Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE will explain how fundraisers can persuade ‘powers that be’ that they should actively promote legacy giving, even (especially) now.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Claire, I got 4:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Claire: Absolutely.

Steven: All right, cool. Welcome everybody, good afternoon. I think most of you are in afternoon time but, if you’re watching from somewhere else, I hope you’re having a good day. If you’re watching the recording, I hope everything’s going well with you because we are here to talk about legacy giving, specifically how to talk about legacy giving without being a little creepy or off-putting. Important topic, one of my favorite topics. And it’s going to be a good presentation, so I’m glad you’re all joining us. I’m Steven, I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s little discussion, as always.

And just a couple of quick housekeeping items, just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the recording, as well as the slides, later on this afternoon. Don’t worry, you’ll get those. So, if you have to leave early or maybe you want to share the content with a friend or a coworker or a boss or whatever, don’t worry, we will get all that good stuff to you later on today.

But most importantly, we love to hear from you throughout the hour. So use that chat box, there’s a Q&A. We’re going to try and save a little bit of time at the end for Q&A. It might be a little tight because we’ve got a lot of good stuff to share with you, but ask questions anyway because we might be able to get to your question offline as well. Introduce yourself in the chat, if you haven’t done all that already. And you can also send us a tweet, I’ll keep an eye on Twitter. But bottom line is we would love to hear from you over the next hour or so.

And, if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, welcome. We do these webinars every Thursday, we’ve been doing them for almost 10 years. Every Thursday, it’s kind of hard to believe. We love doing them, it’s one of my favorite things we do here at Bloomerang.

But if you never heard of Bloomerang besides the webinars, we are also a provider of donor database software. That’s what we are, Bloomerang’s a donor database. And if you’re interested in that or just curious, maybe you’re thinking of switching sometime soon, check us out. Visit our website, there’s all kinds of free resources, videos there you can watch. And you can learn more about us.

But don’t do that right now, wait at least an hour because we have a great friend of the program once again joining us, my good friend Claire Axelrad. Claire, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Claire: Good. Good to be with you.

Steven: Yeah, this is awesome, you’re a stalwart of the Bloomerang webinar series. It wouldn’t be a season without you. I think this may be your . . . what? I think we’re in double-digit presentations from you now, Claire, that’s pretty exciting. But if you all don’t know Claire, check her out, she’s our fundraising coach over at Bloomerang, and also does a lot of cool things through her own fundraising school. You’ll hear about it from her, hopefully, at the end, Clarification School. And is just all over the place. In addition to being super active in her San Francisco nonprofit community, she also does a lot, including teaching a CFRE class. She was AFP’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year. Writes all the time for lots of different people, not just Bloomerang. Although you can find some exclusive advice from her on our blog as well, which we’ll link to if you’re interested in learning that. I think you want to be because, after this presentation, you’re going to want to follow Claire, if you aren’t already. So, Claire, I will pipe down here. I’m going to stop sharing my screen. And let’s see if we can get your slides going here, if you don’t mind sharing again. Here we go.

Claire: Here we go.

Steven: Looks like it’s working.

Claire: Let’s try to get this . . . there we go.

Steven: Nice. Cool. Okay.

Claire: Just turn me off.

Steven: All right, I’m going to turn our video off. And take it away, my friend.

Claire: Okay, wait. I got a little thing you don’t want to see. All right. So welcome, everybody, and thanks for showing up. I want you to pat yourself on the back because, just by virtue of being here, you’re already demonstrating how smart you are. Because the more you know, the better equipped you are to make a difference.

So on to today’s session. I’ve got a lot for you today. But if there’s a lot of questions we don’t get to, I will write up some FAQs and send them to you afterwards, so don’t be shy. But first what I want to do is just ask Steven to launch a poll to gauge where you are right now with regard to feelings about promoting legacy giving in your nonprofit. So just choose the answer that best describes your feelings.

Steven: The answers are coming in now, Claire. It looks like “I feel I don’t know enough about legacy giving” is kind of the leader right now. Second place “My nonprofit is comfortable talking about it and I’m okay talking about it but not comfortable” is neck and neck for second place.

Claire: Okay. So it’s interesting. Not that many people are worried that it’s creepy to talk about it during the pandemic but more that they’re just not comfortable talking about it. All right. So I do have a bunch of information about why it’s not creepy during the pandemic but I’ll try to go light on that. So the poll is just sticking up here. Okay, there we go. All right.

So this is what we’re going to cover today. You know, a lot of times legacy givings don’t ever get off the ground because people think talking about death is creepy, just period, anytime. But during the past year and a half, people have really been questioning the meaning of life and their own mortality in unprecedented ways and kind of wondering, “Well, what will my legacy be?” And just possibly they may wish part of their legacy to be supporting the causes that they cared about during their lifetime, which may be your cause. It’s not going to happen though unless you begin the conversation. And if your intention is to be around for the long term, it’s time to assure you don’t sacrifice your future by failing to develop a robust legacy-giving program.

