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Legacy Giving: A Fresh Perspective

The Woolbright Group interview with Eve Forbes, Director of Gift Planning,Trinity College

Eve Forbes is onto something. In eight years, she has transformed Trinity College’s 21 year-old Legacy Giving Program by embracing a new way of thinking about its donors.

Eve explains, “When we think of legacy gifts, the first thing that springs to mind is gifts from ‘older’ individuals. Today, the youngest of our legacy donors is 27 and the oldest is 100. Limiting our thinking limits donors’ thinking. There is a great opportunity for future bequests when we think differently about identifying prospective donors.”

Trinity’s program still relies on traditional sources; many gifts still come through bequests. But when the advancement staff talks with donors they discuss a full array of options, including insurance policies, retirement assets, retained life estates, and donor advised funds. So, while younger individuals may not have a will or an estate plan yet, chances are they do have a retirement fund or life insurance through their employer, providing a resource for legacy gifts.

When asked about whether the conversation with younger donors is different from that with older donors, Eve explains that most conversations with donors don’t start with legacy gifts. “We tend to talk more about the needs of the organization and help them decide how best to support the college.”

The conversation then turned to the characteristics of a legacy donor and how prospects for legacy gifts were identified. “What we look for are people who already give to the college consistently. It’s not how much, but how frequently they give. We also look for people that volunteer here, or are involved with the college in one way or another.” It was explained that, “Everyone is an annual fund donor prospect,” but “Not all legacy fund donors are also annual fund donors.” Eve cited the example of faculty members who might not make gifts during their lifetimes, but have stipulated a gift in their wills or retirement assets. As to whether legacy donors are typically—or not—alumni, Eve states that the mix at Trinity is roughly 50% alumni and 50% non-alumni. The non-alumni group may be former faculty, parents of Trinity students, and very importantly—widows of Trinity alumni. Usually in that case, a couple has set something up in their estate plans, which transfers to Trinity when both individuals are gone.

The subject of bequests from women donors sparked several comments from Eve. “Historically we have seen that women tend to make sizeable bequests. From an actuarial standpoint you’re likely to receive more gifts from women because they outlive their spouses. We talk about widows a lot—what more we can do to engage them before they are widows. For example, we send them our publications, invite them to campus, and create events specifically for them. "

Knowing how to start the conversation with a donor regarding leaving a legacy gift to Trinity is very important. Eve replied that, “There are as many ways to approach this topic as there are people. I might ask: have you ever thought about a planned gift? Have you thought about your legacy? We might initially ask for an outright gift and eventually talk about fulfilling a portion of that commitment through the estate. Finally, with our robust 50th reunion giving program, legacy giving is a key component of the three-part solicitation.”

When asked about whether legacy gifts tend to be larger (or not) than annual gifts, we learned that gifts are larger “by a wide margin.” We also wondered what role a fundraiser might play in guiding a donor toward deciding his/her gift amount. Eve explained that unless a donor specifies that they would like to fund a scholarship or professorship, for which there are minimum gift amounts, a fundraiser may be crossing a line to suggest an amount. “I think there are too many factors that go into that decision. It is helpful when they share this information with us, but I rarely suggest an amount.”

Finally, the subject of identifying legacy donors through donor advised funds was discussed in some detail. Eve reflects that donor advised funds are often overlooked by organizations and donors alike. “Contributors who make gifts to your organization through donor advised funds make excellent bequest prospects for several reasons:

  1. They are easy to identify because they have used their fund to support your organization;
  2. Their establishment of the donor advised fund indicates that they are philanthropically inclined; and
  3. Any funds they have put in the donor advised fund MUST go to charity—even beyond their lifetimes.”

When they establish these funds, they must complete paperwork that includes successor arrangements. Generally, they have five options:

  1. Name an individual to succeed them as the account holder.
  2. Name one or more charitable organizations to receive all or part of the balance.
  3. Provide annual grants to charitable organizations.
  4. Some combination of options 1-3 above.
  5. Let the financial institution decide which charities receive the funds (this option happens by default if the donor(s) make no arrangements).

Eve concludes, “This is a relatively simple way to jumpstart a bequest program. In fact, you may be surprised when discussing this option with donors how many don't remember what arrangements they made when they established the fund. That is “found” money!”

Eve Forbes
Eve Forbes is the Director of Gift Planning at Trinity College, where she has served for over seven years. While at Trinity she has revitalized the College’s planned giving operation; created a comprehensive fiftieth reunion giving program; led a campaign that documented nearly $88 million in future bequest intentions; and enrolled 100% of the College’s trustees in Trinity’s legacy society.

Prior to Trinity, Eve worked at Smith College for thirteen years within several areas of the Advancement Office, including planned giving, major gifts, and annual giving. Eve currently sits on the board of Planned Giving Group of Connecticut and is Chair of the Board of Trustees at Academy Hill School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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