Honor Others through Memorial Gifts that Create a Legacy | npENGAGE

Planning a Legacy that Honors Others

By on May 22, 2013


Honorariums and memorial gifts are meant to celebrate an occasion or celebrate the life of a friend or relative.  Should I ask if you’ve ever made an honor or memorial gift, most of you would say “Yes!”  And, should I ask if that was a current gift – a one-time gift given from disposable income – most of you would say “Yes!” again.  On behalf of the several million charitable organizations in the United States and Canada, I extend a heartfelt “Thank you!” for your thoughtful and generous contribution.  Honorariums and memorials may contribute 20 percent to 30 percent of annual revenue at some organizations.   For them, these gifts transform their mission work.

Legacy Gifts Also Honor and Memorialize

There’s another form of honorarium and memorial gift beyond the one we normally think of: Planned gifts, though I like the term legacy gifts better.  As information about deferred giving is easier and easier to acquire and easier and easier to consider, more people are learning that legacy gifts can also be a thoughtful way to remember or honor loved ones.

Earlier in the week, I did a not-so-exhaustive search of the Internet looking to see how many organizations promote planned gifts as ways to honor or memorialize another.  I was shocked to find exactly one example within my search results that specifically cited a planned gift arrangement as a memorial gift.  Go ahead and try it.  Here are the keywords that I used in the Yahoo search tool:

planned gifts honor memorial

Now scroll until you reach the 4th page.  There!  In the middle of the list, you’ll see the link.


Legacy and Memorial Gifts to Wesley Manor





Congratulations to Wesley Manor Retirement Community in Louisville, Kentucky.  If I had a prize to give out, you’d get it.  Check out how nicely and respectfully, they’ve linked legacy giving to memorializing.   Scroll down until you see the Planning a legacy section. You’ll also notice they’ve mentioned gifts of stocks, bonds and mutual funds to fund these meaningful gifts.

That’s not to say all is good, even for Wesley Manor.  It took me 30 minutes of reviewing links to land upon theirs and I was just about ready to give up hope of finding an example when I opened this one.  The issue is that there are many false links to planned gifts as memorial or tribute gifts.  Most search results show “planned giving” or “planned gifts” close to “honoring” and “memorial gifts” but that’s only because they are on adjacent pages on the organization’s website.

Make Your Web Pages Work for You

Through this exercise, frustration and small triumph, I’ve created a checklist that can get you started in the right direction:

  1. If you contract with a third-party vendor for planned giving webpage services, talk to them.  Ask them to insert language or add a paragraph similar to Wesley Manor’s.
  2. If you do your own webpages, talk to your webmaster and get on the calendar for regular updates and language changes that incorporate ideas such as this one, as well as discuss emerging vehicle types like beneficiary designation form gifts.
  3. Surf the web looking to find your own planned giving web pages.  What do you see there?  Is your organization’s name in the header? Does the partial sentence under the header entice you to click?!  Is your language esoteric or easy to understand?  Submit changes to your webmaster that improve your language displayed.

As you surf the web notice how many pages you must navigate to:

  • Find your planned giving pages among the search results
  • Find your planned giving pages once you enter your own website
  • See the link that memorial gifts, honorariums and planned gifts have to one another.

Here’s another idea: bring up the topic at your local planned giving council meeting or development colleagues gathering.  Spread the idea and work together to promote legacy giving as a way to memorialize and honor loved ones.

Legacy Gifts that Honor Might be Large

Throughout my 25 years experience as a planned gift professional, I noticed that charitable gift annuities taken out to honor or memorialize a loved one, friend or health-worker companion were often large; larger than the average annuity amount by far.   It was clear to me that this gift was always two-fold.  As a “Thank you” to the income recipient and as an additional “Thank you” to the organization.

It’s time to think about legacy gifts in a new way.  Will you take up the challenge to lead the effort?  I hope so!




Katherine Swank, JD, senior consultant at Target Analytics, a Blackbaud Company, helps nonprofits apply statistical analytics and donor research to their fundraising efforts with an emphasis on planned gifts. She has raised nearly $250 million for mission funding during her nonprofit development career. Katherine is a retired affiliate faculty member of Regis University’s master of Global Nonprofit Management degree program, where she taught courses on wealth and philanthropy.  Along with writing for publications like Advancing Philanthropy and Philanthropy Journal, she is also a frequent presenter for industry conferences such as NACGP, AFP, APRA, and bbcon. Having grown up in a tourist destination in Colorado, Katherine has become an avid world traveler and is exploring her way through the 1,000 places to see before you die, albeit slowly.  Connect with her on Twitter @KatherineSwank.

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