Gifts in Wills with Ligia Pena

Episode aired September 9, 2020: Gifts In Wills

Ligia Pena is a global legacy giving expert. Through her company Globetrotting Fundraiser, she is helping nonprofits understand the value in investing in tomorrow and not just thinking about today. In this episode Ligia discusses

  • why it should be called “gifts in wills” 
  • surprise surprise! Which of your current donors should you be targeting for gifts in wills?
  • whether you need to be a lawyer or accountant to develop a gifts in wills program 
  • what the gifts in wills page on your website must contain and
  • the difference between major gifts and gifts in wills.

Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.


Ephraim: Welcome to this edition of the Your Weekly Dose of Nonprofit Podcast, the podcast that delivers actionable items you can implement at your organization right away. I’m your host Ephraim Gopin of 1832 Communications. Today I’m really happy to have with us one of the nonprofit sectors top fundraising and legacy giving experts, my friend Ligia Pena. Ligia how are you today?

Ligia: I’m great. How are you?

Ephraim: I’m doing great. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.

Ligia Pena CFRE and AFP master trainer is a legacy and fundraising coach at, her own boutique consulting firm she founded in January 2019.  Prior to that Ligia was the global legacy manager at Greenpeace International, where she oversaw the organization’s global legacy strategy in 14 countries. As a sought after and seasoned international presenter, Ligia has trained thousands of fundraisers in the science and the art of legacy fundraising. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and empowering nonprofit professionals to think about legacies differently, by daring to be creative and innovative. She currently serves on the advisory board of Rogare, a philanthropy think tank.

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ligia calls Montreal, Canada home. She speaks fluent Spanish, French and English and manages in Portuguese and Italian. When she’s not geeking out on legacy related things, she she’s either knitting, cooking or planning her next trip.

What Is Legacy Giving?

In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss legacy giving. So let’s dive right in. Ligia, what is legacy giving and why is it important to a nonprofit’s ability to sustain itself long term?

Ligia: So legacy giving, the definition that I always share when I give a session is really… it’s a broader term than the terminology that is used in North America. So we’re talking about gifts in wills. I specialize in helping nonprofits advance their program in gifts in wills. Of course in North America, I’m being in Canada… in Canada, in the U.S., usually people refer to it as planned giving, which includes all kinds of other financial vehicles as a gift, that is given usually… it’s a deferred gift, it’s a gift that comes in later on. And it’s important to have that and it’s…

I’ve been doing this, we’ve been in fundraising for 20 years and it still baffles me how a lot of nonprofits, a lot of senior management and nonprofits still are reluctant to invest in gifts and wills and in planned giving because they’re so much more focused on getting money coming in today. And then lo and behold five years later, they’re still chasing that quick cash, transactional stuff, as opposed to really focusing on developing relationships with donors for the long haul,  so that they can get the ultimate gift, that is a gift in a will. Basically they’re just like a hamster in a hamster wheel, always chasing the cash today to make budget. And I get it of course. I was a fundraising director in many organizations, so that’s always the pressure but you know, five or ten years from now, well that comes really quickly and if you didn’t nurture the relationships today, you’re not going to get that money in the future.

Why Is Legacy Giving Not Offered To Donors?

Ephraim: Absolutely. Let’s follow up and expand a little bit on that: Why do so many nonprofits not offer it as a donation option? What’s stopping them?

Ligia: There’s a lot a lot of misconceptions about gifts in wills, about planned giving in general.

I already mentioned that the number one reason of you know, we’re focused on keeping the lights on, making payroll and delivering our programs. But imagine if you were to invest in the gifts in wills program, which usually the return on investment is so phenomenal in comparison to all kinds of other channels, that you would have this immense amount of cash coming in on an annual basis. So it really is the best way to raise money, while not needing to invest an awful lot.

A lot of other misconceptions is that you need to have an expertise. You need to be a lawyer or a financial planner and it’s completely untrue. Actually the fundraiser’s job is storytelling, to inspire donors. The rest? It’s really donor driven and so you don’t need to have that kind of professional expertise in that way, as a lawyer. Unfortunately, because a lot of organizations always turn to the examples of what universities and hospitals and large museums have done and usually they do hire a lawyer that can have those kinds of conversations and so they assume that that’s what they need to be doing and it’s completely untrue.

Another misconception is that the money just falls from the sky, like it just appeared like that, just because they got a spontaneous gift. And again it’s not. It’s because if that money came in, it’s because you had a donor that was cognizant enough that was well versed in gifts, in philanthropy, in general to know that gifts and wills is an option for nonprofits and so they put you in their will. It also speaks volume about your ability to tell your story and demonstrate the impact and so not one gift in will that has come into an organization has been a gift from up above. That just doesn’t happen, okay?

