We all took our seats at the table. A year earlier the retired couple sitting across from us had approached our Advancement team. Expressing an interest in making a planned gift to our nonprofit. Since then, we had met with them for several lunch appointments. Mostly to get to know them better, and to learn more about their intentions.
Now we were continuing the conversation. We knew they held our mission in high regard, and were acquainted with our core values and mission culture. They had intimated their estate would be fairly large. But, while we had inquired respectfully, they had yet to disclose the details of their planned gift. Instead, they kept asking us the same pointed questions. Over and over again.
Had our Board of Directors instituted more standardized governance policies?
Was the Board in discussion with executive management regarding succession planning?
Could we share Board approved documents with them, outlining long-term strategic plans?
Each time they asked, we, the Advancement team, assured them that Board development was on track. That members of the Board and executive management were doing their due diligence to prepare for transitions ahead. That strategic planning for the future was underway. Those Board approved documents would be available within the year.
So why did they keep asking these questions? Why this redundancy?
Of course, taking the Advancement team's word for it was one matter. And they did. But underlying their respectful inquiries were other issues of concern. Issues that went to the bedrock of how some donors make their legacy gift decisions.
Issues of sustainability. Facing the fact of their own mortality, the retired couple knew they would not be here forever. That was for certain. But if they make a legacy gift, will our nonprofit be here twenty, fifty or even a hundred years from now? Is that for certain?
Issues of stewardship. A lifetime of financial acuity and insight was behind this couple's planned gift. Now they were about to trust our nonprofit to grow the impact of their gift in perpetuity. Did our mission have the means, motivation and business acumen to do this?
Issues of qualifications. In the end, these legacy donors were explicitly linking their personal reputations with the reputation of our nonprofit. A decision based on a set of qualifiers important to them. So what plans were in place to protect our nonprofit's sterling profile in years to come? Could our mission guarantee its current values and beliefs would stand the test of time?
Now we had reached the bedrock of their decision-making. It went beyond present personalities, performance and procedures. Rather, it focused on the permanency of the nonprofit's brand. That irrevocable promise an entity makes with all who engage with it. A promise that what is certain, evident and sterling today will be certain, evident and sterling tomorrow. And always.
With this mind, the retired couple's redundant questions were reasonable after all. It's just that no one on the Advancement team---nor anyone else in executive management for that matter---could fully satisfy them with suitable answers. There were other representatives of our nonprofit who needed to join us at at the table. To sit across the from the retired couple and answer the fundamental questions they were raising.
Ultimately, these answers are best provided by members of a nonprofit's Board. It is the Board's responsibility to verify that governance policies, succession plans and strategic initiatives are engineered with the longer view in mind. That accountability structures and systems are codified, and will be executed consistently in years to come. Ensuring that the mission's brand will never be tarnished in any way. Confirming that the promise with stakeholders, present and future, will never be broken. Ad infinitum.
Furthermore, when a Board member sitting across the table has planned a similar legacy gift to the nonprofit, then a peer-to-peer, donor-to-donor solidarity is struck. Since this Board member has placed personal faith and finances in the future of the mission, others thinking about naming the nonprofit in their estate plans can be reassured, rest at ease and do likewise.
These were some of the lessons we were learning from the retired couple.
That in conversations about legacy giving, Advancement teams listening for the details do better as they listen for the donor's concerns and issues. And do best when they defer to Board members to continue this dialogue with donors;
That Board members bring to the table a certain gravitas, as they are the better arbiters of a nonprofit's permanence. And do best when they have led the way in legacy giving themselves;
That donors may intend to include the nonprofit in their estate plans, but will delay confirming the details regarding their legacy gifts until a better day.
Or even until that best day. When their redundant questions are finally answered.
Follow @JoeMazzu3 on Twitter and Instagram. Visit intentionalconsulting.com to learn more about his business serving nonprofits.