ask an expert

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 who needs advice on how to shine a light on their legacy giving program by publicizing bequests.  

Dear Charity Clairity,

We just received a significant bequest from a donor who is childless. So no one in the family will notice how, or if, we acknowledge the gift. My boss thinks talking about such gifts is a bit unseemly because they’re received due to a death. And it seems ghoulish, or a bit like bragging, to say we received money as a result. She prefers staying quiet. I think our legacy giving program is generally too subtle. Couldn’t this be a way to shine a light on the impact of giving to inspire more giving? My boss is also hesitant because we’re a senior living community and HIPAA limits our ability to tell client stories.  

Need to Make a Case to my Boss

Dear Need to Make a Case,

There are two ways I like to honor/acknowledge legacy gifts:

  1. Story of impact
  2. Donor’s story

It’s worth mentioning here how powerful stories are. When you tell a story you capture folks’ attention. We’re wired to be receptive to stories. It’s much more effective than simply announcing you received $100,000. Who cares about a number? Numbers go in one ear and out the other. People just don’t pay them much attention. With stories people tend to enter into them. They may try to identify with the protagonist, or empathize with the predicament.

With stories of impact you remind people what legacy giving can accomplish. This is important, because often folks don’t even think about leaving a legacy. You have to put it in front of them in a way that makes them think: “Hmmn… I never thought about doing something like that. I wonder what I might do to help create happy endings to stories, much like this gift did.” Towards activating others to consider leaving a legacy, it may be useful to include a sentence at the end of the story that says: “Have you made a legacy gift? We’d love to know so we can thank you now!” Or “Would you be interested in learning about leaving a legacy? Please click here. Or call/email Sally at…”  

With donor stories you show people others like them have done this. This activates the persuasion principle of “social proof.” We’re inclined to follow others we respect, like or relate to. People are very ‘monkey see; monkey do,’ so sharing stories showing others think you’re a worthy legacy beneficiary is an effective way to plant the seed.

Never forget most people would love to make a mark. They want to believe their life mattered. In a way, your very vision and mission serve donors by assisting them in living their values. Publicizing a legacy gift is not so much about bragging to others, patting yourself on the back or making your board feel proud (or even relieved) as it is about sharing validation of the importance and effectiveness of your mission and honoring those who join with you to enact desired outcomes. 

Thanks for your question, and I hope you find this response helpful.

— Charity Clairity

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Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.