So we’re going to cover all these bullets on the screen today. But first, I want to share a statistic with you. Nearly 70% of people make gifts to charity during their lifetimes but only 6% leave a bequest. Why is that? It’s really because no one asks them. That’s the number one reason people don’t give to charity period. So I just want to say, by the way, that artists have left a huge legacy around San Francisco during this pandemic. And I’ve taken photos and I really like the concept of using them in this presentation just to kind of prompt us to think about the values that people have because that’s really what legacy giving is all about.

So to get people to seriously consider leaving a legacy, they have to be asked, they have to be shown it’s a good idea. Sixty six percent of Americans don’t have a will, and one service you can offer is just explaining why it’s a good idea. We’ll see some examples of that later. And the other thing is they have to see other people they respect doing it.

So you got a little of my bio, I won’t go into this a lot, but it was kind of like, “Why listen to me on this?” And I’ve really been doing this a while in different settings. I’ve started and managed legacy giving programs at four different charities in the trenches. So I’ve been on that side for 30 years, I know what it’s like to be in your shoes. And then, for the past 10 years, I’ve been working with countless organizations as a consultant. So I know that this works good times and bad times and I just really want to share my experience with you because that’s the way I leave my legacy.

So let’s begin with what motivated me to do today’s session. So one fundraising guru that I generally admire a lot said, at the beginning of the pandemic, that this was the only type of fundraising they’d not recommend right now. And this person called it creepy. And I understand the impulse to avoid the subject, no one likes to face their mortality, but that’s not really what legacy philanthropy is about. Not today and really not ever. It’s really part of the circle of life. No one escapes death. And sometimes, in this circle of life, you’re receiving and sometimes you’re giving. So it’s like you take a rock, you leave a rock.

And I was going to share a poem with you about the kind of extraordinary period of time that we’re in and I’d like to ask you to, if you would, I can’t see that you’re doing it, but close your eyes, and I’d like to read you a poem from Lynn Ungar. It’s called “On the Other Side.” “Through the looking glass down the rabbit hole into the wardrobe and out, into the enchanted forest where animals talk and danger lurks and nothing works quite the way it did before. You have fallen into a new story. It is possible that you are much bigger or smaller than you thought. It is possible to drown in the ocean of your own tears. It is possible that mysterious friends have armed you with magical weapons you don’t yet understand but which you will need to save your own life and the world. Everything here is foreign, nothing quite makes sense. That’s how it works. Do not confuse the beginning of the story with the end.”

So you can open your eyes. I love that poem because I like the idea that we are creating and writing this story and we do have some agency here and our donors are doing the same with us and we can help them. And, in that way, legacy giving is not at all about death and dying, it’s about life and giving. My mother always said to me, “Claire, you can’t take it with you.” And, whether we live or die, we’re all thinking about what life will be like on the planet, as we move forward. And yes, we’re in a pandemic and it’s scary and it’s uncomfortable but, let’s face it, people are seldom comfortable confronting the notion of their own death. Yet, the reason it’s not creepy to talk about legacy giving is, again, this truth, no one’s immune from death, and this general rule in fundraising that you really do want to tap into what donors are worried about, especially if you can help them kind of take some control and mitigate that worry.

And the other general rule is, what I call, the assume rule, which you know about. Which is you don’t want to assume on their behalf that they don’t want to maybe confront the ramifications of their mortality. You know, the assume makes an ass of you and me. So you don’t do anyone any favors by assuming on their behalf. And so I would say that, you know, I don’t know if you knew this, but online searches for how to create a will have skyrocketed, skyrocketed during this pandemic. So should your legacy program be on hold now? Emphatically no.

And again, this idea that death is as natural as birth, it’s inevitable sooner or later, we’re all hoping for later, of course, but, at times in life, it’s more top of mind. And there’s a reason, even in normal times, that people go to their advisor to review a will. It’s hard to sort of talk to somebody about making a legacy gift and say, “Well, now you have to go visit your attorney,” but people do go visit their attorneys and they need to know that you accept legacy gifts. They need to have it kind of as just this little idea in their mind, and we’ll talk about how to get that there. But people go because, you know, they’re having a kid or they’re getting married or, you know, they’re ill or they’re deciding to go on a major trip or do something risky like parachute dropping or something like that.

So, anyway, Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay do a lot of research on donor retention and fundraising. They found that 88.7% of donors think it’s totally appropriate for you to ask for legacy gifts. So, if donors are okay with it, you should be too. And think about what happens when a donor actually does go visit their attorney and the subject of legacy giving maybe comes up. Well, then they maybe go online searching for charitable beneficiaries. They may not know that you’re set up to accept and manage these gifts. And trust me, it takes very little savvy to promote and accept bequests. You can do it. So we’ll talk about that more, but I just want to talk about the concept of planning for the future.

So imagine if past generations had left a legacy endowment from which your organization could now be drawing upon, and maybe you’re lucky, maybe that did happen where you are, either way, now it’s your turn. And if you’ve been around for 10 years or more, you should be thinking long term. And we often think of legacy giving in terms of what donors do but we should be thinking about what you, as staff, do. And when you promote and secure legacy commitments, you leave an inheritance for those who are going to come after you tomorrow.

