Building a Bequest Giving Program for Your Organization

Having a bequest program to gain support for your organization is easier to establish and promote than many non profit groups believe.

Do you know why people give?

Some of the main reasons people give are:

  • Belief in the mission of the organization they are giving to. Remembering that donors get (are) inspired by what your organization does.
  • Your donors must be reassured that any gift they give to you will be used wisely, that it will be used for the sole purposes of your organization. They want to know that you are totally open about how the money you receive is used.
  • First hand experience, knowledge of the work of your organization may be a reason donors choose to give. They may have been recipients of the work of your organization, perhaps they have been a volunteer, helped on an annual appeal.
  • A stronger personal connection to the work of your organization may be behind their reason for giving, perhaps it allows them to honor or memorialize a loved one.
  • There are those too who may wish to give as they have the personal belief that they have a responsibility to share their good fortunes with others. Others may give as they feel an inner warmth, and find it fulfilling to give to others in need.
  • Your organization has directly impacted their life or the life of a loved one. Serving well is the key to gaining gratitude as well as gifts and bequests.


Once you have identified why people give, it’s a good idea to form a bequest committee or sub-committee depending on the structure of your organization/ Try and include a good cross section of people on the committee; volunteers, board members, people who benefit from the work of your organization, the broader the mix, the wider the experiences, interests of the committee will help strengthen it.

The bequest committee will be responsible for tasks such as:

  • Assist in the creation of formal bequest program, develop a format, establish membership eligibility and how you will recognize bequests
  • Design, and implement initial bequest marketing plans
  • Assist in the implementation and ongoing marketing the program
  • Review and recommend gift acceptance policies
  • Identify potential donors, opportunities to promote the program and when appropriate attend visits to potential donors (and donor organizations) with others from your organization.
  • Explain to your team how the program will benefit donors. Remembering that the program will give you the opportunity to tell people about the importance of having a will; and how you will be offering an opportunity to donors to make some real impact on the community.

When you have gained your supporters, it’s important for you to stay in touch with them, keep them informed of the activities you are doing. Communicate with them, send them newsletters; updates of what you have been doing.

Reaching out to donors and staying in touch with your donors must be a priority.

Getting Started

There are a number of organizational tasks that must be done in the process of setting up your bequest program.

One of the first tasks you may have to do is to get approval from your governing/management team. Is bequest giving something that fits with the way your organization is established?

In some instances it may help to be able to show evidence of requests from people wanting to make a bequest. Have you received any funds from people leaving a bequest; all of this will help to demonstrate to your board that establishing a ‘formal’ bequest program is wanted and needed for your organization.

What are the benefits to your organization? List them and be able to show this to your management team, once they see this they are likely to have a stronger buy-in. Remember that they are also likely to want to know what the cost of the bequest program will be, cost to establish and maintain; be ready and able to demonstrate this.

Be prepared for potential resistance from your management team. Some bequest programs can take years to realize and not all management will see it as necessary to embark down this path unless there is an immediate return.

Educating your management team and other stakeholders in your organization will be just as important as educating your supporters (current and potential) about the reasons for your bequest program.

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