Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last decade or so, you’re no doubt aware that legacy giving (also known as gifts in wills or charitable bequests) is the biggest source of new revenue for most charities in Canada these days.

If you’ve been paying any attention to me and my fellow Good Workers over the last 15 years, you know that there are a lot of people and a lot of money involved in bequest giving. Here are some highlights:

  • 5 million Canadians alive today have already left gifts to charities in their wills.
  • Our estimate of the value of these gifts in wills is $165 BILLION. And, more is added to that amount every year!

The big discovery in the last decade is in the incredible value of real estate assets held by middle-class Canadians. In other words, your ‘ordinary’ annual giving donors. In fact, there are some 3.7 million homes in Canada worth almost a half million dollars each that are already paid off. This means that these middle-class homeowners are sitting on about $1.8 TRILLION in real estate wealth. While they may continue to make modest gifts in the short term, their ultimate value to you could be huge!

So, let’s say you’re a one-person shop at a small charity. Better yet, let’s say you’re a fundraising director, communications manager and public relations desk all rolled into one. When you wear so many hats, it’s hard to focus on any one thing long enough to do it well. Add to that the fact that legacy giving is NEVER urgent, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for doing nothing at all.

Big mistake…

I want to give you one job – one tip – to help you get started on a legacy giving program.


My first choice would be to tell the story of a donor, supporter or volunteer who has left a gift to your charity in her will. Ask around and see if you can’t find such a person. If you do, simply ask to talk with her about sharing her story with others. It’s important that you frame this as helping the cause raise more money. You’re not looking to glorify the donor or make a fuss over the gift itself. Most legacy donors are quite modest, and they’ll shy away from any special treatment.

If you can’t find a living bequest donor, there are other options. My second choice would be to find a surviving loved one of someone whose bequest you’ve already received. The surviving loved one can tell the story of their parent or spouse and how much he or she cared about your cause and your organization. Not only that, you can go on to tell the story of how that bequest gift was spent. You can share how much good it was able to do in advancing your mission!

I would recommend that you interview your subject and really get into details and feelings. Remember, the impulse to give starts with the heart – so it’s the heart that you must touch first.

Once you’ve interviewed your subject, you can write up your story in several forms to fit several media channels. You might want a 400-word version for your newsletter, a 250-word version for your website and a two-paragraph version to include with donor tax receipt thank you letters. If you’re feeling energetic, you could even write it up as a two or four-page letter and send it to your most longtime, loyal supporters.

If you can tell one story well and have it reach your best supporters, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that you will receive MUCH more income down the road than if you do nothing. After all, those legacy billions don’t all have to go to the big guys!