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An Insider’s Guide to Growing Your Nonprofit's Gifts and Wills Program

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gits and wills program

Legacy gifts are an area of revenue in the nonprofit sector that few can afford to overlook. Big or small, we all need to think long term with the aim to boost yearly will bestowments.

The problem is that these donor drives don’t pay off quickly. It can be years before you can determine what the financial benefits are; yet just like the act of creating a will in the first place, it’s sensible strategic planning to run and maintain them.

More people than ever are making wills

A recent report by CNBC found the pandemic caused a large increase in Americans taking the time to write their will and testimony. 

Boston’s Gentreo reported an upswing of 143% every week through spring 2020, with many other firms in the industry reporting similar trends. 

Even with this increase, the majority of Americans still don’t have any legal documents outlining what they wish to do with their estate. Of those who did make preparations, only a minority of them included a bequest to a nonprofit.

With that in mind, I recently interviewed a professional rooted in this complex area. Gary Moyle is a legacy manager with decades of experience, working for the Martlets Cancer hospice in England. Following on from part one of “An insider’s guide: Leading with legacies,” Gary continues to offer key insights into this vital fundraising source.

What is the hardest part of legacy donor drives?

The hardest part is measuring the effectiveness of a particular campaign and trying to predict gifts in wills’ income for the future. You have to measure more by sign up rather than funds coming in, which is quite different to most other donor drives. Jeff Bezos said he works three years ahead of today every day; well, in a strange way legacies are similar. You’re always storing up goodwill and income for years down the line. 

How have you seen nonprofits getting their gifts and wills program wrong?

There are a great many examples of really good charity communications on legacies. Although I think the worst examples I have seen are those that don’t connect emotionally with the audience.  

How so?

I’ve seen drives where the communications fail to focus on the beneficiaries of the charity. Instead they focus on the charity itself.  

Is that an important distinction?

Yes, the work of the charity needs to be seen through the stories told by people it has helped. This is critical and is done by using engaging photographs and personal authentic testimonials. For people to commit to giving the nonprofit support after they pass away, they need to have been either significantly helped by your mission or significantly moved by it. This use of beneficiaries makes the strongest human connection with the reader. 

What are the most important tips for dealing with collection of a legacy? It must come with a lot of ethical and moral challenges.

Yes, often you’re dealing with relatives who are still quite emotional. Give them time to respond to your queries about the payment of a legacy and avoid writing to them or calling them on significant dates such as the anniversary of a death. Administering an estate can be challenging for people with no professional expertise and the process can be an emotional journey for many.

As far as person to person, I’d say listen to them and be gracious and kind. People can be in very different places with bereavement when you talk to them. So if they are angry or upset then don’t take it personally. It’s probably because they are grieving.  

What advice would you give to those starting their gifts and wills program?

1. Patience

Our gifts and wills income provides around 30% of our annual income. The effort you put in will pay off! Be patient and remember that although the impact of your campaigns is reaped in times to come, the impact of the literature—be it by email or advertising in the media—must be immediate. You don’t have long to engage the viewer. So work hard on the hook!

2. Connect

Grow your legacy lists! Show your audience those who benefit most from your work. Even if you’re asking to be included in a will, it should be a hopeful message, one which uplifts with the service you provide. Regardless of what your nonprofit does, it will be important and vital to many. It’s the “many” we need to connect with through emotionally engaging campaigns.

3. Stay motivated

Remember too that the legacy was someone’s ultimate gift to the charity and that you are helping to bring the benefit that they intended. Motivation for yourself is the fuel which compounds the effectiveness of your efforts. 

You can learn more about the hospice and Gary’s work in the UK here.

And if you missed it, you can get more useful insights through reading part one of “An insider’s guide: Leading with legacies.” 

Use this gift acceptance policy template as a starting point to start or grow your gifts and wills program.

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