And really, I would say, building a stream of legacies or an endowment from which you can draw income is not a luxury. In fact, I think putting off legacy giving is fiscally irresponsible. And, if I were to ask you, you know, if you could have both a savings account and a checking account, would you think it’s responsible to only have a checking account and live from paycheck to paycheck? I think I know what you would answer. And it’s interesting that sometimes, talking to boards, they don’t get it, they have their own savings but they don’t somehow understand the long-term need for a charity to build an endowment portfolio or, you know, have a stream of income that they can rely on. They somehow feel it’s morally wrong for nonprofits to have any savings. And that makes long-term sustainability and planning extraordinarily difficult. It’s also really a shame when loyal donors pass away without ever having considered a gift to your organization. That would’ve perpetuated their values and made them feel really good, it actually would’ve been a very positive thing for them, as well as for you. So that’s not creepy at all.

So let’s look at where you need to get started. And that’s with your legacy program case for support. So people need to believe that you’re going to last long enough to benefit from their legacy gift. That’s why I said kind of 10 years or more is kind of a starting point. And they need to know that your vision extends to enacting your mission and your values into the future. They also need to trust you. They need to know how you spend and use contributions. So can they easily find your 990 on your website? Do you publish your annual audit results? You know, we’re talking about money management, so they need to know you’re fiscally-responsible.

And then you also need to be able to articulate that, without fundraising or without a steady income from which to draw upon, you could cease to exist. So I like to document a projected revenue gap between expenses and income over a 10-year period. Here’s a simple little chart where all you do is you just look at the next 10 years and you project what your revenue is going to be, all things being equal, based on how you’re fundraising and how your sales, etc., have been going over the previous 10 years. You know, maybe you’re seeing a 2% to 3% to 5% increase in revenue in different categories. So you project that out.

And then you also project your expenses and you put in a factor for inflation. And usually expenses are increasing at a rate that’s higher than revenue, all things being equal. So now you’ve got a documented case for support, you can show the projected gap. Now we want to make sure that you’ve got other preconditions in place for showing that you really need to have some kind of endowment or stream of bequests.

And so the other signs pointing to go, go ahead and start this program, is that you’ve got loyal donors. And so, if you’ve got loyal donors, you’ve got prospects. You have people who have some ability through their savings, through their home, through their business, maybe they don’t have kids at all, maybe they do have kids but they don’t need all of their money, even if they give a very small percentage of their estate, for most people, the legacy gift is going to be the largest gift they ever make. It will be a major gift because usually people don’t tap into their assets when they think about making a gift to charity. So the return on investment also is really high and that’s a sign that you should do it. It’s only 10 to 15 cents on the dollar, as opposed to about 20 cents for outright major gifts, 50 cents for a special event, and a $1.20-$1.25 on the dollar to acquire a new donor. So it’s a really good investment strategy and it spills over to annual giving.

Dr. Russell James, who’s done a lot of work in this area, finds, through research, that estate donors increase their annual giving by 75%. And why is this? It’s because they’ve, essentially, adopted you as a family member. They’ve got real skin in the game now and they care about your survival. The other thing is that there are a lot of easy giving options available, they don’t have to be complex trust gifts. So we’re going to talk about this later so that you can feel comfortable talking about this. And then, right now, we’re in tough times. And research shows that in tough times people give more, they think more about what they value and, hence, you know, their own values.

So, again, it’s really irresponsible not to diversify your income streams. And, you know, if we look at this pie chart from Giving USA, you can see like competition has really increased for philanthropic dollars. And we have less donors than we’ve had before but the sizes of the gifts from those donors have been increasing, which is why giving overall has still not varied from about 2% of gross domestic product for as long as they’ve been measuring this since World War 2. But, basically, your long-term survival depends on strengthening your revenue streams. And, you know, I would say to you, “What are you doing about diversifying?” And if you’re like most nonprofits, you’re really missing what’s right in front of your eyes, which is legacy giving. Which, you can see, is 9.6% of all giving.

So imagine that you could expect a piece of your annual funding pie as bequest expectancies or as income from endowment. It’s just there every year. No one has to actively work on securing it because it starts coming in because people just think about you in terms of leaving bequest. It’s like creating a stream of passive income.

So let’s go back to what you do to shift from feeling creepy talking about mortality. And it helps to understand a bit about psychology and how psychology informs behavior. So there’s a field of experimental psychology called “Terror Management Theory,” and it focuses on how people react when you remind them of death. And there’s a recent paper by Dr. Russell James and Michael Rosen, who’s a real planned giving expert, it’s called “Legacy Fundraising: The Best or Worst of Times.” And in it, they talk about terror management theory. And there are two ways that people respond to conversations about their own mortality, they either approach it or they avoid it. And, in the approach, they acknowledge that they’re going to die. They plan for it, they set up a will that’s going to, you know, take care of their families, etc. And, in the avoidance, they just ignore it. They run from it, they kind of live in fear, they cede all control. “It just happens, it happens. Nothing I can do.”

