Attracting Real Estate and Other Non-Cash Gifts for Endowment and Stewardship

by Dennis Bidwell
October 2013

Land conservation organizations are especially well-suited to develop robust Legacy Giving programs (I prefer that term to “planned giving”)  emphasizing real estate gifts.  I truly believe that such efforts hold the prospect of long-term financial security and permanence for these organizations through endowments and stewardship funds. Why? Three reasons.

First, land trust can make a better argument than almost any other organization for having to be around forever. Land trusts, after all, exist on the premise that land owners can entrust to them the permanent protection of their land.  Asking for funds to assure the permanent stewardship of land matches up very nicely with the motivations of people wanting to assure a legacy – for themselves and for landscapes of meaning.

Second, with more U.S. household wealth in real estate than in any other asset class, property gifts of all sorts are an especially important component of Legacy Giving programs. And conducting real estate transactions is one of the core competencies of land trusts. When land trusts turn their real estate expertise to structuring and closing gifts of non-conservation real estate (think vacation homes, ski condos, apartment buildings, etc.), they have put themselves on a path toward long-term financial security.

Third, an essential feature of successful planned giving programs is the long-term cultivation of personal relationships with donors. In the course of working with property owners and other community members to bring permanent protection to land rich with history and meaning, land trusts develop especially close and trusting relationships.  These relationships often deepen over time, with the potential to produce enduring, sometimes transformational, gifts.

More and more land conservation organizations are learning to talk with donors about the whole menu of gift techniques – outright gifts, bequests, charitable remainder trusts, charitable gift annuities, retained life estates, fractional interest gifts, etc.  And they growing more skilled at discussing their donors’ whole range of assets – real estate of various types, securities, retirement plans, insurance policies, business interests, etc. – in order to help aging members and donors dispose of assets no longer needed. The result of this process of inquiry and problem solving many times results individuals and families realizing they have charitable capacity they never thought they had.  When this happens, it brings joy and satisfaction to all involved.