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Within the charitable sector, there is an understanding that legacy is all about what you do with your money after you die. However, I think that definition can leave out an important part of the story. Legacy is more than just a gift from your estate – it is built up over a lifetime of values, relationships, and actions that all have a critical impact on what you leave behind in the end. Your legacy isn’t some nebulous plan for the future – it is being written right now.

A Legacy Gift to Charity

Walter and Elizabeth Smith* liked the idea of leaving a charitable bequest. After all, their adult children were independent now, and their estate plans would leave a generous inheritance for the kids and grandkids. Why not give a portion of their estate to a charity that really needed it? They met with their lawyer and named a well-known nonprofit to receive a 10% share of their estate. After signing the papers in the lawyer’s office, they were pleased to have their plans in order.

Why Wait to Start Your Legacy?

A few weeks later, the Smiths were having dinner with friends when the discussion turned to wills and kids and tying up loose ends. “Oh yeah, we have that all looked after,” said Walter. “We met with our lawyer last month and got our wills done. We even named a charity to benefit when we die.” He felt pretty good about being able to say that. “So, you give to charity regularly then?” asked their friend. Walter and Elizabeth paused for an awkward moment before admitting “No, we are only doing this in our will.” Their friends looked at them quizzically, “So, why don’t you give to charity now? Why wait to give when you’re dead?” Ouch! They didn’t know what to say. They hadn’t thought of it that way.

On the drive home that night Elizabeth asked, “So, why are we waiting ‘till we die to give to charity?” A contemplative silence filled the car as they travelled a few more kilometers before she pressed again, “Why aren’t we doing something about that now?”

Building A Legacy of Generosity

Thus, began a little self-reflection and some wrestling of the soul. In time, Walter and Elizabeth began to consider what it was they wanted to accomplish with their legacy – did their current financial plan really line up with their values and beliefs? This time of soul searching led them to make their first truly intentional gift to charity. They loved the feeling of giving, and were amazed at how this act of generosity wasn’t the financial burden they had worried it might be. That initial experience led to more donations and bigger gifts to charity. In time, the Smiths even established a small scholarship to help students attending their alma matter.

Impact of A Generous Legacy

As charitable giving grew to become an important part of their life, Walter and Elizabeth realized the legacy of their generosity had become much bigger than they first imagined. They loved reading the thank you notes from students who had benefitted from their scholarship and they enjoyed seeing the difference their other charitable gifts made in the lives of others. Furthermore, they delighted in knowing that by watching them, the Smiths’ children and grandchildren were learning to be more generous, too. None of this would have been possible if their giving had been restricted to instructions in a will. It was only in recognizing their legacy began now – today – that their impact could have its full affect.

Start Your Legacy Now

At Abundance Canada we have had the privilege of working with many people like Walter and Elizabeth over the years, and it has changed our perspective on legacy giving. Your legacy begins now. It is not reserved for what you do after death. If I can be blunt, it is better to give with a warm hand than it is to give with a cold one. When we look at legacy giving as a continuation of generosity shown during our lifetime, it gives us the opportunity to enjoy the impact of our giving. You won’t have that opportunity if you only give in your will. I urge you to start your legacy of giving today so you can experience the joy of your generosity now.

*Pseudonyms are used to protect the privacy of the individuals

Contributed by Darren Pries-Klassen

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