So those are some of the reasons why nonprofits don’t… the number one being is not wanting to invest in something where they can’t do an immediate correlation between investment today, money tomorrow. Like they want… people have a very… nonprofit management and boards have this very linear thinking about investment and results but when it comes to legacy, it’s more like a jumble because you might invest today but the gift will be realized in two years time, in five years time and so people who make these kinds of decisions, they can’t wrap their head around the lack of linear connection. So makes it very difficult.

Your Gifts In Wills Page On Your Website

 Ephraim: Okay. So in order… if they don’t need the expertise, let’s get them working on actionable items that they can do today. Could you tell us three to five details or items a legacy giving page on a nonprofit website must include?

Ligia: A website page, just to start off with, it has to… I’m gonna- and I always say this- I’m gonna refer to leadership mastermind that is not a nonprofit leadership mastermind but Simon Sinek that says, start with the why and not the what or the how.

So your legacy page on your nonprofit website should really really be inspirational and talk about why gifts and wills are important to the organization, why gifts and wills are important to the future of the organization and the people your organization helps. Your beneficiaries or whatever cause you work in. It should not be about the what, meaning you can leave a gift in your will, you can leave gifts of stock or that or whatever and the how, of like how it’s a great fiscal advantage and all of that. That stuff doesn’t work. It stopped working many years ago and yet it still baffles my mind that a lot of organizations focus on that. So please, for the love of everything that’s good in this world, stop doing that! Focus on the why, tell interesting, impassioned, emotional stories about the beneficiaries but also about other donors who have left gifts in wills.

And when we talk about other donors who’ve left gifts in wills, focus not only on those who have died but those who are all still living. Because what we’re seeing in the research that is coming out now, is that there’s two generations of people that are leaving gifts in wills. It’s the ones that are in the older cohort of baby boomers but you also have younger cohorts. The younger baby boomers but also the younger, like the gen Xers. Those in their mid 40s to like mid 50s and early 60s that are starting to write their first will because their kids have grown and so on. So they’re younger so they will… mentally and emotionally, they will connect more to someone who’s still living as opposed to someone who has passed away and left a gift in their will 25 years ago. Do you know what I mean? So this is what your website should really focus on.

Other things and I did write a blog about this back in May or early June, your website should be… your legacy page… well, actually the entire website, your legacy page should really give the visitors that option to grow the size of the text because let’s not forget we’re talking about older donors and so their vision is not as good. I’m wearing glasses and I’m not of that age just yet. You need to make it easier for them to access the information.

Something that I also don’t see very often but is a great way to get leads and be able to follow leads is you always want to give sample bequest language. There’s two ways you can do that: You can put it in the actual text of your page but also offer it as a downloadable. So if you’re going to offer it as a downloadable, make sure that there’s at least a little pop-up where you can capture the person’s name and email, so you can follow up and so then you’ve got something tactical that you can follow up and engage with your donor.

Lastly, don’t forget that there are two kinds of people that will visit your website: First is your donors or prospective donors and two will be the legal advisors, notaries, lawyers, attorneys etc. Those who will be advising their clients about their will writing and will be doing their financial planning etc. So you want to make sure that there’s the information that they will need also in order to better advise their client. Those are some of my quick tips.

How To Identify Giving In Wills Prospects

Ephraim: Excellent answer. On your website you talk about best practices for a legacy giving program. What metrics, markers or information should a nonprofit be looking for when trying to identify legacy giving prospects?

Ligia: In terms of identifying prospective legacy donors, you want to be looking at… let me rephrase that. Another misconception is that if you’re starting out, you need to have a robust major gifts program because they’re an immediate, obvious, prospective legacy donor. Not true. Not entirely true. Actually, I advocate for organizations to make sure that they have a robust monthly giving program, because those are the nuggets of… the diamonds in the rough. Why? Because a legacy gift is not based on how much money, cash you have available today, as you would evaluate when you rate prospects for a major gift program, you’re looking at how much wealth they have and how much disposable income they have. Well for legacies it’s the opposite. How much assets you have. So you might live a very frugal life but if you have a lot of assets- a home, a vacation home, cars, investments, pension plans etc., that’s what makes you… that donor would be one that would rate much higher. So if you were to do like a wealth screening, those are the indicators you’re looking for.

In addition to that, a legacy donor differs in terms of psychology and behavior than a major gift donor. A major gift donor will want to invest in a project that is very time defined, for a period of time and they will expect most of the time- I don’t want to generalize all major donors- but they will expect a certain output during a certain time etc etc and a certain reporting. Legacy prospects however are more about the shared values that they have with the organization, the life that they lived and how the organization mirrors that life that they had.

