It’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve just driven three hours through the frozen heartland of Illinois to pay my last respects to someone who has recently passed away.  It is sunny on what should be a dark day, but my drive has given me the opportunity to reflect on my 30 plus year relationship with the family that I am about to visit. This day, unlike so many others I have shared with the family, will be a sad one. I must say goodbye to someone who has shared his generosity and wisdom with me and has left an indelible mark on my life. It has been a privilege to be present in the life of this family and, now, in the passing of their loved one.

This privilege is not lost on me. As a planned giving officer, I get to serve as a conduit and catalyst for the amazing philanthropic endeavors of those with whom I work. In doing so, I get to connect with incredible people and benefit immeasurably from their giving, not only as I gain a deeper understanding of their giving goals but also the fabric of life that holds us all together.

Nonprofits do an excellent job of promoting how planned gifts, and their donors, achieve amazing results in saving and changing the lives of the recipients of  philanthropic gifting.  While planned gifts are often associated with tax planning, they still come with a story. There is a nature behind planned givers better seen as givers who are thoughtful about how their lives can touch the lives of others through their acts.

Those who give see their lives as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. Donors contemplate how their philanthropy can be maximized for the benefit of the lives of those they want to affect. In many instances, this contemplation is the common thread of planned gifts.  They are absolutely giving in a tax-wise fashion. But to them, the real benefit of what can seem a rather involved planning process is the benefit of realizing their goal of a deeper appreciation for their life’s meaning.   You can often see the result of this intentional process in donors’ lives as it manifests itself in real ways — always there for their friends and have a kind word or smile for nearly every person they encounter.

I am always amazed of the “invisible gift” rippling from virtually every planned gift – the gift of a planned giving heart.  The heart donors give in making these gifts touch, inspire and amaze those of us who have had a chance to witness such generosity.  Donors often don’t intend to make invisible gifts just as most don’t know the power of their friendly smile or encouraging word on a bad day. These invisible gifts just happen because they are infectious in a very intoxicating fashion.  People often say they are inspired by a philanthropic gift.   To me, this feeling is shorthand for saying that they were inspired by the heart of the donor – the planned giving heart. Much like any story of giving that moves us, the planned giving heart has the remarkable ability to inspire us to find deeper meaning in our own lives, help us make our own invisible gifts . . . from person to person . . . from generation to generation.

Watch these ripples. To me, they are the source and result of every planned gift and every celebration of life.