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What is a legacy society and how does it help with planned giving?

A legacy society will help your endowment grow like a well tended orchard.

A legacy society is a membership association for people who have told you they will make a planned gift. The legacy society provides some benefit to the members. It might be it an invitation to an exclusive luncheon/dinner, listing on your wall of honor, and/or receiving a special annual thank you letter.

Why a legacy society?

Your endowment society helps you accomplish three important goals.

1. Just a little nudge.

One of the primary challenges with planned giving efforts is getting people to do the work. People don’t like to think about the day of their death. Making a change to their will (or writing it in the first place) forces them to do so. Changing a legal document can also be time-consuming, and in certain circumstances expensive.

The Legacy Society gives them a reason, a little added impetus, to do something that they already want to do.  It’s important to note that making a planned gift is something a donor WANTS to do because of a deep, long-term relationship with your organization. The existence of a legacy society will not convince someone who does not love your organization to give. It’s icing on the cake, not the cake. Your organization’s ability to perform a mission the donor values is the cake.

2. Thanking them BEFORE the gift.

A Legacy Society provides a way to say thank you BEFORE the gift is actualized. The second most challenging thing about planned giving efforts is encouraging people to keep their gifts in place until they pass away. Suppose twenty years elapse between writing a gift into a will and a person’s death.

A lot can happen in twenty years. Priorities might change, interests might change, staff members might change. A legacy society, when properly managed, helps to maintain and strengthen the relationship between the donor and the organization after the initial work of securing the gift is finished.

3. It’s an exclusive club.

People often like to belong to something exclusive. Your legacy society dinners provide an opportunity for your donors to spend time with other donors. These donors are passionate about what you do. And they have committed to making a planned gift.

The social gatherings help reinforce the idea that making the planned gift was a good idea. Introducing them to others who have made the same type of commitment, reinforces their own commitment.

How do you market a legacy society?

Your marketing plan for your legacy society should include multiple communications channels.


In the giving section on your website, put information about planned giving and your legacy society. You’ll probably want to give the legacy society its own page, complete with pictures of people at your legacy society events having a good time.

Thank you board

You’ve probably been to a museum or a hospital that had a thank you board with the names of estate donors listed. This has the dual effect of honoring donors who have told you about their planned giving commitment, and encouraging your donor’s peers to make a gift of their own.

Direct mail

Many planned gifts come from donors who are hidden in your donor file and give consistently in small or moderate amounts over a long period of time. Create direct mail materials for your most consistent donors and invite them to join the legacy society by making a planned gift.

Will Workshops

One successful tool for promoting planned giving and legacy societies is the “Will Workshop.” Hosted by the legacy society, the will workshop provides free information from experts on the topic of creating a will, funeral planning, and estate planning. One successful model is to do the workshop as a ‘Lunch and Learn’ and provide free food for attendees.

Peer to Peer invitation

If your donors are excited about giving to your organization, they might be willing to invite other donors to join the legacy society. This can be especially effective in organizations where donors have close relationships with other members of the organization who have not yet decided to give. Ask your current donors to think about people they could ask to join the legacy society.

Planned Giving Officer

The most effective (though most expensive) way to market your legacy society is through the efforts of a planned giving officer. A planned giving officer is a professional fundraiser who specializes in soliciting planned gifts from donors. They seek out donors who have a long giving history and close relationship with the organization and personally ask them to consider making a gift and joining the legacy society.

Managing the Legacy Society

Legacy Societies are a long-term commitment.  A donor may commit to a planned gift years or decades before your organization receives the gift. You need to have a plan in place to maintain it for the long haul. If the staff member or key volunteer leaves, you should be ready to keep the society going.

Good record keeping is essential. You need to keep an updated list of the members of your legacy society. You should have a staff member or volunteer leader who contacts legacy society members regularly. An annual basis is the minimum. Small touches can make a big difference here. Make a phone call, send a Christmas and birthday card.

Don’t try to do it all yourself.

One great way to maintain continuity is to have a volunteer committee that runs the Annual Legacy Society dinner. If you give responsibility to a group of passionate member/donors, they feel even more connected to the giving society. And it will also encourage them to invite their friends to get involved. Start a committee of volunteers with a rotating chairmanship. It will ensures that you have a group of people who are invested in maintaining and growing your legacy society.

The biggest danger you face comes from running a one-man-show. If only one person is responsible for keeping the society going, what happens if that person leaves or dies. The departing person takes with them the relationships with the donors. Also, they know who is on the list and how they like to be involved. Legacy societies can and do flounder because no one in leadership assigns responsibility for continuing the relationships. This floundering can cause all of your hard work cultivating a planned gift to go up in smoke because people can and do change their wills. Plan ahead and don’t let this happen to you.

Looking for more articles on planned giving? Try these:

Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook for a full list of fundraising articles.

Would you like to learn more about raising money for Church and Ministry? Check out Letters From The Almoner, now available on Amazon.com.

Image courtesy of Jim Champion, via Creative Commons License, some rights reserved.

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