So other indicators, insights that you want to be looking at, to identify the best legacy prospects is their commitment to the cause. How long they’ve been supporting the organization? As someone that’s… to me, when I see a donor that’s been supporting on a monthly basis or even on an annual basis a small gift but consistently for a long time, that’s your legacy prospect. It’s not that one major donor that comes in, sends you half a million dollars and then you never hear again. Someone like that wanted something out of… wanted to get something out of their investment. That was it. They weren’t necessarily very much invested in the long term. They were invested from a financial perspective, not from an emotional perspective. And so that’s what makes a lot of organizations feel very uncomfortable, because it’s a complete shift in the way… it’s an opposite shift of the way they would do all kinds of other fundraising, do you know what I mean?

Fundraising Around The World

Ephraim: I like that, I like that. I hadn’t thought of it that way, about monthly giving versus major gifts but I think that’s important for nonprofits to consider with their legacy giving program. So as part of your work previously, you traveled all over the world for Greenpeace. What would be the major difference in how North American nonprofits operate versus those in Europe or Asia?

Ligia: So in North America, like I said at the beginning, it’s very much focused on gifts and wills and a lot of other financial vehicles, trusts, annuities etc etc. Whereas in Europe it’s more focused on gifts and wills and to a certain extent, most like Spain, France and a few other countries, life insurance, gifts of life insurance. And of course there’s always like the real estate kind of stuff and things like that. So that’s really interesting.

Australia and New Zealand as well is very much gifts in wills, gifts in wills and actually they don’t even call it planned giving or legacies, they call it directly gifts in wills, which is exactly what it is! This is what we should be calling it! So I’m even trying to like… I used to say planned giving when I went to Greenpeace. They’re like no, it’s legacies, we use legacy so I’ve been… I’ve switched my mindset to calling it legacies, but I’m starting to move towards more gifts in wills because that’s what it truly is. We have to call the beast what it’s called, what it is and also use a terminology that our donors understand. Donors don’t understand legacies. It’s quite esoteric, you know?

But anyway… and in Asia it isn’t… gifts in wills are not quite developed yet. It isn’t… So it’s really interesting the Asian market- and I’m generalizing an entire region, right? They have their differences, so you have to be very cognizant of that- they’re still in the transactional space of fundraising but the interesting thing is that while they’re in the transactional phase, they’re also worlds way… they’re world’s ahead of North America when it comes to transactional fundraising. They’ve leveraged Whatsapp for fundraising and engagement and text to give and a lot of this stuff. Things that here in North America it never really… like it worked but it’s kind of like… and so it’s really really interesting to see. So they’re not quite there yet at that thinking of the long term, the longevity of gifts in wills. Same thing with South America and I’m trying, I’m working really hard to develop that in South America.

Let’s Learn More About Ligia

Ephraim: That’s very interesting, the differences between the regions. Alright let’s move to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?

Ligia: I was always involved from high school. My first nonprofit… I started the Amnesty International group in my high school, writing letters. Remember this was in the 80s, so a lot of turmoil in South America and so on, so I was very much of like that activist and stuff like that. And then as I grew and I started getting involved with more different organizations and it was always like from an international perspective, that’s always been my thing. I would get involved and the one thing that people always needed was fundraisers, like to do event fundraising and stuff like that. So I did it because I always found it easy and fun and it was great.

And then suddenly, fast forward a few years later, I got older and I got a job at the YMCA of Greater Montreal as it was called then, now it’s YMCA of Quebec and I got my first director of fundraising and communication job. Next thing I know they’re paying me to do what I used to do for free and I was like, oh wow, this is great! I had not studied this, I studied international politics and I going to go in the foreign service and then that was it. And I haven’t looked back.

Ephraim: Awesome. So given your 20 plus years experience in the sector, if you could shake up one thing in the nonprofit world, what would it be?

Ligia: Oh just one? There’s so many things that I’d love to shake up. I would say the biggest thing is the incredibly toxic culture and leadership culture in the nonprofit sector. We are suffering immensely about this incredibly toxic nonprofit mentality and leadership. It’s such a huge gap, it’s hurting organizations, it’s hurting our services, it’s preventing us from being able to raise the money that we could and should be because we have leaders that are… that aren’t scaled to do the job that they’re skilled, that they should be doing, they are hindering our ability to fundraise and they’re creating unworkable work environments. And unless we as a sector come together to fix this and stop it and call it out, then we’re just going to continue doing the same crap over and over again and we’re going to continue seeing reports of fundraisers leaving or nonprofit professionals leaving the sector to go work in the private sector, because they’re done being treated like crap, being paid crap salaries and yeah.

Ephraim: Cosign.

