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Leaving a Legacy that Reflects Your Core Values

Authored by Heather Sherwin, Vice President for Advancement

What I wouldn’t give to be able to hug the donors who leave bequests to nonprofits in their estate plans. Throughout my career, I have received a few phone calls from estate executors informing me that my nonprofit was the beneficiary of one donor’s generosity. These calls are like pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. They are so special and only come around every so often, but they can be transformational for the organization receiving them.

At a local animal shelter where I previously worked, practically every day we received a check in the mail from an estate of a person who had adopted their favorite cat or dog at the shelter and wanted to show their appreciation. The amazing thing was that these were not huge checks, usually $1,000, sometimes as much as $5,000, but they added up. Those gifts accounted for 5% of the annual budget and ultimately allowed this shelter to become a “no-kill” shelter, a real comfort for animal lovers. What a legacy for those donors to leave!

When I think about my own legacy, I think of these donors. I am not married, nor do I have children, so estate planning isn’t as straightforward for me as it is for some people. In my earlier years, I was happy to leave my savings and belongings to my three siblings. As we’ve gotten older, they’ve built successful lives of their own. My life’s savings won’t make a difference to them in the same way it might have before, but my savings can make a difference in the world.

Determining how I can best make that difference and defining my own philanthropic goals has been a process, and one I’d like to share with others who have the same questions I did. My “a-ha” moment came during a 21/64 family philanthropy training seminar.

“What do you want your legacy to be?”

During the training, we each chose three photographs we thought might answer that question from a specially designed deck of photographs called, Picture Your Legacy. We chose quickly, using the right brain, the creative part, to make our selections. The left brain, the analytical side, came later.

The exercise helped everyone who participated identify their own core values. Later, we learned how to best honor those values through philanthropy. So often, we give only to people who come to us. Learning what means most to you as a person can help you shape your giving, and lead you to the nonprofits whose work reflects your individual passions. For me, choosing the pictures showed me that family and nature were the things that mattered most to me. The process helped me refocus my current giving and define my charitable legacy after I’m gone.

We can help you shape your legacy

The team at Central Carolina Community Foundation is here to turn your philanthropic instincts into reality. Your legacy is important, and leaving a gift through a bequest in your will is one way to ensure you have an impact in the world after you’re gone. We look forward to helping you identify what’s most important to you and finding out how your legacy can reflect what was meaningful in your life.