And what you want to do is inspire the approach way of dealing with it. Because it’s a key contributor to people’s sense of well-being, a sense of meaning, a sense of agency. And if you can help your donor develop this sense of purpose and meaning and significance, they’re likely going to feel grateful to you. And that gratitude might be expressed as a legacy gift. And I’m sure you’ve heard about the MRI experiments that show that, when people even contemplate making a gift, they receive a dopamine rush. It lights up the pleasure centers of their brains, it gives them what is called a warm-glow feeling. And this is something that legacy giving can offer. So it’s like you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable because, even in talking to it and getting people to contemplate doing it, you’re making them feel good. It’s kind of counter-intuitive but it’s true.

So I want to look more at this approach avoidance, and I put it into a little matrix form for you. And, basically, I did this like a classic marketing matrix and, up at the top, are the approach people. These are the people who are able to face their mortality. And, in the upper-left corner, this is normal times you talk to them and, you know, they’re people who would leave a bequest for a family or a friend. They might see the opportunity to have their values live on, especially if they’re committed donors or volunteers, they identify with you. So this is very low risk and very high reward.

Then, if you move over to the second quadrant, this is where people have a heightened sense of death. It might be because of the pandemic. It might be because they’re sick. And, you know, the illness is something they can’t control, but they can control that their values live on. And so some people will actually be more receptive during these periods. So I think this is only risky if you do it insensitively where you’re just really focusing on death and different planned-giving vehicles and stuff as if you don’t even care that they’re going to die. It’s just like, “Give us your money,” but done well where you are offering them an opportunity to sort of manage their terror and feel better, it can be a very high-reward strategy.

And then, over in the lower left, we have the people who are generally avoidance people. And they’re just going to exhibit more avoidance the more reminders of their personal death they receive but it’s still relatively low risk because . . . I don’t think they’re going to stop giving to you annually, they’re just not going to leave a bequest.

And then, over in the final fourth quadrant, these are the people who, during times where they’re facing their mortality, they exhibit enhanced avoidance. Because they’re scared and maybe they know somebody who died so they feel like, “Oh, I better hoard my resources because I might need them.” So it’s low reward but still they’re probably going to not stop giving to you annually so the risk isn’t that high. And some of the people that you message during these times are going to end up adopting the enhanced approach stance and act.

And when push comes to shove, most people do really wonder what their legacy is going to be. And, as a philanthropy facilitator, you have an opportunity, I would say, a responsibility to help. Especially when people are thinking about the subject in terms of sooner, not later. And so one of my favorite questions to ask donors all the time is, “What legacy would you like to leave the world?” or, “what would you like to see in the autobiography of your life?” Which is very different than approaching them and saying, “Where would you like your money to go after you die?”

And that question of, “What legacy you’d like to leave?” it almost always prompts a really interesting, engaged conversation. It doesn’t have to be focused on, “What are you going to leave to us?” so much as, “what are the things you value the most? What are the things that you’re really engaged with?” And that’s the conversation that you want to have. After all, you’re not their financial planner, you’re not their attorney. Donors, especially well-off ones, have their own financial guides. So just be their philanthropic guide. It’s your privilege really to talk with donors about the things that bring them joy, not worry. And what could be more joyful than leaving a legacy that perpetuates their values?

And so even if you don’t have a dedicated staff person to focus on legacy giving, I think that there are some really easy to implement strategies that don’t require a huge investment of staff, time, and resources. You do have to invest and commit to this, we’ll talk more about this later, but one of the things that I hear people saying is, “Wait a second, which donors? We don’t know any potential legacy donors.”

Legacy giving is not just for rich people. In fact, most of your legacy donors are not likely your current major donors. They’re likely consistent modest donors, they may be loyal volunteers who’ve never made a gift, and there are going to be a lot of people who are completely unknown to you but they’ve followed your website or they’ve decided that that’s a cause they care about and they found you online. And their legacy gift will probably be the largest gift they’ve ever made. 

And just some real gifts that I received when I was working in the trenches is a $10,000 gift from someone who named us the beneficiary of their life-insurance policy after their spouse died and they didn’t need it anymore. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars from a career teacher who was a long-time volunteer, never a cash donor, had no idea they had this kind of money. And a million-dollar home from a home care client who, you know, was receiving services but had this home and had no heirs and really wanted to show that she was appreciative. And that’s the thing is that it all adds up. A $5,000 gift from someone here, a million-dollar gift there, it all adds up. And if you encourage broad participation for legacy giving, you may be surprised at who shows up and expresses interest.

So you have to let folks know you’re open for business. If you don’t tell them, they’re not going to think of you this way. And it’s just like all advertising really, you know, they say, “People have to hear about it seven times before they even notice it.” So you just want it out there. You don’t need to go to tax school to do this but you do need to commit to assuring your donors wishes are fulfilled. So there are some things that you need to set up to make sure that, if you get a gift, you follow through on it. But it’s pretty simple to do this. So let’s take a quick look at what happens when somebody who made a legacy gift dies.

