Ideally, here are some ingredients you need to begin, but you don't need all of these to start a simple legacy program
"Readiness Is All"
"It's like planting an apple orchard. You have to invest in the seedlings and nurture the trees until they bear any fruit. The board must make an investment in the future for a planned giving program to be successful." Frank Minton
Here are some of the elements your organization should have in place to begin. The is an ideal situation. You do not need to have all of these ingredients in order to start a basic legacy (bequest) program:
[Of course, before anything, a willingness to jump in!]
1. Charitable Status
While not essential, having charitable status is a distinct advantage and allows you to issue tax receipts.
2. Organizational financial health
Your organization should be in relatively good financial health and ideally not be carrying a deficit.
It also helps if your organization has been in existence for several years with an existing track record.
3. Board Commitment and Backing of Senior Management
You need to have an advocate on the Board (see Module on Having an Advocate and Building Internal Support) who will be a supporter for your gift planning program. Also you should have backing from senior management, especially the executive director and finance director. Results aren't seen overnight. The Board and management need to understand there is an investment period in any planned giving program.
4. Gift Acceptance Policies
Gift planning policies should be established. These do not need to be complicated for a beginner program. See Unit 4 for details on Gift Acceptance Policies including a template you can use.
5. Donors above 55+
Ideally at least 10% of your donor base should be over 55 years of age but keep in mind gift planning prospects can encompass all adult age-groups.
6. Donor Services and Communications
An important aspect of gift planning is consistency of messaging. Your organization should have an existing communications plan where donors are kept informed of your work and know how their donations are being put to work (e.g. newsletters, etc.). Your organization should have the capacity to thank donors promptly and respond to any queries or concerns in a professional manner.
You need at least one staff person who will know what to do when a lawyer calls, or if a donor says they want to make a bequest or other type of planned gift to your organization.
Remember, you don't need to be an expert yourself
Don't put a planned giving program on hold because you haven't got in-house expertise about the more sophisticated types of planned gifts. If a supporter asks, for example, about illustrations of how a gift annuity would provide income, there are resources and expertise you can turn to. These could take the form of volunteers in a Planned Giving advisory group.
"It is not your job to understand all the tax and financial details of various gifts. It is your job to motivate the donor to talk to their own professional advisors."
Readiness Binder (hard copy or electronic)
A good start is to put together a binder which will have answers to any questions you may receive from donors, lawyers or professional advisors.
These may include accountants, notary publics, wills & estates lawyers, financial advisors, etc. The binder can be kept at the fingertips of the person who handles your donor services and a copy for the staff person responsible for the gift planning program.