by Karly Marcy, 2016 Florida Fellow, Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Flexibility. Engagement. Recognition. Estate planning attorneys Guy Whitesman and Eric Gurgold emphasized these three words throughout our meeting about estate planning and charitable giving on a rainy Wednesday afternoon this summer. The Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt attorneys explained all of the possible vehicles for leaving a gift, citing trusts and wills as the most typical vehicle used.
I thought I understood the importance of estate planning after the fundraising class I took last semester, but I never fully grasped everything that an estate plan can affect or everything that a nonprofit organization needs to do for its donors.
During my fellowship with the Gulf Coast Humane Society, I started seeing names on buildings and references to programs in recognition of individuals and couples. It was then that I learned from my co-workers that much was made possible at the Humane Society because someone passed away and left the organization a sizable donation in their estate. I was intrigued and wanted to know more about how I could help the Humane Society get more of these kinds of gifts.
In between side conversations about what inspired Whitesman and Gurgold to become attorneys in the first place (Perry Mason was one answer, and no, I do not know who that is), wind-up watches to illustrate how things change, and the overall discussion on the generation gap, I started to realize why flexibility was so important to estate planning.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, we want to have some flexibility,” Gurgold said. “You don’t want to have someone’s charitable giving outlined in a will or trust to be so restrictive that their philanthropy is earmarked for a purpose that is outdated, or the charity is no longer there, or that particular need is no longer there.”
I learned firsthand from these experts that the greatest needs in a community are always changing, and evolving. I learned that one way to leave a positive legacy is to ensure that your gift can go toward greatest need at the time that your gift comes into effect. When a client comes in with a specific organization that they would like to leave a gift to, Gurgold and Whitesman said they ask the client to think about the possibility that the organization may not exist in the future.
“Typically we try to steer them in the language that says ‘I’ll send it to a 501(c)(3) organization with a similar mission’ and that is very common type language in a lot of instruments,” said Whitesman, who incidentally is the chairman of the board of trustees at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, my host for the summer.
How can you decide which charity to include in your estate plan? Think about the charities that are close to your heart and interests. Or, if leaving your legacy gift through the Community Foundation, you can also simply outline cause areas without the specific organizations and rely on the foundation team to grant the money out to meet the current greatest needs within your favorite cause.
There is a lot that nonprofits can do now to court those future gifts. What they need to focus on is engaging and recognizing their donors now, according to Gurgold. People who are going to include a charity in their estate plan probably already give that charity a yearly donation, but making sure donors feel appreciated now can encourage that legacy gift.
“What we see is that the charity needs to create programs that make people feel good during life about the fact that they’ve given a gift at death,” Whitesman said. “I think as a charity, if you have a successful legacy program, a well thought out one, then you are continually engaging the person that has made that commitment. You bring them in to functions, and they’re seeing what you’re doing. Every time there is a new addition, if there is a new program, a new this or that, you’re inviting them to celebrate.”
If a charity has a newsletter or other form of communication that is regularly sent out to those involved with the organization, they should use it as a tool to their advantage.
“Recognizing the new donors or recognizing the heritage members or legacy members in that newsletter is always something that people like to see,” Gurgold said.
A simple ‘thank you’ and effort to keep donors informed and engaged goes a very long way. People like to feel appreciated.
Gurgold volunteered after Hurricane Katrina and was extremely moved after an interaction with one woman.
“If you’re involved, you will be inspired. You can’t buy a feeling like that; you can only earn a feeling like that. You can only feel that inner peace when you know you did something good. And that appreciation, it’s just intangible; there is no money in the world that could buy you that feeling.”
All in all, leaving a legacy is fairly easy and something that anyone can do.
“The only thing that really inspires people at the end of the day is what you’re doing,” Whitesman said. “If your mission is worthy, you will attract donors. It’s not just telling a story, it’s telling your story.”
Karly is a rising senior at the University of Florida. In its second year, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is partnering with University of Florida’s public interest communication program with the 2016 Florida Fellows. Funded by a donor who is supporting the paid summer fellowships for PR students, the Community Foundation embedded these students into nonprofit organizations the foundation has funded with a grant this past year in a continued effort to support the nonprofit, to provide the organization with resources and greater assistance in developing the organization’s messaging and storytelling.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.