So, usually, you’ll be informed by an attorney that a donor provided for you in their estate plan. And they will then walk you through what you need to do. And it could mean that the donor left a bequest in a will or a trust. And if so, the attorney will talk to you about the probate process. They’ll give you a ballpark idea of how much you’ll get. If it’s a specific bequest, then that’s really obvious. If it’s a contingent on another event like somebody else dying before you get it, they’ll let you know. And it could be to the residue of their estate which will be a percentage after other bequests are fulfilled and debts and expenses are dealt with. And they can give you a ballpark of what that will be as well.

You want to make a note of this in your file, on your calendar, some kind of system that you have. And then, when that time period comes along, you want to call the advisor back to check in if you haven’t heard back. You know, you want to make sure that, you know, this just doesn’t disappear. You also may want to call people proactively. And that’s one of the reasons it’s really good to have a legacy giving society and, you know, we’ll talk about that. But, you know, if people have told you, one of the reasons you can get them to tell you is to say you want to make sure that their wishes are fulfilled. So, if you see an obit in the newspaper that one of your donors died, you can call up that attorney and say, you know, “This person let us know that they had left a bequest for us.”

It’s also possible that the donor made you a beneficiary of a retirement plan or a life-insurance policy. And sometimes these companies are not as active about notifying you that it happened, which is another really good reason to have donors join your legacy society, maybe sign a letter of intent saying what they did. You don’t need to have all the specifics, you don’t need to have the paperwork, you just need enough that you can follow up and make sure that their intentions are carried out.

When you are promoting legacy giving, say, on your website or in an email or a letter, you really want to hear to the KISS philosophy and keep it simple. Don’t make it complicated. And so you want to use terminology that everyone can understand. And I like to think of the word “legacy,” in terms of both the verb and the noun. So legate really just means to convey one’s values through creation of a future gift to charity. So that’s what a legator does. And as a noun, legacy is just a four-sided action to strengthen a favorite cause. So legacy people understand even more than they understand bequest.

So I like to talk about easy-to-create gifts, bequests, making people a charitable beneficiary of their checking account or their pension or their IRA where they don’t even have to visit an attorney. They can just sign something with the bank or financial institution that holds that retirement plan. They can do the same thing by making you the beneficiary of their insurance policy. And they can even gift you an insurance policy that they no longer need.

And then try to avoid the techno babble of traditional planned giving, which is really intimidating for charities and donors alike. And I think that’s why a lot of people, many of you said you didn’t feel comfortable talking about it or you didn’t know enough. “Deferred giving,” “planned giving,” “endowment giving,” those are all terms that have little meaning outside the fundraising profession. And I think that’s why a lot of charities that might otherwise promote legacy giving get a little scared away. And I’m going to say don’t, just use language that your mother would understand, like “will planning” or “leaving a legacy.” 

And I want you to understand most legacy gifts are bequests. They’re not charitable remainder trusts or charitable gift annuities or charitable lead trusts or any of those things that you’re like, “I don’t know enough to talk about that.” You don’t really need to know enough to talk about that. And when you think about it, all significant major gifts, whether they’re outright or deferred after death, they’re all planned. So planned giving is not just this mysterious thing, you are working with your donor all the time to plan how they would like to extend their values into the future, into the community, how they would like to help you.

So here are six legacy-giving strategies for any nonprofit. And I want you to think of you and your donors being in this together. I want you to make leaving you a legacy as easy and compelling as possible. And just like any other fundraising proposition, it should be an offer that the donor can’t refuse. And the first thing to do is to create basic marketing collateral messaging. So what is this? Well, simple messages are best. “Please remember us in your will.” “Do you want to support a cause that was important to you in life? Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” You know, “Honor your mother or your father with a gift in your will,” “legacy society members plant trees for future generations,” “perpetuate your values with a legacy gift.” You see how that’s very different than focusing on process and having a whole list of things? Legacy giving. Charitable remainder trusts. Gift annuities. You know, people don’t understand those things so they’re not going to click on them.

So where do you put this messaging? You kind of sprinkle it anywhere you can think of. Again, this is these seven impressions or more that you just want people to see it. You can put these little kinds of phrases on your outer envelopes, your email signatures, business cards, letterhead. I’m not going to read this whole list to you, you’re going to get the slides, but just get creative.

And then who do you target this at? Well, there’s no single demographic. You never know. There are these life event times that people tend to make wills. When they get married, when a kid is born, when they retire, when they have surgery, during the pandemic. Whenever they feel that they should get their affairs in order. And this happens at all different ages, so you don’t want to just contact old people. And, you know, that’s a sort of misconception that people have, “Well, we’re only going to send our legacy-giving letter to people who we know are over the age of 65,” or something like that. 

A study by Dr. Russell James found that people who have had a charity consistently in their estate plan for the long term, say, 10 years or more, leave on average 4 times as much than those who first had a charitable component within 2 years of death. So you want to get people in and committed and skin in the game early. Remember, that will also increase their annual gift to you. It’s just that you can’t ignore them, you have to continue to cultivate and steward them over time, just as you would any other donor.

