Most of our clients realize that they could leave far more to charity than they ever thought possible, and almost all of them–when given the opportunity and knowledge to do it–choose to. But before clients make their charitable intentions official, we encourage them to do a little research on and ask a few questions about the organizations they want to remember with a bequest or other planned gift.
Here are some questions to ask a nonprofit organization before giving them the gift of a lifetime:
1. What is your vision for the future?
If you’re connected to the organization(s), you may already be able to answer this because–if they’re communicating well with supporters–they’re talking about this often. Their dream for the community or the world is compelling, and every decision they make points to that long-term goal. But if you’re unsure, ask some questions! Does the organization have a strong track record of making mission-driven change, consistency in leadership, and sustainable practices? Can leaders articulate, and do you agree with, where the organization is heading in 10, 20, or 100 years? Planned gifts are, by definition, long-term. Some of our clients set up legacy plans in their 50s and incorporate charitable trusts, which can sometimes be in effect for decades after their death. So, we’re setting in motion giving intentions that might not come to fruition for many years! Plans often have contingency language that will redirect dollars in case an organization is no longer in existence or serving the same purpose that many years down the road. But it’s best to remember nonprofits that’ll be around for the long-haul. And your questions may inspire your favorite nonprofits to better articulate their goals and vision.
2. Is the organization on strong financial footing?
Nonprofits are required to report financial information in order to retain the ability to accept public donations. Many nonprofits release annual reports or are required by their bylaws to hold an annual meeting where financial details are disclosed. But there are also some great websites out there for doing some basic research: Charity Watch, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar have searchable databases of 501(c)3 organizations’ financial statements.
If you get some facetime with a leader at the organization, you might also consider asking what percentage of donations are used to cover administrative costs and whether the organization has a mortgage or other debt. This will give you a good sense of how income is used and whether the organization is stewarding charitable gifts well.
3. What types of gifts can you accept?
A bequest is simply a cash gift given to a charitable organization from an estate after someone has died. Trusts can be set up to make disbursements to charities, and donor-advised funds can be set up for loved ones to give estate assets to charity. Even if these are restricted gifts (given to support a specific project or program at the organization) they’re all relatively straight-forward for organizations to receive and use. But what if you want to gift real estate through your legacy plan? Can the organization accept appreciated stock, cryptocurrency, or other assets? We often help clients determine which assets are best to liquidate into a trust or charitable fund, but there may be some assets you’d like to give outright to the organization. Make sure that it’s possible!
4. Do you have a gift acceptance policy?
This is one of the first conversations we have with new nonprofit clients. Every organization wants major gifts. But in our experience, if you ask five board members or leaders at an organization how they’d spend a million-dollar gift, you’ll get five different answers! A nonprofit should have parameters set out in writing, and reviewed by an attorney, for how they’ll receive, invest, and spend major gifts. They should have this information readily available. (If they don’t, have them call Apex! We can help them put a document together.)
5. Do you have an endowment or foundation?
We have a whole blog post in the works on this topic! But at a certain point, it can create stability for an organization–and confidence for donors–to have a long-term fund set aside to hold invested funds. Endowments and foundations both act as an organizational “savings account,” of sorts, keeping the bulk of the fund principal intact while paying out interest or funding special projects. You may consider whether you want to give to the organization outright, or direct your gift–or a portion of it–to an endowment or a foundation that will support the organization into perpetuity. Talk about a legacy!
6. Are there specific, ongoing areas of need that donors can support?
Many organizations have different funds that support their work, whether they talk about them publicly or not. Ensure that your gift can be directed to an area you’re passionate about (this would be a “restricted” gift, as we mentioned before), or determine if you’d simply like it to go to the area of greatest need.
7. Do you have any programs or benefits for legacy donors?
Many organizations offer legacy societies, get-togethers, or special resources for donors who intend to leave a legacy or planned gift to the organization. It’s to their benefit for those donors to stay “in the know” and connected. You can always decide whether or not to disclose your giving intentions, but it can be helpful to know if you’ll be seen in a different light if you do.