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Vol. 39, No. 2

The bar foundation planned giving program: A practical guide to implementation

Most bar foundations, no matter what size, never get around to developing a planned giving program. Small staffs juggle many competing priorities in public service and pro bono activities, as well as fundraising, event planning, strategic planning, and marketing. It is hard enough to keep up with the day-to-day responsibilities, and there is never enough funding to hire a development director or a staff person to concentrate solely on planned gifts. Planned giving always ends up last on the long list of things to do.

In order to build stability for the future of your foundation, you must carve out some time NOW.  Experts tell us that the average age of today’s donors of planned gifts is 60. With the baby boomer generation moving into retirement over the next decade, you don’t want to miss out on this golden opportunity to capture those individuals who are ready to plan a legacy with your bar foundation, simply because you were not ready to ask for a gift. 

Whether your bar foundation is statewide, metropolitan, or small, there are certain steps you can take to put your program in place. We will outline the steps we used to get our programs off the ground. If you follow these steps, before you know it, you will be ready to ask for your first gift! 

The following six easy steps can get you started on your way to a great program. 

STEP 1: Educate yourself and your board.

Education involves both you and your board, but your priority should be to learn the three basic and most common planned giving vehicles: bequests in wills of either a dollar amount or a percentage of an estate, codicils to add a gift to already prepared wills, and beneficiary designations of a life insurance policy. More than 90 percent of planned gifts come from these sources.

You don’t have to become an expert on the subject. Most gifts, especially more complicated ones (charitable trusts, securities, etc.), will be handled by the donor’s own advisor. Once you are comfortable with these topics, you are ready to educate your board on the different types of gifts donors can make.

STEP 2: Develop a gift acceptance policy.

Now it is time to decide what type of gifts your foundation is willing to accept. If your foundation is a member of NCBF, you can view several samples of other bar foundations’ gift acceptance policies in the NCBF Resource Library. You can also enlist two to three volunteer planned giving lawyers to help you out. A good gift acceptance policy will include your foundation’s mission, when to seek the advice of legal counsel, how to handle conflicts of interest, and restrictions on gifts. It should list the types of gifts that the foundation may accept. And most important, you need to establish a gift acceptance committee to screen all gifts made to the foundation and make recommendations to the board on acceptance of such gifts. 

STEP 3: Recruit help.

Now that you have a policy, it is time to put together an action plan. You could recruit a planned giving committee composed of estate planning lawyers to serve as a core group to help you spread the word through presentations to your bar groups, and to motivate staff to meet deadlines.

If funds are available, it would be ideal to hire a development person who could concentrate all his or her time on this program. However, if you are like most foundations and cannot afford a new full-time employee, one suggestion is to hire a consultant on a limited basis, just to get you started and to help you create an action plan. Once the initial plan is in place, then you only need to meet with the consultant once a month to make sure you are on track and to address issues that surface along the way.

STEP 4: Gain board commitment.

You definitely need to get your board behind your planned giving program. This is a substantial commitment of staff and money, and needs to be included in your upcoming budget because marketing materials will be an added expense. Board members also need to be trained; after all, you will need their participation to make this work. Trainings on how to make the “ask,” understanding donors, and establishing successful programs are important.   

STEP 5: Create marketing materials.

Marketing materials are everywhere. Your foundation needs to decide what is right for your donors. First, you need to make sure that your website is up to date with your new planned giving program information. Here, you can link to such items as brochures, forms, and codicils.

Be sure to check out the websites for the North Carolina Bar Association Foundation and the Allegheny County Bar Foundation. You can also browse the websites of other bar foundations that already have a program, to see what types of marketing materials they are using.

At the ACBF, we decided that attorneys have too many papers already, so our materials had to be compact. Thus, we designed our Gift Giving Guide, a one-stop informational booklet on all the ways to give to the foundation. This booklet was truly a labor of love, with short stories written with special reflection and detail on a variety of ways the foundation has been able to touch the lives of our attorneys and the community.

The guide opens with what the philanthropy world calls the “case for support.” We were also able to continue our overall theme, which is that our foundation represents the Heart of Pittsburgh’s Legal Community. As you will see, this theme carries all the way through to the back cover.

The main purpose of a planned giving program and a guide like this is to educate your donors on ways that they can make a gift to the foundation. Whatever you decide to create, make sure that it reflects your unique foundation and its mission, and especially that it informs your potential donors on how you can help them with their desire to leave a legacy.

STEP 6: Identify, track, and recognize donors.

There are many great training programs that deal with where to look for donors who are most likely to give planned gifts to your foundation. Just look around you. Take a good look at people who have been loyal to your foundation, including association and foundation past presidents and present and past trustees of your board. Find your longtime donors. They may not have given the biggest gifts, but they are consistent and believe in your mission. If you have a fellows program, here is another great place to start. Some foundations may be able to use a wealth screening system like WealthEngine or DonorSearch

You will need to establish some type of donor management system to keep track of communications with potential donors and your progress. One such system is called Moves Management.

It also is important to establish a legacy society to recognize all your planned giving donors. The NCBA Foundation named its society in honor of the first NCBA president, Platt D. Walker. The ACBF named its recognition program simply the Legacy of Justice Society. You could also name it in honor of the first person who made or makes a planned gift to a bar foundation. This society could also have levels of recognition depending on the size of the gift.

Some final thoughts

How do your donors want to be remembered? What kind of lasting impact do they want to leave? If they want to support your foundation, be prepared to talk with them about how you can help devise a gift that best suits their needs. Don’t miss out on this opportunity!