So let’s look at a couple of messaging examples. So on the left is an ACLU mailer, which, you know, it’s very simple. “I can create a just future with a gift in my will to the ACLU.” “I’m passing along the values that I’ve lived to the next generation of civil rights champions.” And you see it’s a message that’s really easy to kind of understand just at a glance.

On the right-hand side, we have something from Greenpeace Australia. Which started out as a billboard and evolved into this beer mat, which is like a coaster. And it conjures empathy for the beneficiaries, for the whales. “When you come back as a whale, you’ll be bloody glad that you put Greenpeace in your will.” It’s clever, it’s simple, and they can put it on an inexpensive item that’s easy to mail.

All right, let’s look at another example. This one simply encourages people to have a will and puts the charity in the role of being helpful in that regard. So the one on the right is from the National Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and that’s from the UK. And it addresses the question of, “Why do I need a will?” And the helpful charity says, “Well, making a will is the only way you can be certain that your wishes will be carried out after you die.” And this happened to be a newspaper ad with a form where they could send in and get a booklet called “Caring for Their Future.”

And then, on the left, this clever campaign by Dogs Trust, in the UK, where the implicit message is, “Let us care for your dog.” And so you know, they want you to kind of sign up. They’ll send you this canine care card and you’re going to feel like, because you donate to them, they’re going to take care of your dog after you die. But then it adds, “Would you like to care for others?” So they give you this tangible reminder that your pet is safe and you’re a caring person through this canine care card. So these examples that I’ve shared I call “the talk.” And they create the preconditions for the walk. You still have to ask but this talk builds a foundation that makes asking really not at all creepy, I don’t think. So let’s look at some more walk . . . I mean talk.

So you want to frame the discussion in a really positive light by messaging donors about the impact they’d like to make. In terms of either shared values, like, you know, you care about feeding the hungry, leave a legacy that will continue to perpetuate your value to do that, or you care about welcoming the stranger or caring for the sick. So it’s very values heavy. 

And the other way is to just use stories. Use bequests that you’ve received to talk about things that those bequests made possible. In order to trigger happy memories that people have of, you know, going to camp or going to school, reminding them of help that they received or that a loved one received. There’s research that shows that receiving help increases the likelihood that a person will want to help others, even strangers. So, you know, saying that you’re looking for bequests to set up scholarships or set up hospice care or pet adoption reminds people of things that they cherish and that they tend to then want to preserve. And again, you want to sprinkle these messages throughout your collateral. In fact, wherever you tell stories about what donors’ gifts accomplish, try to include a line or two, where appropriate, about how these outcomes were made possible by a legacy gift.

You also want to profile legacy donors in your newsletters. You know, many people think bequests are reserved just for the wealthy, and you want to show it’s not so. So you can give them examples of ordinary people who left bequests. And this is the principle, the Robert Cialdini principle of social proof. Please read the book “Influence” by Cialdini if you’ve never read it, it’s filled with psychological principles that you can use. And you want to include stories of a range of donors, you know, just a very diverse group of people, different ages, etc., and donations of different sizes so everyone can see themselves as a future legacy donor. And, if it’s a living donor that’s done this for the future, those are probably the most relatable for people. So, again, you know, you want to use these concrete examples. And, again, these are I think the gifts that I already told you about where you just say, “Here’s the story of a widow who gave a $10,000 insurance policy in memory of her deceased husband.” Somebody else thinks like, “Oh, my husband passed away. We’ve got a policy sitting in our drawer, I could do that too.”

So let’s look again at what happens when someone goes online looking for a charitable beneficiary and they come to you. And so one of the places you want to put legacy giving is under ways to give or donate. And here, you know, you can see this drop down and, you know, they can highlight any of these things. I wouldn’t necessarily do it this way, IRA gifts, charitable gift, annuities. But the named endowment funds is a good one because, if you click on that, you’re going to get a lot of stories. You want to use videos, you want to use photos, and you really want to talk about benefits to the donor for doing this. So even if you are promoting trust gifts, talk about what they’re going to get. They’re going to get income for life. They’re going to avoid capital gains taxes. You can talk about those things but I would go much heavier into the intangible benefits, as we’ve been kind of discussing all the way through, the perpetuating their personal values, the lasting social benefit, the giving back.

And so like here is a bunch of stories. This happens to be the website for Jewish Family and Children’s Services, this is one of the programs I set up. They’ve kept it going, if you want to go to their website, you’ll get some really good examples. And this is introduced very simply with invest in our community. And they’re really stories about why, why people gave, that others might relate to, as well as the outcomes that they hope to achieve.

So let’s look at another example of promoting bequests through stories. So this is the hospice of the East Bay, across the bay from where I live, and it goes the route of inspiring folks to add their own story, thus becoming a member of their legacy society. And again, the focus is on the benefits of doing this to the donor and to the community, as opposed to the planned giving features. So this is more about simple things that the donor can enjoy during their lifetime. You know, ensuring the mission for the future but they’re also going to get regular updates from you, they’re going to get to go to this annual luncheon, and they even get a meeting with the CEO and the board chair. So why not let you know? You know, they get all these good things. 

