COVID-19 is shutting things down at an interesting time of the year. It’s the season of Lent when Christians remember that “dust you are and to dust you shall return.” For Christians, Lent is when we reckon with our mortality—but the new coronavirus has brought the memoria mortis upon us with an increased ferocity.

During Lent, we prepare for our own death through prayer, penance, and almsgiving—but it is important to remember the practical details when thinking about death. For many donors, that means leaving bequests both large and small. And that means that if you aren’t prepared to receive planned gifts, you’re leaving money on the table.

Launch a legacy giving webpage

I’m not recommending a direct-mail letter right now that reminds donors to include you in their will. That would be tactless, to say the least.

But if you don’t have a webpage dedicated to planned giving, you should get one now. There is still some uncertainty as to whether the COVID pandemic will be as destructive as some fear—so I wouldn’t expect an unprecedented outpouring of bequests in the next year. Nevertheless, the fear in the air should be the reminder you need to give planned giving at the forefront of donors’ minds.

Launching a formal planned-giving program is not as complex as many people think, but it does take some time and planning. Even before that, however, you should start with a simple webpage.

If you don’t have one, launch a basic legacy giving landing page that lets donors know that they can make your mission part of their long-term legacy. As always, keep the language focused on the donor and the mission: it’s not that you want “organization” to be thriving in several decades, but that you want to keep advancing your mission—feeding the homeless or hosting debates or whatever you do—for several decades and more.

Make sure that you provide personal contact information for someone on your development staff. Do not ask donors looking for information about the most personal issues—planning their own death—to email “” Give them a real email address and a real phone number.

You can also include some stock language for making a planned gift. In an earlier Philanthropy Daily piece, Jeff Trimbath pointed out that 80% of all planned gifts in this country come from one sentence in a will: “I bequeath X% of my estate to Z organization.” Offer that to your donors to help de-mystify planned giving for them, so that they can realize the facility with which they can include you in their estate plans.

After the website is live, make sure you mention planned giving on all reply devices. Add a simple check box to your reply forms that says “I would like to be contacted about leaving [organization] in my will or estate plans.”

Launch a legacy society

Eventually you’ll want to announce planned giving to your donor base and form a club for legacy donors to join. As with so much in fundraising, it helps to give donors something additional to belong to—and a legacy society is just the thing to generate planned gifts. It gives donors something to latch onto and offers fundraisers a tactful way to bring it up.

Rolling out a webpage is quick and simple. You want it to be well done, to match your branding and so on—but it shouldn’t take much time or planning to build that.

Once it’s time to announce to the donor base, that will take more strategy and planning—when and who to mail, how to follow up—and you’ll want to have a legacy society to coordinate with the announcement. When you are ready for a full rollout, you can turn here for six basic steps to launch a planned-giving program.

Use the time well

There is a lot to know about planned giving—the many types of gifts, their different legal structures and the various benefits they offer to your organization—but you don’t need to be an expert in planned giving to remind your donors they can leave you a planned gift. Most gifts aren’t complex and, either way, there are lawyers and financial planners for that.

Rather than waiting for the time to study estate law, work quickly to get a planned-giving page onto your website. If you’ve got canceled events and meetings (and the consequent spare time) use that for the back-end work that you never have time to get to—and what better right now than introducing a page on planned giving.

Finally, when you get to the donor-facing side of things, drop the planned-giving language. That’s inside baseball, for you and me. But as Matt Gerken explained last week, donors don’t think in terms of “planned gifts.” They think in terms of bequests and legacy gifts. Make sure that any donor-facing collateral—website, reply forms, brochures—avoid the term planned gift.

For the next several weeks, Philanthropy Daily will be a resource for fundraisers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Check back daily for new articles addressing news about coronavirus and philanthropy and providing strategic and practical recommendations for weathering this storm as a fundraiser.

And please join us on Thursday afternoons at 2:00 eastern time for a webinar on “Fundraising During Uncertain Times.” American Philanthropic leadership and Philanthropy Daily authors are hosting a weekly webinar to discuss the impact of the pandemic on fundraising and to answer your questions. Sign up here.