I've Left You Something in My Will

Long ago we stopped asking for verification.

There was a time when all organizations asked for a copy of the will when someone said they had left a bequest. Years ago, we told our clients to stop asking for documentation.

Think about this. If you accept a pledge or a Letter of Intent in a campaign on faith— why not a bequest?

If you still request documentation, I want you to change. You’re years behind the times.

I was reminded of all this the other day by a great story that Kristen Dugdale (University of Colorado) wrote. It appeared in the Major Gift Report (an outstanding publication).

“Imagine,” she wrote, “the family is having Thanksgiving dinner. My grandfather leans over and says, ‘Honey, I love you and I want you to know that I’ve left you something in my will.‘

“Now if I said to him, ‘Thank you so much, grandpa. Now could I just have a copy of the portion of the will pertaining to my gift?’ “

That would be unthinkable. It’s no different when one of your friends lets you know that he loves the institution so much he is leaving something in his estate for you.

There’s something else that’s important. In a capital campaign, if someone says they are leaving a gift in their estate for the organization, I tell our clients to count it toward the campaign goal. We need, of course, to find out the amount.

(And how do you find out the amount? You ask, of course.)

I was reminded of this the other day. I’m calling on Dick for a gift to his alma mater. He loves the college and had served on the Board. We had figured the gift would probably be $2 million.

When I spoke to Dick, he tells me he is having one of the worst years in his company’s history. He is simply hanging on. “The most I can give at this time is $250,000.”

I thank him profusely and tell him I certainly understand. I make it clear how grateful everyone at the college will be, particularly under his circumstances.

Then he is quick to tell me that he has left something to the college in his estate. “What have you done, Dick,” I ask.

“I’m leaving the college $5 million.” I tell him that we could certainly count that toward the campaign. (Dick is in his late 70s and the Acceptance Guidelines of the college indicate the minimum age is 70.)

He is absolutely delighted with the news. Think about the disappointment if I had said to him, “Dick, we can count the $250,000 you are planning to give now. But unfortunately, we can’t count the $5 million in your estate.”

I’ve even named rooms, lobbies, science centers, and libraries for an Estate Note. And never once have any one of these faulted.

Yes, yes . . . I know. Your Finance Office may raise some questions about this. “Well, it is revocable,” they will tell you. (So is a pledge.) I suggest that you must not let your Finance Office dictate the campaign and its success.

Books by Jerold Panas (click on the cover for more information)

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