In this webinar, Leah Eustace, M.Phil, MInstF, CFRE, ACFRE outlines some of the ways that successful bequest direct marketing is being done, including case studies, results, and learnings from leading charities.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Leah, is it okay if I get started officially?

Leah: Yeah. I’m ready.

Steven: All right. Well, good afternoon to those of you on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Soliciting Bequests using Direct Marketing Techniques,” and my name is Steven Shattuck, I am the Chief Engaging Officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.
And just a couple housekeeping items before we get started. I want to let you all know that we are recording the presentation. So if you have to leave early or perhaps want to watch the presentation later on, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an e-mail from me later on this afternoon. We’ll get you the recording and the slides if you didn’t already get those, have no fear.

And please, as you listen to the presentation today, feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. So do not be shy about sending in your questions and comments and we’ll try to keep it as interactive as possible, so don’t sit on those hands at all. You can also do the same on Twitter if you want to send us a tweet. I’ll be keeping an eye on that as well for questions or comments.

And if you have any trouble with audio we usually find that these webinars are only as good as your own internet connection, so if you have any trouble, try dialing in by phone. If you can do that and don’t mind, there is a phone number in the e-mail from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour or so ago today. And if you have any trouble with the visuals, sometimes changing browsers can help, but change it up if you don’t mind, that usually gets rid of all those nasty technical gremlins and such.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say a special welcome to you folks. We do these just about every Thursday all year around. It’s one of our favorite things that we do. But in addition to that what we’re really known for is our donor management software. So if you are interested in that, maybe looking to switch, check us out. You can download a quick video demo. We’re also now available in Canada, so any of you Canadians listening along today we might be able to help you as well. So check that out if you are interested in learning more.
But for now, speaking of Canadians, one of my favorite Canadians is joining us today. She’s Leah Eustace. Hey, Leah, how’s it going?

Leah: It’s all good, and can I just say, we’re very excited to have you entering the Canadian realm?

Steven: Oh thank you. That was not planted, but I appreciate you saying that. Well, I’m excited to have you, Leah. You did a webinar for us last year. It was one of my favorites, it was one of our highest reviewed. So I had to have Leah back to talk all about bequests and I just want to brag on you real quick. In case you guys don’t know Leah, she is the president over at Blue Canoe Philanthropy. You may also know her for her work at Good Works which is a really excellent agency. They do a lot of great work and put out some cool reports. But she has been in the business for over 25 years. She has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for nonprofits throughout North America, you will see why very quickly as she gets into her presentation.

She does a lot of volunteer work on the side, she is the immediate past chair of the AFP foundation for philanthropy in Canada. She’s a board member of the Canadian Association of gift planners and a board member of AFP Canada which is newly formed, which is pretty cool. So very busy. She speaks a lot, does a lot of webinars, she writes a lot, she’s a regular contributor to Advancing Philanthropy and lots of other publications. So I’m guessing if her name is new to you today, you’ll see her name a lot more, you’ll notice it. But Leah, I’m going to kick it or pass it off to you to tell us all about bequests. So take it away my friend.

