And When You're Gone? Leaving a Legacy

When 82 year old Elizabeth G. died her attorneys notified the local animal shelter that they had been named as a partial beneficiary on her life insurance policy. The shelter was to receive a donation of $25,000. The grateful director was taken by surprise! Elizabeth had faithfully given $5 a month for the 12 years that had passed since she had adopted her beloved dog. She had never mentioned her intent to leave such a legacy gift.

What is my return on investment? This is perhaps the single most important question we ask as we contemplate the purchase of stock, interest in a business, a commodity or other financial instrument. There are tables and graphs, projections and prognostications that we have come to rely on when making important financial decisions.

What is the ROI that we seek when we make charitable contributions? Recent research tells us that donor's primary motivation is NOT based on the tax code. Of course, it is helpful to have tax incentives to give, but most of us would give even without that tax incentive.

For donors, especially donors with long term relationships with charitable organizations, the ROI is Results, Outcomes and Impact. The most gratifying part of giving is to see our donated dollar making a difference, enriching lives, promoting our vision of the world, addressing a need. It is so much easier than you may think to keep your legacy alive even after your passing. You can continue to create a vital ROI through estate giving while at the same time you provide for your family's security.

Most organizations of long standing have established planned giving programs that will allow you to make a legacy gift as simple as a bequest or as complicated as a remainder trust. Organizations to which you have made consistent or substantial donations in your lifetime would be greatly enriched by a simple bequest or beneficiary inclusion in your will or on one or more financial instruments. Imagine the impact you might have by simply changing the beneficiary of a portion of a certificate of deposit or a life insurance policy. This could be a stated amount or a percent of value.

Non-cash gifts are also frequently accepted. Real estate, appreciated stock, collections, art and vehicles can be included in your will as donated chattel. Organizations vary on their capability of accepting non-cash gifts so some research may be required.

Your family and friends come first! There is no question that providing for your family is your priority but a small gift to a worthy organization can make a lasting impact. Frequently legacy gifts are included in an organizations endowed funds, providing a safety cushion in these rapidly changing economic times. Think of the difference just five percent of one of your assets might make. I suspect that your heirs will be proud to see the results of your philanthropy manifested for years to come.

It is always wise to consult a financial advisor before making a long-term decision. Your trusted advisor will know best how you can fulfill your vision even after your passing. You will find that, with few exceptions, these avenues of giving are revocable. This means that should circumstances change you can easily change your mind. This world is full of uncertainties so isn't it comforting to know that you can adjust your planned giving to react to the unforeseen? Your plan to leave a legacy gift can be kept confidential between your advisor or attorney and yourself. Only three percent of legacy donors reveal their intention to the organizations to whom they are offering support.

As a planned giving consultant I have discussed the importance of legacy giving with numerous organizations. I cannot overstate the incredible value these organizations place on this expression of true investment in the work they are doing. Many offer various forms of acknowledgement, both private and public. Legacy donors are recognized as the partners they are in the future of the organization.

When next you consider making a donation to a charity please also consider a legacy gift. It will not impact your current finances. You will be able to give a much larger gift posthumously than you can give today. You will create an untold ROI for yourself and countless others.

Jean Mensendick is the principal of Peitho Development Group. As a consultant to a variety of nonprofit organizations she has assisted with grant writing, board development, event planning, legacy giving, creation of new 501c3 organizations and volunteer management.

Ms. Mensendick has worked with historical organizations, organizations with foreign beneficiaries, medical services, communication and media, and animal protection groups. Peitho Development Group can also offer financial analysis and review to reveal ways that your organization can become more fiscally efficient and therefore more appealing to potential funders.