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Big Gifts for Small Groups

David Valinsky and Melanie Boyd


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Raising Money Through Bequests
How Your Organization Can Profit from the Biggest Intergenerational Transfer of Wealth in History
by David Valinsky and Melanie Boyd, 112 pp., $24.95.

Never in history has there been more money on the table for your organization than right now.

Members of the “Greatest Generation” are in their 80s and 90s, and as they pass away they’re collectively leaving billions of dollars to charitable organizations throughout the United States.

And their preferred vehicle for giving this money is the simple bequest – “I give and bequeath to….”

If at this very moment you’re not marketing your bequest program with G force, you’re missing what many are calling the greatest opportunity in the history of fundraising.

Of related interest

OF RELATED INTEREST: In How to Raise Planned Gifts by Mail, Larry Stelter offers a wealth of guidance and real-life examples, showing you how to double, triple, or even quadruple your planned gift income by putting his proven formula to work.

To borrow a lyric from a “Greatest Generation” song, “Now is the hour.”

Raising Money through Bequests lays out step by step how to establish a bequest program, how to work within your organization to strengthen and sustain it, how to market the program to the right audiences, and exactly what to do when responses start to come in.

Further, authors David Valinsky and Melanie Boyd supply plenty of sample materials you can immediately adapt. There’s a brochure to introduce your program, a case for support that explains to prospective donors the merits of leaving a bequest, and a tasteful letter and folder that welcomes donors to the Bequest Society and describes its various features and benefits.

Additionally, you’ll find sample bequest language to offer your donors, a sample agenda for a special gathering to introduce your bequest program, and even a list of possible names for your bequest society.

Raising Money through Bequests is a timely, uncomplicated book that can have a prodigious impact on your organization’s financial security.

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About the Authors

David Valinsky

David has enjoyed a varied career in the nonprofit world, spanning more than 25 years in executive positions with Jewish Community Centers, hospitals and health systems. One of his most meaningful experiences was serving as an adjunct consultant for US AID in Croatia on behalf of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor Foundation. Development, marketing, relationship building and creativity have always been primary elements of these experiences.

Since forming David Valinsky Associates (DVA) in 1998 (www.davidvalinsky.com), he and his team have continued to work with hospitals, social service agencies, religious groups, legal foundations and arts organizations on capital and endowments campaigns, planned giving, and strategic development planning.

David has degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has earned the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy© (CAP©) professional designation from the American College.

He and his wife, Lorrie Rosenberg Valinsky, an audiologist, live in Bexley, Ohio. They have one daughter, Alexandra, who is currently a student at Northwestern University. David can be reached at www.davidvalinsky.com.

Melanie Boyd

Melanie shares the same circuitous route to her chosen field shared by many of her colleagues.  Following eight years as a college instructor of composition, public speaking, and literature, she took her first development position at a community corrections agency. 

After many years in the profession, she still wakes up with a smile, secure in the knowledge that she’ll face a variety of challenges and opportunities working alongside dedicated development professionals, tireless volunteers, and incredible donors.

Melanie holds degrees from Ohio University and the The Ohio State University. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with Farley, the best dog in the world.

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Table of Contents


1          It’s easier than you think
2          Are you ready to launch a bequest program?
3          Now’s the time
4          Making dreams come true: The real reasons donors
            make bequests


5          Getting started
6          Gain board approval
7          Forming a bequest advisory committee


8           Your first bequest advisory committee meeting
9           Crafting a vision of tomorrow: The case for support
10         Gift acceptance policies


11          Setting up a bequest society
12          The Bequest Society brochure
13          Identify your audience
14          Additional marketing strategies
15          The bequest society newsletter


16          Follow up on responses
17          You’ve just been notified of a matured bequest: Now what?


18          Ten final thoughts
19          Trust your instincts


A)           The bequest test
B)           Sample language for bequests
C)           Suggestions for bequest society names
D)           Sample bequest society newsletter
E)           Sample agenda for introducing a bequest program
F)           Sample case for support
G)          The National Leave A Legacy™ Movement
H)           Additional resources

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Excerpt This article is excerpted from David Valinsky and Melanie Boyd's book, Raising Money Through Bequests, ©Emerson & Church, Publishers. To obtain reprint permission, call 508-359-0019.

Getting Started

To get your program started, you’ll need to follow a few simple steps:

• Familiarize yourself with the basic terms and types of bequest giving.

