Prioritizing Your Legacy Campaign

Is your camp ready to prioritize its Legacy program? Here are 4 areas to consider from Amy Schiffman, Giving Tree Associates

by Amy Schiffman, Co-Founder and Principal of Giving Tree Associates
Many of us have been struggling with how to prioritize our legacy and endowment efforts for some time.  The thought of building an endowment based on legacy giving to support ongoing and future needs at camp is clearly desirable, but it involves investing considerable time and energy in something you're not quite sure you can commit to (given it’s May and we all disappear for the summer) or even completely understand.  The whole concept of “legacy” is slightly daunting and your assumption is that your annual campaign donors don’t like to think or talk about plans that involve their deaths – so you continue to focus on the here and now.  Sound about right?
I’d like to try to convince you otherwise.  As a fundraising consultant, I am always intrigued by my clients’ assumptions about giving trends and motivations.  And as Jewish camps, we benefit from the fact that, historically, religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. This remained true in 2016 and 2017, with over 30% of all donations going to religious organizations. We also benefit from the fact that for the third year in a row, total giving has reached record levels. In fact, total dollar giving has increased every year since 1976, with the exception of 1987, 2008 and 2009 (Charity Navigator).  Last piece of data to note: almost 10% of total giving in the U.S. is made via bequest. 
So – back to assumptions.  If you assume that your donors are not interested in legacy giving and will not consider leaving a bequest to your camp in their will, my money is on you being dead wrong (no pun intended).  And if you assume that your organization is not staffed appropriately for this type of campaign effort, or that your time is better spent elsewhere, just ask other small to midsize nonprofits how much easier their day to day lives are with healthy endowments that generate enough income to support their annual scholarship needs. 
Here is the big secret –you don’t need to know very much about planned or legacy giving vehicles to re-invigorate your campaign.  It’s likely that you have most of the information you need, and maybe even the staff to execute, right at (or close to) your fingertips.  The legacy effort is simply an extension of your major giving program.
How do I know if I am ready to prioritize my legacy effort?
We typically think in terms of four key areas when assessing campaign readiness:
  1. Leadership
  2. Engagement and Stewardship
  3. Annual Campaign
  4. Development Staff and Infrastructure
Think “LEAD”.  First, Leadership:
  1.  Is your board working from a strategic plan?  Is the endowment or legacy program an outcome of the plan?  You’ll quickly find that a campaign that is not the result of a longer term strategic growth plan will have a difficult time gaining support from organizational stakeholders.  Legacy and endowment efforts typically come out of a strategic planning process and therefore enjoy the support of internal and external leadership.  The development of a strategic plan may be your first step toward a planned giving program.
  1. Next – does your board have active standing committees?  Do they meet regularly?  Is their work driven by the organization’s strategic plan?  Is the work focused on capacity building?  Does each committee have a recently updated committee charge or charter?  Is each committee setting annual goals?  If the answer to these questions is no, you may have work to do on the establishment of your lay leadership structure before you shift legacy gift planning to the top of your priority list.
  2. Last, consider your board’s giving and getting expectations.  In other words, is the board’s role in fundraising clearly defined?  If not, you’ll likely run into problems during the first phase of the initiative, during which it should be made clear that there is an expectation that all board members participate in the effort (making their own capacity gifts or signed letters of intent) as well as any expectations around their roles as solicitors, cultivators and/or stewards.
Next:  Engagement and Stewardship
Are you in touch with annual or capital donors between solicitations?  This is most commonly achieved via newsletters, e-blasts, postcards, donor recognition receptions, camp visits, parlor meetings, phone calls, in-person meetings and webinars.  You may also want to consider donor listings on your website and in newsletters, annual donor recognition signage (these should be easy to swap out each year), “swag” and thank-a-thons.  A comprehensive donor recognition program is sign you are ready to ask your donor base to support an additional campaign project.  
Then – Annual Campaign:
Is your annual campaign successful?  I.e., does it generally meet its goals each year?  Do you involve your board in annual fundraising efforts and do they help you engage new donors by accessing their network on behalf of the camp?  Do you prioritize the major gifts effort and communicate gift impact to your stakeholders?  Last – is your campaign data driven?  Are you analyzing results each year and defining new goals based on this information?  If you are unable to answer these questions (or answer mostly “no”), you likely have work to do on your annual campaign efforts BEFORE you embark upon a legacy initiative.
Last – development staffing and infrastructure
Does your development team:
  • Understand major gift fundraising?
  • Have experience coaching volunteer fundraisers?
  • Feel comfortable making integrated asks (annual + legacy)?
  • Have a database management skillset?
Is your camp or executive director:
  • Comfortable with major gift fundraising?
  • In communication with top donors?
  • Able to articulate a vision for the future?
Do you have policies and systems in place such as a:
  • Gift acceptance policy?
  • Working database?
  • Communication between finance and development?
If not, take a few steps back - develop your staffing structure and internal systems so that they are ready to support the legacy effort.  If you skip these steps, you will find the project becomes disorganized, unprofessional, complicated, frustrating and under-resourced.  Trust me – we have been there!  My team and I work with camps on a daily basis to develop these systems and structures. Stay tuned for the next chapter in this conversation when we discuss the preparation of your legacy campaign toolbox.  I’ll answer questions about what you need, by when, and how to get there.  Until then, good luck assessing campaign readiness and feel free to drop me a note about how it’s going!
Amy Schiffman is Co-Founder and Principal of Giving Tree Associates in Chicago.  Her firm assists camps and other nonprofits around the country with the development of fundraising assessments, tools and strategies, offering expertise in campaign management, strategic planning, board and staff training and executive search.  Learn more at