Ligia: And I could go on and on and on about that but you know…

Ephraim: No no, that’s a really good one. Most beautiful city or country you toured as part of your travels?

Ligia: Such a hard one. I’m so torn because there’s like… there’s beauty everywhere for different reasons. But let’s say there’s two that come to mind really quickly that I would… I’m one of those people that are trying not to go back to the same place twice- I mean, unless it’s for work obviously, right- but there’s two places that I would probably want to go back just on my own, just to go visit. Number one would be New Zealand. Fell in love with Auckland, New Zealand, Waiheke Island. I just love the environment, the culture, it’s so chill, it’s far away from craziness, being like a two island nation in the middle of nowhere almost. And I just love Kiwis, such cool people. I love it, love it, love it, love it. I still fantasize about going to live there for a while. And the other one is Vienna. I love Vienna. Just the history and the architecture and the richness of it all. Just so beautiful.

Ephraim: Nice, nice. Your favorite social media platform and why?

Ligia: I’m more on Facebook than anything else because it’s a easy way for me to stay in touch with friends from all over the world. But it’s one of those like I love it but hate it because of everything else, like everybody does. Everyone’s like every time something new comes out that… you go, oh my God they did this again and everyone’s like, oh my God I’m gonna leave Facebook and then no one really does. So I’m just like it’s one of those necessary evils kind of thing. I’m not proud of it but what are you gonna do.

Ephraim: Alright. Best part about living in Montreal?

Ligia: Multiculturalism. The fact that you can walk down the street and have restaurants from all parts of the world and like good food, good restaurants from all over the world because it’s such a multicultural society. The fact that you can hear all kinds of different languages. Yeah, love that.

Ephraim: Excellent. So let’s turn the tables, you get to ask me a surprise question, I have no clue what’s coming. go ahead.

Ligia: Just one question?

Ephraim: Yeah, I’m worried about letting you giving you two, three or four.

Ligia: Ummm…. I should have prepared this but the one thing is: Why have you never come to Montreal in your past travels to North America?

Ephraim: Here we go. It’s all good. The truth is…

Ligia: I know you don’t like the Canadians.

Ephraim: No, nothing to do with the hockey team. I would definitely… when I was in high school, I did travel there for a weekend with our high school. I totally would have gone to the old Forum for a game. Not even a question. That I would love to have done. I actually was there in the early 90s. One of my oldest and best friends lived there. He now lives elsewhere but he lived there and I spent three or four days in Montreal touring. I had an absolutely fantastic, fantastic time. I think we even saw a baseball game at old Olympic Stadium. That’s how old I am, that I can remember way back when.

I can tell you the only reason that I have yet to be back on my summer trips is because of Toronto, because I have two siblings who live in Toronto and I have to go and so I’m limited in time and when i come up to Canada, I drive and I’m always driving to Toronto to go see a) this best friend who now lives in Toronto and b) my siblings. That’s it. That having been said, I have been threatening for a number of years already to go to Montreal. I want to visit Vancouver also. I want to get out west really badly. I was in Seattle and I did not… I made a mistake. I did not give myself enough time to cross the border for a day and go tour Vancouver. So a separate flight.

But Montreal… so if I’m gonna do that east west tour, Montreal… oh no, but Montreal’s east of… so I have to start in Montreal, then go to Toronto, then fly out to Vancouver. So one of these years… and the other thing is, the funny thing is I never really thought about it but I know that Montreal is much closer to Boston than Montreal to New York. So I do go to Boston, I’m pretty sure it’s much closer. So every summer I do go to Boston for a couple of days. It’s probably easier for me than the Toronto just to get into Boston, go up to Montreal and then head on over to Toronto. So the answer is why haven’t I? Not because of lack of wanting or invitations, it’s mostly just Toronto has been my Canadian kick for the last couple of summers. But it’s on…

Montreal is one of those things I gotta get back to. Like I said it’s been 27 years now since the last time I visited. So it’s time, it’s time. And I get to practice the five words of French that I know, so why wouldn’t I want to do that?

Ligia: And word to the wise, those who are listening: You don’t need to speak French to be in Montreal. That’s the beauty. This is like the economic hub of the province, so you can get away with just speaking English. There’s always this misconception that you need to speak French, I’m like, oh God.

Ephraim: Although if you’re traveling to Montreal and you see a sign in red that says ‘arret’ that means stop. My seventh grade French coming into play. Exciting.

Thank you very much Ligia for joining us today. You can connect with Ligia on twitter at @globetrottingfr and you can learn more about her work on her website at  Ligia, thanks so much. Have a wonderful day.

Ligia: Thank you for having me.

Ephraim: A pleasure. Have a good one.