• Understand the benefits of having an up-to-date will and why many people don’t.

• Become acquainted with the various benefits your donor will be entitled to when making a bequest.

This easy to grasp background will provide the comfort level you need to carry on a simple conversation with your donor. It isn’t necessary to discuss every detail and technical aspect of a will – often that will be for your donors’ professional advisor to explain. Instead, your goal is to offer some basic information and – most importantly – to explain how your donor’s support is instrumental in achieving the outcomes you both want.

Getting Your Terms Straight

All professions have their jargon – helpful to those ‘in the know’ but confusing to those on the outside. Although many of us understand the basic vocabulary of fundraising, few are comfortable using the language of bequests and estate planning.

Our hope here is to demystify the technical jargon to allow you to speak in clear and simple terms with your donors.

Let’s start with the will.

The Will

In its simplest terms, a will is a document used to distribute assets. It allows donors to leave certain portions of their estate to individuals and causes they care about. Each state establishes specific requirements (statutes) for a valid will, and it’s important to encourage donors to consult with an attorney to draft this document.

Keep these startling statistics in mind: Only 40 percent of all adults and only 70 percent of adults over the age of 55 have wills. And if there’s no will, there’s zero possibility your organization will receive a bequest. Your number one priority, throughout the life of your bequest program, is educating your donors on the importance of creating a will.

Why Do You Need a Will?

This simplest of documents is important for a number of reasons:

• By means of a will, you can establish trusts to invest and manage assets for your beneficiaries (a college fund for grandchildren, for instance).

• You can provide specific bequests to loved ones (think of a cherished heirloom that’s been in your family for years).

• A will can help save taxes and avoid unnecessary expenses on the administration of your estate.

• And, of course, a will allows you to make charitable bequests to your favorite causes.

What are the Consequences of Not Having a Will?

Creating a will allows donors to distribute their assets as they see fit; not having a will places that control elsewhere.

• An executor – possibly a stranger – can be nominated to handle your estate.

• You may lose the option of nominating who you want to serve as the guardian for any children considered minors.

• Without a will (“dying intestate”), the state determines how your property is divided up.

Why People Don’t Have Wills

Certainly, there are personal reasons people put off drawing up a will. They may be uncomfortable contemplating their own death or deciding who will get what. Then, too, a number of misconceptions keep individuals from creating a will.

My spouse will automatically get everything. Not true, and under most state laws, the children may share in the distribution of assets.

Everything is jointly held. While many people assume that property will always pass to the surviving spouse, this isn’t always the case. For example, a collection of valuable jewelry may be required to be divided between a spouse and the children based upon state statutes. And what if both spouses die together in an accident?

I’m single. Certainly this is no reason to leave the distribution of your assets up to your state of residence.

• I don’t have enough assets. Perhaps. But you still want the assets you do have distributed in accordance with your wishes.

Charitable Bequests

A charitable bequest is a written statement in your will directing that a gift be made to a certain charity (the beneficiary) upon the death of the person establishing the will. Often, a donor will bequeath a parcel of real estate, a sum of money, a specific amount of stock, or even a home. Upon the individual’s death, the bequest is said to have “matured.”

Note: Of those individuals who make charitable bequests, one-third provide for more than one charity, with the average donor giving to five or six organizations. In addition, only about 11 percent of donors change the terms of their bequests, and fewer than 9 percent have ever removed a charity from their will. So, while bequests are certainly revocable by law, they appear to be much less so in actual practice.

Types of Bequests

General Bequest - A specific dollar amount or a
specific asset

I leave $100,000 to ABC Charity.
I leave my summer home to ABC Charity.

Percentage Bequest- A percentage of the total estate

I give ABC charity property equal to 20% of my total

Residuary Bequest - A percentage of, or entire, residue

After distribution of specific items, I leave 40% of the
remainder of my estate to ABC Charity.

After all of my debts, expenses, and bequests are
distributed, I leave the remainder to ABC Charity.

Contingent Bequest - Result of a certain condition
being met

In the event that my wife does not survive me, I leave the
property set aside for her to ABC Charity.

In addition, charitable bequests may be designated as unrestricted or restricted to benefit a certain program. Donors may also specify that their bequests be used to create or expand an endowment fund where only the income from the fund is used and the principal remains intact, or to allow for their annual support to continue in perpetuity.


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