How Ethical Wills Can Help Your Donors — and You!

white book on brown wooden table

Everyone wants to leave a legacy. A legacy is more — and sometimes completely different — than leaving a tidy inheritance. Legacies are built on what has shaped people, what they’ve experienced, and what they know to be true. 

Last year, five of the 20 top-selling books on Amazon were memoirs. The self-publishing industry has grown exponentially on the income derived from those wishing to preserve their stories and hard-earned wisdom for future generations. Think about the older people in your life — how many of them are writing down their memories or looking for new ways to share their stories with their loved ones? 

Your donors want to leave a lasting legacy as well. Sure, they want their money to do more good in the world. But beyond that, they want to share their wisdom and passions with future generations. 

Help them do that by introducing the possibility of ethical wills. Ethical wills aren’t legal documents, and they aren’t concerned only with financial assets. Sometimes called “legacy letters” or “life letters,” ethical wills offer an opportunity for the authors to tell their children, grandchildren or other loved ones what matters most to them. 

Here are some topics an ethical will could cover:

  1. Beliefs and Values. What do you believe? What are your guiding principles when it comes to family life, work life, volunteering, handling money, etc.? 
  2. Life Lessons. What were some of the defining moments of your life, and what did you learn from them? What experiences and people are you most grateful for? Think of significant events, moments and experiences in your life. What would you like your loved ones to know about your hopes for their future? 
  3. Personal Feelings. How can you communicate love to them? How have they impacted your life in a positive way? 
  4. Message of Hope. What are some of the most meaningful words that you have heard or read? What message of hope and encouragement do you wish to leave to your family and friends? 

And here’s the best part: by talking to donors about ethical wills, you can begin a conversation about building a legacy without ever having to bring up planned giving. The next logical step will be discussing their estate; if you are already talking about what they want to leave for their loved ones, they will bring it up the financial side if they are ready. 

Ethical wills get to the heart of what matters most to your donors; don’t miss your chance to be part of building their legacies. 


To learn more about Ethical Wills, we recommend hearing from industry expert Susan Turnbull here