What’s Now? What’s Next? Top Ten Trends in Philanthropy – #1 The Great Wealth Transfer (top fundraising ideas)

Hello, dear readers. Last month I took a vacation followed by a business trip. And boy, have I been paying for it since. Sadly, I’ve not had the time to write. But I hope that my friends Nancy Brimhall and Dr. Colleen Robb have been keeping you company.

But now I’m back with gusto. Two weeks ago, Fundraising Wonks was live when I presented “What’s Now? What’s Next? Top Ten Trends in Philanthropy” at the Philanthropy Miami conference. It was a wonderful experience. And a great excuse to go through the massive reading pile that had grown in my office.

Since we can’t all be in Miami, I’ve turned that presentation into a 10-part series for the blog. I’m blending some of the research into trends with practical ideas for you and your organization. I hope you find it helpful. And if you do, please subscribe.

Top fundraising ideas

Back in 1990, a persuasive rabbi, along with a pediatric dentist turned dental school dean, convinced me to take my first formal job in fundraising. I had great teachers, which was great, because I had so much to learn.

I started reading everything I could get my hands on, and recall seeing articles about some great wealth transfer between that was going to hit us at some point in the future.

So when I started researching for my What’s Now? What’s Next? Top Ten Trends in Philanthropy presentation, what was one of the trends I found? Yup. The “Great Wealth Transfer.”

[Hasn’t that happened yet? I’m not getting any younger, you know.]

Apparently, it’s still a thing.

According to Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy (sadly, now closed), “Americans are on track to pass a potential $58 trillion to their heirs by 2016.” (Back in 1990, that sounded like several lifetimes away. Now, not so much.)

Of that $58 million, $6.3 trillion is expected in charitable bequests. Such a wealth transfer should be on the minds of fundraisers in 2017 and beyond, if not necessarily a pressing matter for some pisher just starting out in 1990.

Now, there is some disagreement among researchers on how much money will actually be transferred, but hey, what’s a trillion here or there?

Whatever the number, this is of importance to fundraisers right now, according Heather Joslyn and Timothy Sandoval, writing in the Chronicle of Philanthropy’sWhat Will Matter in 2017” special edition.

They write that in “the next several decades — and the next two in particular, when the bulk of baby boomers enter their 70s — will be crucial for capturing planned gifts.”

Oh, I can hear the groans now from the small fundraising shops out there. Yes, I know, you can’t afford a planned giving staff. And yes, you’re very busy with your next gala or trying to get a spring mailing out the door.

I get it. But here are some things that any nonprofit can and really must do, regardless of size.


If you’re not already doing it, put bequest information out there for all of your stakeholders to see…on your website, on your solicitation reply cards, in your newsletters. Bequests are easy for a thinly-staffed nonprofit and you don’t need any planned giving training to talk intelligently about this way of giving.

Here’s a concrete example of something you can do: just last week, while visiting with a client, we discussed the potential for an upgraded campaign gift from one of the organization’s founders. This person is advanced in years and not in good health, and my client was skeptical about another cash gift.

“Have you discussed a bequest gift with this person?”


This particular organization has a number of founders and very long-time board members. These individuals have never been asked to consider leaving a bequest in their estate plans.

So what are we doing? We’re pulling together an education mailing for them that includes a brochure from a third-party vendor (The Sharpe Group has some terrific, inexpensive publications that I recommend.)


You should always be on your game in everything you do. But now more than ever, since so much money is at stake. In next week’s post on millennial donors, I’m going to talk about some of the things that are important to the up and coming generations that stand to receive a lot of this wealth transfer.

It’s going to be important for nonprofits to be completely transparent and accountable to donors. We’re going to have to communicate with people in the ways they want to receive messages (R.I.P. direct mail at some point in the future.)

This point is, we have to do everything right all the time in order to be attractive to donors.


Beginning in the 2000s, campaigns started popping up around the country, encouraging people to leave 5% of their estates to charities, especially in rural and/or poor communities. According to Brad Ward, director of community philanthropy at the Council on Foundations, as quoted in the same Chronicle article, the tangible quality of the 5 percent contribution engages supporters.  He continues, “This campaign has allowed community foundations to very comfortably talk in terms of percentage, which equates to a much higher gift than a dollar amount does.”

Top fundraising ideas for your nonprofit

So what does this mean for your organization? If your community has a 5% campaign, support it with everything you’ve got. Talk with your donors. Include it in organizational communications including newsletters, annual reports, your website, and social media channels.

You could even consider leveraging your community’s campaign with your own initiative. Set goals for the numbers of donors who commit to leaving 5%. Promote this campaign like you would any capital or endowment campaign.

In the end, it could really pay off for your nonprofit. And remember, the size of a person’s annual gift isn’t necessarily an indication of wealth. We’ve all heard the stories about some of the most humble in our communities who, upon their deaths, leave tremendous financial legacies to lucky charities.

Come back next week for the second installment of “What’s Now? What’s Next? Top Ten Trends in Philanthropy.” We’ll be talking about everyone’s favorite topic these days: millennial donors.

Glenn is a fundraising strategist who loves working with small- to mid-size organizations that want to innovate and grow.

Check out his website, and to find out how he can help you, email him.

You can also follow him on Instagram and Facebook.

Image: iStock by Getty Images

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