Lead Story

Do Something Great— Leaving a Legacy
By Tori Phelps
Many women in central Illinois make a concerted effort to devote time to improving the community, such as volunteering for a favorite cause or attending a charity event. The Peoria Area Leave a Legacy (LAL) organization is trying to get the word out that planned giving is another way to ensure the future of the community remains bright.

Nathan Ruby, chairman of Leave a Legacy Peoria Area, said LAL isn’t a fundraising organization; rather, it’s a group of local not-for-profits that work together to help people recognize the opportunities for planned giving. “The Peoria Area LAL is an impartial, cooperative, educational effort that encourages individuals to write a will or prepare an estate plan and to include one or more charities in their planning. Currently, more than 140 not-for-profits and professional advisors are part of the Peoria Area Leave a Legacy.”

Ruby said Leave a Legacy is a nationwide initiative sponsored by the National Committee on Planned Giving. “The first Leave a Legacy initiative began in Columbus, Ohio, in 1995. Since that time, it’s grown to more than 150 local and regional initiatives all across the country. In central Illinois, initiatives are happening in Bloomington, Champaign, Decatur, and Springfield. While there is national sponsorship through the national committee, each chapter is free to organize itself; this keeps Leave a Legacy very grass roots.”

The Peoria chapter of LAL began in 2000, and Ruby, who also serves as director of development for Lutheran Hillside Village Foundation, was an original member of the steering committee. “Leave a Legacy was a natural extension of my job with Lutheran Hillside Village. My job is to help people understand the ministry of Lutheran Hillside Village and encourage them to remember us in their planning. Anything that raises awareness in the community about the benefits of legacy giving makes my job easier,” he said.

Ruby explained his job as chairman is to be a cheerleader and banner carrier of the local LAL initiative. “It’s a position both rewarding and tedious. Balancing the needs of LAL and a busy work schedule is sometimes tricky. Leave a Legacy Vice Chairman Paul Herzog and I are both blessed to be in professions that help people plan and initiate legacy giving. It makes working a few more nights and early mornings worth it.”

Herzog, who’s been with MassMutual Financial Group for 22 years, also was asked to use his unique talents when Leave a Legacy was forming in Peoria. “I focused most of my attention on developing the membership among financial professionals; I know many of the professionals involved in estate planning areas such as attorneys, life insurance agents, and accountants. I’ve enjoyed getting to know and increase the number of non-profit members of LAL. This area is blessed with tremendous volunteerism and significant charitable organizations and causes,” he said.

There are some stipulations for not-for-profits who wish to become affiliated with Leave a Legacy, Herzog said. “Non-profits with annual budgets less than $100,000 are required to pay dues of $50. Those with budgets greater than $100,000 pay $100. We take their word for it and don’t require financial proof.”

In return for the minimal dues, area agencies reap the benefits of the LAL organization. “We encourage the non-profits to use our resources and publicize the concept of legacy giving within their literature and solicitations. We have powerpoint presentations, brochures, and speakers available at little or no cost. Converse Marketing has been a tremendous help with ideas and finished products. Our Web site is linked to our membership roster, and the site has many facets—some directed to the professionals, some to non-profits, and some to consumers. Stellar Systems developed and guided us with the Internet connections, designed our home page, and made our sight very user-friendly,” Herzog said.

Since the inception of LAL in Peoria, Ruby said the mission has stayed the same, but methods of getting that mission out are changing. “Simply put, LAL asks you to plan how you want your assets to be distributed at your death. Prepare a will or other documents appropriate for your situation, and then do something great: include your favorite organization in that planning. How we get that message out has changed, though. This year we’re planning a major media campaign to better get our message to the public. After Leave a Legacy month in November, we’ll evaluate how we did and make adjustments for next year.”

Ruby said the importance of Leave a Legacy is in planting seeds to benefit Peoria’s future, and past examples of local institutions which began with a legacy—including Bradley University and the Children’s Home—are proof planned giving makes a difference in our community. “All of us have organizations that are special in our hearts—the hospital whose physicians and nurses saved the life of a loved one, a school or university that gave a son or daughter the education necessary to have a meaningful career, or a social agency that was there for someone at a point in their life when they desperately needed help. Right now events are occurring that are making a profound impact on people’s lives. Leave a Legacy is here to encourage people whose lives are being affected. To assist the organizations that made a difference in their lives—to not only be in existence, but to thrive into the future—that’s how Leave a Legacy will benefit the Peoria of tomorrow.”

In his experience, Ruby said women are generally more likely to respond to the message of the Leave a Legacy program, Ruby said. “The best legacy gifts are motivated by the heart. True charitable giving happens when an organization touches the heart of the donor: when the donor sees how people’s lives are being impacted, when the donor can say ‘this work is so important that it’s up to me to make sure it continues even when I’m gone,’ this is when amazing legacy gifts happen. Women have a gift to see this vision, and when they do, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Ruby said Leave a Legacy works with people who already know which agencies they want to help, as well as people who don’t yet know where they want their money to go. “For some, choosing an organization is very difficult. I encourage everyone to go to our Web site (www.peoria-arealal.org) and look at our membership. There are links to each of our member organizations and professional advisors; it’s a wealth of information for everyone.”

Herzog said people who have an interest in leaving a legacy should contact the organizations they care about. “Our goal is to suggest and reinforce the value of charitable giving and leaving money through wills, trusts, or gifts. We don’t get involved in steering them to an organization. We’re trying to educate the public that the organizations and causes they care about during their lifetime can also be included in their estate plans.”

Talking about estate planning doesn’t seem to faze most people the organization works with, Herzog said. “It’s not difficult with people who’re already charitably inclined with their time or donations. It’s really an extension of what they find important while they’re alive. While death itself isn’t a pleasant topic, envisioning the impact of their gifting is very rewarding. Most people are very receptive. The challenge for those of us on the committee is we never see tangible results of our efforts because we’re not here to receive donations. We’re involved to help motivate people to care beyond their lifetime and touch the future.”

Ruby echoed Herzog’s disappointment in not being able to witness much of the fruits of LAL’s labor. “The most challenging part is wanting it to happen now. Legacy giving takes time; there’s no way around it. Waiting patiently for those seeds to take root, grow, and mature takes much patience, but it will be worth the wait.”

Due to the nature of the organization, it’s not surprising Ruby said the best part about being involved with LAL is experiencing the best in people. “Being involved with our community’s best not-for-profits, working with our community’s best financial advisors, and working with some of the most generous and well-intentioned donors anywhere is an exciting opportunity. Leave a Legacy brings out the best in Peoria not-for-profit organizations and professional advisors. This year’s LAL leadership is made up of professionals willing to go that extra step to help secure a brighter future for the Peoria area. Their hard work has helped to make Peoria a success.”

In addition to Ruby and Herzog, LAL leadership includes Jim Sullivan, Laura Schoon, Debbra Sippel, Laurie Adams, Greg Mescher, Amy Sajko, Sharon Lansdowne, and Mark Roberts.

Ruby said he believes Leave a Legacy will continue to educate and motivate the Peoria community well into the future. “Peoria is a great place to live. We have a thriving downtown, professional and collegiate sports, the symphony and opera, and world class cultural events. We have not-for-profits that make a difference in the lives of people on a daily basis. Leave a Legacy is here to make sure all these things that make Peoria so great have the financial resources to continue to thrive in the future.” TPW