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[ASK AN EXPERT] How To Promote Bequest Giving

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Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.

Today’s question comes from a fundraiser whose boss doesn’t think it’s a good idea to promote bequest giving.

Dear Charity Clairity,

My boss doesn’t think it’s worth me spending any energy promoting bequests because, he says, our donors aren’t rich and don’t have much to leave us. Plus, he doesn’t like talking to people about death and finds it off-putting. He thinks others will feel the same way. How can I persuade him this is a good investment in our future, and bequests don’t all have to be made by millionaires?

Dying to do this!

Dear Dying,

Tell your boss “little gifts add up.”

Allow me to illustrate by using my lucky number: 13. I want it to be lucky for you too!

And it can be per a recent survey of wills reported on by the Chronicle of Philanthropy revealing you only need 12 to 13 donors making a provision for your organization in their will to reap $1 million. They found the average bequest by everyday donors is $78,630. Some people leave less; some more. However, the first step is to encourage bequests. Actively.

If you don’t actively promote these types of gifts, people are unlikely to make them.

There are two primary reasons:

  1. Just like your boss, many people are uncomfortable with their mortality. They so much don’t want to think about it they even neglect to make wills. Someone has to suggest to them this might be a good idea, for any number of reasons – personal, financial, or charitable. It could be a friend or relative. It could be their attorney or financial advisor.  Or it could be… their friendly, caring, helpful neighborhood nonprofit fundraiser!
  2. People may not know you accept legacy gifts. When they receive messaging from other charities asking them to consider making a bequest, but never receive similar messaging from you, they may naturally assume this is not something you’re set up for.

Getting started is easy and not resource-intensive. Honestly, you don’t need to set up anything special. Begin just by putting it out there in the universe with simple messaging, e.g.:

  • On your website: “Where there’s a will there’s a way. Consider leaving a legacy to memorialize your important values.”
  • On your donation landing page? “What will your legacy be?” Then include suggested language (here’s an example from Alex’s Lemonade Stand).
  • On your remit envelope: “I have made provision in my will to support this mission!
  • In your newsletter: Tell stories of the impact of a previous bequest and/or why a donor decided to leave a bequest.
  • On your outer mailing envelopes: “Please remember XYZ charity in your will.”

When you’re notified by a lawyer, or family member, that a donor has made provision for your charity in their will, all you need to do is get in touch with them. Find out as much information as you can, including what inspired the gift (maybe you’ll even be able to write a story about them!). Stay in touch and steward them as you would any donor. I’ve actually found once donors make a legacy gift, their annual giving increases as well. Why? They’ve essentially ‘adopted’ you as a family member!

Charity Clairity

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