 

Here are some examples of who could be a member of a legacy society:

  • A donor who has submitted a beneficiary designation form or other documentation to an organization

  • A donor who has given a gift based on a certain amount designated by the organization

  • A donor of a certain age (or potentially the organization decides age does not matter for inclusion in a legacy society)

  • A donor who has verbally communicated their intentions of a planned gift 

  • A donor who has made a gift irrevocable (or the organization decides revocable versus irrevocable doesn't matter for a planned gift)

What is the internal organizational process to determine who is a member of a legacy society: 

  1. Have a conversation internally with staff, the fundraising committee, or board members to decide the policies around who can be a legacy society member 

  2. Once policies are determined - including the fundraising policies for members of the legacy society - include this information on the organization's website and incorporate it into fundraising policies

  3. Inform and train all fundraising staff on the legacy society policies so they can appropriately communicate this information to donors 

A legacy society is a tool to cultivate current and future donors into thinking about your organization's future. Fundraising goals should align with the policies around your legacy society. A legacy helps to communicate the value of planned giving, engage in alumni relations, and engage board members in planned giving. 

How to Name a Legacy Society 

Choose a name for your legacy society that remains consistent and doesn’t change over time. A name chosen for your organization’s legacy society should remain evergreen which refers to consistency overtime. For example, evergreen content is information on a website that remains relevant and valuable. In this case, the name of the legacy society should be evergreen, the organization shouldn't change it from year to year.

Think about the structure of the name and what you want for your organization. Below are some examples of how to name your legacy society.

Sample structures for naming a Legacy Society:

  • [Name of Person] Society

  • [Organizational Phrase] Society

  • [Organization Name] Society

  • [Year Founded] Society

  • [Landmark and Attribute] Society

Consistency in the name and logo builds the recognition in a community. The name should remain the same regardless of staffing or leadership transitions. Remember, evergreen content in the context of a legacy society can be as applicable and on brand for donors when it is 50 years old as it was when it was first established. 

Why nonprofits should include benefits for legacy society members

Benefits are a meaningful way to express gratitude to donors who have made lasting contributions. By recognizing a donor’s legacy gifts, organizations honor their generosity and commitment, fostering a sense of appreciation and loyalty. 

Offering benefits encourages donors to share their decision to include the nonprofit in their legacy plans publicly, thereby inspiring others to do the same.

A legacy society provides an opportunity for nonprofits to:

  • Steward their donors

  • Cultivate deeper relationships

  • Ensure a donor’s intentions are understood and respected

A legacy society demonstrates a structured approach and dedicated staff for planned giving donors. Through this structure, nonprofits not only instill confidence in their donors but promote planned giving as a valuable avenue for philanthropy. 

What are example benefits of being a legacy society member nonprofits offer to planned giving donors? 

  • Welcome packet for new members of the legacy society

  • Donor recognition: website, annual report, wall of honor or other physical space

  • Legacy Society Certificate: signed by founder, CEO, or legacy society chair 

  • Mementos: coffee mug, coaster, or bookmark (school or libraries)

Choose benefits that are sustainable – or evergreen – so it is easy for staff to manage legacy society benefits to engage planned giving donors. The key is to start small and build out your legacy society benefits over time as your program grows. A legacy society is a tool to market planned giving, so legacy society events should be a feasible strategy for your organization’s staff’s time and organization’s resources. 

Examples of donor cultivation events for a legacy society

For a legacy society aimed at cultivating donors who have included your organization in their estate plans, you'll want events that foster a sense of community, gratitude, and understanding of the impact of their planned giving. Here are some examples:

  • Legacy Luncheon: Host an annual luncheon exclusively for legacy society members. Include presentations on the impact of planned giving, testimonials from beneficiaries, and updates on the organization's future plans.

  • Exclusive Events: Plan exclusive events such as private receptions, wine tastings, or concerts for legacy society members. These intimate gatherings can strengthen relationships and show appreciation for their long-term support.

  • Virtual Gatherings: In addition to in-person events, offer virtual gatherings via video conferencing platforms. This allows legacy society members from different locations to connect and participate in discussions or presentations.

  • Legacy Society Newsletter: Send out regular newsletters or updates tailored to legacy society members. Highlight success stories, upcoming events, and ways for members to stay involved and informed.

By offering a variety of events and opportunities for engagement, you can nurture strong relationships with legacy donors and ensure that they feel valued and appreciated for their commitment to your organization's mission.

List of Upcoming Nonprofit Workshops on Nonprofit Fundraising 

Check out our upcoming fundraising workshops for nonprofit professionals. Looking to build your skills in nonprofit fundraising? Need fundraising ideas related to donor cultivation, grant writing, monthly giving programs, corporate sponsorships, major gifts or board giving? Browse our nonprofit fundraising training workshops for nonprofit professionals.

Upcoming nonprofit fundraising workshops: 

Seeking grants for your nonprofit? Get a detailed look at the most advanced search strategies to use in Foundation Directory, the most comprehensive grant research tool for fundraisers. Next, customize your approach to emphasize the fit with different funders. Learn how to use your GuideStar profile as a complement to your grant proposal, and how to edit your proposal to showcase the impact of your nonprofit’s work in the best possible light.

Corporate sponsors can be key partners in aiding nonprofits to raise more funds. Join us for this webinar to learn strategies on how to not just secure, but maintain these often vital partnerships. Corporate sponsorship support can help your nonprofit enhance its reputation, reach new audiences and communities, raise funds, attract new board members and volunteers, and build your brand and programs. We'll dive into understanding what corporate sponsors want and expect, two key components for ensuring a healthy working relationship with your corporate sponsor. Take an hour out of your day for this webinar to learn the best tips, tricks, and practices to score your next corporate sponsorship.

"Building a Fundraising Culture in the Boardroom" is a dynamic workshop designed to empower non-profit board members and volunteers with the skills needed to cultivate a culture of philanthropy within their organization. Through engaging presentations and interactive discussions, participants will learn effective strategies for fundraising, donor stewardship, and community engagement

If you’re looking for a new way to drive impact and fundraising success by leveraging your own expertise and experience, this is for you. In this session we’ll learn about the vision map, a framework that helps you center donor conversations and funding applications on the outcomes of your mission work, not just the actual work. When you get specific about what you intend to achieve – the change you are creating in the world – it becomes much easier to cultivate support. Join us and start creating your own vision map because your funders share your vision and the map shows the milestones they can help you achieve along the way. Let’s focus on outcomes and propel your impact!

Earn continuing education units through CFRE 

The Nonprofit Learning Lab provides Certified Fundraising Executive [CFRE] continuing education credits. Administered by CFRE International, the CFRE credential demonstrates your professional achievement and commitment to the fundraising profession. This is achieved through mastery of core knowledge and skills required of fundraising professionals with at least three years of experience. The Nonprofit Learning Lab supports the CFRE credential. 


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