Beyond Great Expectations: An Unexpected Gift with Unending Impact

The unexpected and unrestricted nature of Lucy’s bequest echoes the quiet yet profound impact individuals can have on causes they hold dear, even in the absence of overt support during their lifetime.

Jan L. Lane, CAP®, Senior Philanthropic Advisor

Last year, we received a letter notifying us that the Community Foundation was the partial beneficiary of a trust. Lucy McLean, who passed away in 2020 at the age of 96, had chosen us, along with three other charities, to receive a surprise bequest. While gifts like this one may be unforeseen, they are not entirely uncommon. Every year, in fact, many nonprofit organizations receive estate gifts that they had not expected.

The most surprising aspect of Lucy’s gift is how little she engaged with us during her lifetime. Despite very minimal interactions and only a few small gifts from Lucy in the past, she felt strongly enough to entrust us with such a meaningful and enduring legacy.

Whenever the Community Foundation receives an unexpected bequest, we are filled with gratitude and a sense of wonder. Donors may choose not to disclose their plans for a whole host of reasons—ranging from anonymity to uncertainty. In some cases, their connection becomes clear once their gift is revealed; in others, we can only guess at their motivation for giving. What is always apparent, however, is their undeniable belief in our mission.

Lucy, who grew up in Utica, pursued a career with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and became the first female inspector to be assigned to the U.S. Port at Alexandria Bay, among other assignments. Neither Lucy nor her sister Ellen married or had children. Fredericka, a third sister, married late in life, was widowed and moved in with her sisters in DeWitt. They lived together until Fredericka’s death in 2006, followed by Ellen’s in 2012. Lucy was the recipient and caretaker of many beautiful family heirlooms through the years, including her sisters’ belongings.

Lucy’s trust ultimately named the Community Foundation as one of four charitable beneficiaries. It seems Lucy chose to support causes that were important to both her and her sisters and honored their connection to Central New York and the Mohawk Valley. Lucy’s legacy gifts, all of which were unrestricted, are an excellent example of 5forCNY, which encourages people who care about Central New York to consider leaving lasting gifts to local nonprofits. Lucy did just that—through the Community Foundation and other nonprofits directly.

Lucy’s gift to the Community Foundation, like so many others, will provide enduring and transformative support for future generations. A portion of her gift helped to endow the 5forCNY Fund, which pools dollars from generous community members seeking to make a difference. This fund will provide grants to organizations serving Onondaga, Madison, Oswego, Cayuga and Cortland counties. The remaining portion will provide ongoing support to address the region’s greatest needs through the Lucy McLean Community Fund.

The unexpected and unrestricted nature of Lucy’s bequest echoes the quiet yet profound impact individuals can have on causes they hold dear, even in the absence of overt support during their lifetime. In honoring all legacy gifts, we recognize our responsibility to continue the work that has resonated so deeply with our donors, ensuring that their philanthropic spirit lives on through our continued efforts.

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