And I often tell people that, by letting us publish their story, they’re doing a double good deed because they’re not only leaving the gift, they’re sharing a story that inspires others to follow their lead. And people actually really like this who otherwise had said, “No, no, no, don’t publish my story.” And I said, “Well, you know, it does inspire other gifts.” So, again, that’s the persuasion principle of social proof, “Oh, so-and-so did this. I could probably do that too.” And I’ve had people call me up and say, “I see Joanne and Jesse did this. If they are doing this, I want to do this too.”

So having this legacy society, this club, etc., it’s a really good tool. I mean you don’t have to have one but human beings are joiners. They like being part of a club of like-minded people, even if it only means that you just recognize them as a member on your donor honor roll or send them a certificate or share a special newsletter with them. You don’t have to have an event or anything like that, they just like knowing that this is part of their identity.

Here’s something on Alex’s Lemonade Stand where they share sample language that donors can share with their attorney. And that’s a really good idea. It also kind of prompts this notion of, “Oh, you know, I could leave a specific amount but I could also leave a residuary, I could also,” you know, “leave a contingent gift.” It gives them something to think about. Residuary actually, just a little tip, is usually the best. That’s what I encourage people to do because most people die with more than they thought they would have. And then they don’t have to stop and figure out how much they’re going to give, but they can figure that out. And, you know, a lot of times, you know, I talk to people and say, “Well, how much would you feel like you could leave and your kids wouldn’t even miss it, they wouldn’t be upset with you at all?” And a lot of people, a light bulb just really goes off in their head.

You always want to just a caveat. If you’re putting legal language up on your website, you always want a disclaimer that you don’t provide professional or legal financial advice and the donors should consult with their own advisors. I just want to show you quickly this will-planning tool. There are new services now. This is Giving Docs, which the ACLU is using to let people just come on here and click and leave their legacy in very simple steps. They do have a disclaimer there. When I first came upon this, I was a little concerned about it because, you know, I’d always been taught that you don’t want to, you know, help your donors write the will. But they are attorneys. They’ve vetted it like a lot and they feel like they’re not going to get in any trouble with conflict of interest. And so, you know, you do what you want and you can talk to them too. And I just wanted to throw out because this is very user-friendly.

The other thing I recommend is sending an annual legacy-giving appeal, just, you know, once a year at least. Something that’s specifically focused on wills or beneficiary designations or both, either to your whole donor list or, if your list is too big, then to loyal donors, people who have been giving in the past 3 years consecutively or people who give monthly. The most likely people to leave a legacy are the people who’ve been giving to you the most recently. I mean that’s the case with any kind of fundraising.

And then, if you have people that you’ve identified through wealth screening or predictive modeling that have a high planned giving likelihood, you can send to those people. And, you know, this one is an appeal from Trinity Church in New Orleans. And I couldn’t fit all of it on the screen but they’re talking about, you know, how you don’t have to be rich and why bequests are important. And then, if you scroll down, they also had sample bequest language and a form donors could fill out if they were interested in learning more.

And one thing that, you know, you might want to mail to is loyal volunteers. And, so I want to consider developing an active volunteer program as another way to develop a pool of legacies. You really need to have opportunities for folks to engage with your mission by contributing their time and talents. And if you don’t have a lot of this, it’s a good time to take this off the back burner and think about more ways that people can be actively involved with your mission. It’s a terrific way to grow future legacy gifts. And here I have a quote from an anonymous donor to the Penelope Burk annual donor survey who said that, you know, they volunteer with a lot of different organizations, they give their time and talent and those organizations have been designated in their will. And they’re very comfortable with the way they’ve approached giving and volunteering.

And just a little bonus tip, you want to make it really easy to reach you. So wherever you have your contact information, you know, have everything. Have your email, have your phone number, have your postal address. And have the name of a real person. People want to connect with a real person, not a generic director of development or director of planned giving.

And finally, I just want to emphasize, the key reason you want to be promoting legacy giving is that anyone can leave a legacy. Any age, any income level. I’ve heard legacy gifts called “major gifts for ordinary people,” and it really is a numbers game. So ask everybody. Don’t be stingy offering the opportunity for people to feel good and find some meaning, these benefits are the opposite of creepy. And, you know, again, not just going after older donors, I saw a recent study on NonProfit PRO that just 7% of millennials had left bequests but 17% cited the 2020 pandemic as the reason that they decided to create estate plans. And 11% of those people left gift to charity. So all those members to your legacy society add up.

In fact, a recent survey of wills reported by the Chronicle of Philanthropy said, “You only need 12 to 13 bequest donors to reap a million dollars.” So you measure your success by the number of commitments, and then you just make sure to put in place a plan for people to let you know that they’ve done this so you can steward them over time because bequests are revocable. So just like any other gift, the biggest reason people don’t do is they aren’t persuaded they’re necessary, they aren’t asked. And the biggest reason they take a bequest out of their will is that the charity doesn’t cultivate them.

