One of the most basic questions for any fledgling planned giving program is whether you should ask legacy donors for documentation of their commitments. Not so simple.
Most of these commitments are revocable bequests in wills or account beneficiary designations. Why do we (the nonprofits) want the documentation especially if they doesn’t bind our supporters to follow through with their commitments? Easy – we want to make sure the commitment is more than just a promise to act, that our donor has acted already! That’s part of our job in planned giving – to do as much as we can to see gifts to fruition, which includes documentation and stewardship.
Sounds easy enough. But, I just sat today with a “model” planned giving donor – someone who has shared his legacy plans with several nonprofits – and he gave me more reservations on this question. In a moment of total honesty, he said it “irked” him that some of the charities he was leaving significant gifts to aggressively asked for copies of the relevant portions of the instrument he used for the gift. From his perspective, the charities should take his word for it.
And, you know what, I agree with him! My approach on this issue has always been to get the commitment to the idea upfront verbally or in a non-binding letter of intent and see if you can get documentation in later years (not demand but see if the donor is ok with the request). People’s estate plans are private matters and the fact that someone is willing to share that a bequest is coming to your charity is plenty. Don’t push your luck.
If you ask for documentation, make it optional – “just for our files” – and leave it at that if your supporter demurs.
And guess what – those charities are still waiting for documentation from this donor. The offending charities are lucky they weren’t dropped!