Death is a subject most people shy away from. However, if you want to leave a ‘legacy with impact,’ you need to think ahead before you actually sit down to write your will.

Do your homework to find a charity in your community that could use your financial help, suggests Gretchen Barry, director of marketing and communications for NonProfitEasy. By giving to a “community-based organization,” you will leave a legacy that will exist well after you’ve gone. Of course, this ‘gift’ should represent only a portion of your assets, so family and friends are not forgotten.

Barry said one day she noticed a story on the front page of her local newspaper about “a modest gentleman who passed away recently and bequeathed nearly $250,000 to a small music program” near her home. Barry called it, “a lovely gesture” because the organization usually did not receive such a legacy.

“This gentleman, though an avid attendee of the music program’s concerts, hadn’t donated money to this organization in years. As a result, this gift came as a complete, yet thrilling, surprise to the program – and that’s precisely what makes it so great.”

Barry noted another story about Osleola McCarty who left $150,000 to the University of Southern Mississippi. Although she was a laundress, she had given the university her entire savings.

“Given her modest earnings and the fact that Ms. McCarty quit school in the sixth grade, nobody on the planet, except maybe her banker, knew she had that kind of cash to leave behind,” Barry noted.

According to Giving USA, The Annual Report on Philanthropy, “adjusted for inflation, total charitable giving rose 3.0 percent over 2012.”

“That’s great news!” noted Barry. “But I have always been intrigued by where people choose to leave their legacy. It is one of the last things we do, and it can be one of the most impactful final acts for family or a favorite charity.”

She added, “These kinds of stories give me pause for thought. Although my husband and I are far from wealthy, we are financially comfortable, and it is likely that we will have assets with which to leave our legacy.”

But Barry added that she and her husband are “bucking the trend,” when it comes to where they leave that legacy.

“We have made a conscious decision to focus our legacy away from larger, more popular, charitable organizations. I know they do great work, but there are thousands of smaller organizations who are doing good in the world, but struggle to keep the lights on.”

She noted that smaller charities deserve the same attention as larger non-profits. However, since the larger organizations have larger budgets that they can use for national fundraising drives, it pretty much leaves the smaller ones in the dust in terms of giving.

“It is personally reassuring to consider that these smaller organizations will benefit more deeply from what my husband and I leave behind,” she said. “Our somewhat modest gift can make a huge impact on their mission. Consider this: $100,000 won’t go very far in a big organization with hundreds of staff across the globe, and multiple expenses. But imagine what $100,000 could do for a school in your community, or your local food bank.”

Through her work with the tech company NonProfitEasy, Barry has access to “hundreds of small community-based non-profits,” as well as the people who manage them.

Every day, I get to see first-hand how these organizations are changing lives, Barry noted. “I love my work because my company is part of the sphere of good, happening in communities around the country.”

However, she has also seen how these small organizations have to struggle every day to carry out their missions. The “vast majority of their time is spent fundraising rather than delivering their services, something that needs to change. That’s where leaving a personal legacy can have a tremendous impact.

But it is important to know which of these organizations could use your help most. To that end, Barry is offering a ‘field guide’ to follow:

  1. “If you don’t already have a list of organizations in mind, do a little research. Ask friends, family members or co-workers for their favorite charities. Check your local paper, your city’s website or even contact local law enforcement or social service agency.
  2. Next, look for organizations with operating budgets (of) less than $1 million. These are the hyper-focused missions that can benefit the most from your gift.
  3. Identify the causes on your list that are important to you. This should be the easy part. Is it animal welfare, education, homelessness, health care, the environment or something else? The options are endless.
  4. 4. Narrow your list by determining what you believe will benefit your community the most. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their work only serves your community, but it does mean that the community as a whole benefits from its work or its presence.
  5. 5. Add the organization to your will or trust. Make sure to include any special instructions directing how the funds are to be used. Note: I caution against a request that prohibits the funds from being used for administrative purposes. It’s the administrative functions that make the mission happen and too many organizations are hamstrung by those types of requests. Wouldn’t it be cool if someone directed an organization to use part of their bequeath to fund an annual thank you party for staff and volunteers, or to focus the funds on technology or building upgrades for the organization?
  6. Just like Oseola McCarty, you have the power to support whatever mission is important to you. Consider directing a portion of your estate to a struggling mission and ultimately to those who benefit from that mission. You can still provide for your family and larger organizations with your legacy funds, just consider including at least one community-based mission. Leaving a legacy that helps others long after we are gone can change the lives of those in need.”

Story used and partially rewritten with permission from Gretchen Barry, director of marketing and communications for NonProfitEasy, a technology company that challenges the status quo for the greater good. The original article is called Big Giving for Small Nonprofits: How to Leave Your Legacy with Impact. Barry can be reached at