So asking plus cultivation is what makes it different. Donors who received a letter directly asking for a bequest are 17 times more likely to give than donors who were not asked. Donors who were asked and thanked gave twice as much as those who were not thanked. Donors who were cultivated, who got notes and letters and visits after the thank you, gave three to four times as much. And 70% of donors who made, quote-unquote, “planned gifts” did so because they were asked.

So here I have a little readiness checklist to end with for you. You can use this afterwards to kind of review and assess your organization’s readiness, just answer these simple questions. If we had another hour, I would ask you to break into groups to discuss each one, but you can do it with your team sometime in the next month or so, so you really get the benefit from everything that we’ve covered today. And, you know, talk about, you know, your mission and how legacy giving is going to strengthen your mission, what your case for support is, how you’re going to get your leadership to endorse this, what prospects you have, how you’re going to steward people and celebrate their giving, what opportunities you have to promote through communications, and how you can commit a modest but consistent effort to this. Bottom line, just let donors know what their legacy giving can accomplish and show them how much you’d be honored to partner with them to make a lasting difference in your community or the world. So now we’re to questions. Although I don’t know how much time we have. But, Steven, take it away.

Steven: Well, thanks, Claire. First and foremost, that was awesome, I’m getting a lot of good comments here in the chat. So thank you for that. A lot of good stuff in there. I love those ads, I love that Greenpeace ad, that’s a really good one. I wish I had that coaster. But, yeah, it’s almost 5:00, Eastern, Claire. I will send you all the chats and the questions here because there’s some really good stuff and there’s attention. And some of you may know that Claire actually does a really neat Q&A. You are the expert on the Bloomerang Blog, Claire, and you will answer questions publicly in a blog post. I’m going to shoot the link there. So maybe we can do a special feature with some of the questions today. What can people do to get started, Claire? What’s maybe like the number one thing that they should do maybe even before the end of today to get going here?

Claire: I think the number one thing to do is put on your calendar when you’re going to take that checklist and give some serious thought to all those questions. And, you know, if you already have a program then take a look at your communications. And, you know, are you focusing on something that really resonates with donors who might do this, as opposed to just a brochure with lots of vehicles? People can find that information readily anyplace else, they don’t need it from you. That’s like the last place you should get to, that tends to be where people start.

Steven: Yeah, so true. My takeaway from you is just start the conversation, you know, what do you want that legacy to be, and then the legal mumbo jumbo comes later. Right? Is that a pretty good way of thinking about it?

Claire: Yeah, yeah. I mean I could talk about this for another hour, like how you really get started step by step building this. But it’s a little bit like building a culture of philanthropy. You know, you just develop this culture of, “Of course people want to leave a legacy. Of course they understand, they’ve given to you every year during their lifetime. They don’t want to stop. They don’t want you to lose their gift.” Like you have to ask them.

Steven: I’m ready. As the token millennial here in the group, I just updated our will because we had a young daughter, not too long ago. I’m ready, ask me, there’s a couple organizations that I’d do it for. And maybe I should just do that, I know that’s not very fair. But that really resonated with me a lot, Claire, it’s for everybody, it’s not just for old people or rich people. Right? That’s kind of the way that we normally think about it. But yeah . . . 

Claire: Yeah, and asking is important. You know, I mean I talked a lot about putting up on your website, sprinkling it everywhere. But you can’t stop there. You know, I mean I just had somebody anecdotally ask me for a major gift after a year of cultivating me. I mean they didn’t ask me for a major gift, they just kept cultivating me and I finally said, you know, “You’re doing a great job of cultivation here but I give you permission to ask me.”

Steven: That’s the hard part, right, the asking.

Claire: Yeah. But most people won’t do that, so . . . 

Steven: This is great, Claire. I think you’ve given people a lot of confidence, as well as some, you know, concrete ways to get started. So thanks for doing this, this is awesome. You all should check out the Clarification School because you can learn a lot more from Claire. Read the Bloomerang Blog, she’s there every week, plus those questions-and-answer columns that I put in the chat there. So thanks, Claire. This was awesome.

Claire: It was fun, Steven.

Steven: Yeah, thanks all of you for hanging out. I think we had almost 400 people, so I really appreciate you all trusting us and taking time out of your busy day to be with us. Like I said before, we are going to send the slides and the recording later on today. Be on the lookout for those.

And then we got a great webinar coming up next week. Our buddy Rachel Muir is going to talk about end of year. That’s right, folks, it’s already end of year, fundraising time. I can’t believe it, it still feels like it’s 2020, let alone year end 2021. But it’s never too early to start. Right? So next Thursday, 2:00 Eastern, we’re going to talk about year-end giving. Be there. If you can’t be there, register anyway because I’ll send you the recording. You don’t have to be there live, it’s okay, you’ll get it first before anyone else.

So, hopefully, we’ll see you then. So we’ll call it a day there. Like I said, look for an email from me with all those goodies. And, hopefully, we’ll see you next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend, stay healthy out there. We need all of you doing all that good work. And we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.