Five must dos’ of bequest fundraising

Bequest income, also known as lega­cy income, could cur­rent­ly rep­re­sent between zero and 75 per cent of your charity’s total income. You might have a mul­ti-faceted bequest pro­gramme, no pro­gramme at all, or be some­where in between. What­ev­er your sit­u­a­tion, you should know that bequests hold huge poten­tial for your organ­i­sa­tion, with the aver­age bequest in Aus­tralia today at over AUD $60,000 just think of the possibilities.

Written by
Fiona McPhee
May 21, 2013

Whilst it might feel like ‘big charity brands’ benefit the most from bequests, any nonprofit that offers a solution to a problem and has a positive impact on society has the potential to solicit bequest income.

Yes, many bequests are reported as coming from people we have had no previous association with, but that is no excuse to do nothing. Organisations with large bequest income have not generated this without investing in their bequest marketing. And if you are from one of these larger organisations, there is always room to improve. I recently worked with a well-known, major charity that implemented some new facets to their bequest programme and uncovered hundreds more bequest leads on top of their already successful prospecting programme.

The key? Seek bequests appropriately.

There are many ways you could approach the development of a bequest programme. Staff on the road making face-to-face asks, direct mail programmes, phone programmes, press advertisements, online programmes, or a combination of all of these. There are some highly successful programmes out there and no one magic formula. But there are some things you can do to really maximise your chances of success.

Having had the opportunity to analyse and work on a broad range of bequest programmes, I’ve come across some essential ‘must dos’ that underpin each successful one.

1. When it comes to getting started, the perceived challenge of bequest marketing is ‘how do you raise this delicate subject with donors?’

The first ‘must do’ has two parts:

  • Don’t be afraid to bring up the subject – everyone else is talking about it. Do you want be the only one not talking about it? Talk to supporters who are engaged with your cause and want to know the best way they can help – bequests are one of these ways.
  • Remember to ask. As fundraisers, we ask for donations, we ask people to volunteer, we ask people to participate in our events. But for some reason, many don’t actually ask their supporters to put them in their will. A bequest brochure that provides information on how to change your will is not the same as asking.

Like all fundraising programme budgets, bequest budgets are not infinite. It’s important we are spending our money in a way that will achieve the best possible return.

2. The popular belief that, ‘our bequests don’t seem to be coming from our donors’ often leads organisations to invest their bequest budget in mass advertising or ‘wills days’ targeted at older audiences who are not necessarily already affiliated with the cause. I accept that not all bequests come from donor records already on your database – I can see it in the data. But the data also tells me that those most likely to be thinking about putting you in their will and actually willing to go and change it are your current supporters. These people know you, know what you are trying to achieve, want to help your beneficiaries and believe in your vision. So the second ‘must do’ is:

  • Start with warm before you spend your money on cold. In other words, start prospecting in your warm file first – with the people who have already shown they care. Once you have that covered, then broader marketing can be considered.

3. Often the legal side of bequests overtakes our usually accessible fundraising language. Your great acquisition approaches and successful appeals are based on simple, understandable language. So should your bequest communications. The third ‘must do’:

  • Don’t use jargon, use plain language that your audience will understand.

4. Truly effective fundraising and marketing communications have a clear offer or proposition. The fourth ‘must do’:

  • ‘Leave us a bequest’ is not enough of an offer – you need an appropriate bequest proposition (emotive and compelling, showing the benefits of leaving a bequest) to support your ask. When developing or assessing your bequest proposition ask your self does it:

    • – Present the need, problem or opportunity?
    • – Does it offer a solution?
    • – Does it consider the timing (a bequest is for the future not now)?
    • – Does it present a benefit to the donor?
    • – Is it emotional and unique?

5. And the final ‘must do’ is another classic marketing law:

  • Know your audience. Just because one channel or approach has worked in the past does not mean it’s the only one available to you. Your supporter base is changing, your current donors are getting older and your new donors might be from a different generation to your historical support base. What has worked for years could benefit from the testing of new approaches which may appeal to those your current strategy has not yet motivated.

I have a will, three charities are in it. All three asked me to consider leaving them a bequest. Each via a different channel and each gave me a compelling reason to do so. I’m 34, so hopefully my bequests won’t be realised for many years to come, but I expect over time more charities will find their way into my will as the charities I support continue to develop their bequest approaches to me.

© Fiona McPhee 2011.

About the author: Fiona McPhee

Fiona McPhee - Director of fundraising strategy at Pareto Fundraising in Australia.

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