Leah: Great. Thank you very much Steven. And I do want to point out, I wear a lot of hats and it can sometimes be a little confusing. So my main gig is with Blue Canoe philanthropy which consists of me, myself, and I, we keep each other good company. But also my title is Chief Idea Goddess with Good Works. I have been working with Good Work for the last 12 years and much of the content of the case studies I’m presenting today were done with me at Good Works and the good folks at Good Works so that’s why I use a Good Works logo and Blue Canoe just mentioned in this front slide and maybe at the end, maybe not even.
So I’m grateful for Good Works letting me kind of run with this wonderful presentation and even more grateful to the couple of organizations which we’ll be talking about, who kindly have agreed to let me talk about what they’ve done, how much they’ve spent to do it, and what the results have been. And all of you know that’s pretty rare to get that kind of permission. So I send a big thank you to the University of the Saskatchewan and WWF Canada for that.
So let’s jump right into it and I’m going to start with this slide. This might be familiar, this whole iceberg concept and really the idea here is that 10% or less of your planned giving prospects are on your radar screen. I would actually argue, probably more like 5%. Those are the few of them who’s maybe reached out to ask for a bit of information, have maybe attended some sort of financial planning event.
Maybe they ticked off a box on a direct mail piece or have some other way they’ve kind of come onto your radar screen. And those are typically the people who get assigned to a Planned Giving Officer or some other development officer who then works at setting up a call with them maybe a meeting and that’s their bunch of prospects for the year and you may have ten of those, you may have a hundred.
But underneath hidden from view are the 90 to 95% of bequests prospects, planned giving prospects who really or just not on your radar screen and you’ll know this because if you receive bequests, a lot of time they either come completely out of the blue for someone who’s not even up on their database or it’s someone who gave you $25 three times over the course of 10 years. Just not typically the people who you would flag as being excellent bequests prospects.
So I’m going to give you an example of this. My grandmother who has passed away now, but she lived to the ripe old age of 91 and she like many of her generation gave to every appeal that came in her door, not much, maybe $20, maybe $25 at the most. And when she passed away she had left a few bequests and she certainly had assets and money to give. But she never in a million years, would ever have agreed to sit down with someone from a charity and have a cup of coffee or tea and talk about her estate plans, never. She falls within that 90%.
So that’s [inaudible 00:07:45] think about the people in your life who would respond to a phone call or an invitation to come for a tour. It’s a very private decision, bequests making and planned giving and often people like just do it completely on their own in the privacy of their own home. Let’s talk about what I would say are the magic ingredients in terms of direct marketing techniques for soliciting bequests.
One is, and we all know this, powerful, powerful stories. It helps to have some insight into the brain of bequests donors. How they think, what encourages them to give, what resonates. You need to obviously be able to figure out who your prospects are, you need the perfect mix of marketing, direct marketing techniques, and then in the end I’m going to share a couple of case studies.
So we’re going to walk through all of these different things, step by step, and I hope by the end of our conversation I will have given you the tools and ideas you need to really take your plan to giving to the next level. So like I said, there are things you don’t need. You don’t need to go and have tea and banana bread with every planned giving prospect. That’s not what this is about and soliciting bequests or cultivating bequests through direct marketing doesn’t have an impact on those folks, those prospects you have who do like to meet face to face.
We’re really going after the ones who aren’t on that radar screen. What I’m talking about today isn’t in conflict with what your planned giving department or planned giving person may be doing. It’s just a different approach to help feed that pipeline to those higher orders of giving.
The sweet spot for bequests continue to be older donors. And many of those prefer to give to charity through the mail. In fact research that Good Works has done in Canada shows that direct mail donors are 80% more likely to have a will than those who don’t give to charity through the mail. Only about 47 of it, like just about half of those who don’t give to charity through the mail have left bequests. So you really do have a lot of bequest potential in your database and in your direct marketing file.
So the stories are all powerful and anyone who’s ever heard me speak, I weave this statement into pretty much everything I ever say. Over the past 50 years or so we’ve learned a whole lot about what goes through on inside our brains. And we’ve learned that almost all of our actions and decisions including the decision to give are guided primarily by our intuition. It happened really subconsciously and I could talk all day about that. I find it fascinating how our brains work. Our conscious brain has a very small part to play in how we think and how we act and what does that mean to fundraising? Well, it means in really simple terms people give when their emotions are engaged. And how do you best engage people’s emotions? Through storytelling.
What are characteristics of a good story? Again, it’s probably a topic to talk about all day. Really from my point of view and for the purposes of today, a good story is in the first person, told in the first person, it entertains the reader. Now that doesn’t mean happy entertainment necessarily, but it keeps you enthralled, it pulls you in and you become a part of that story. Good stories use a lot of describing words. So the sea is rough, it’s not just there, it’s a rough kind of tumultuous sea or a windy day, you can hear the wind whistling through the leaves. Lots of describing words and stories are usually told in the past tense.
The other thing about a good story, especially when it comes to planned giving is often, we’ll weave in a sense of autobiography. If anyone knows the research of Russell James and hopefully you all do, he has done MRIs, studies of the brains of bequest donors and he has found that the autobiographical part of their brain is triggered when they start thinking about leaving a bequest. So in my mind an excellent story also allows the reader to become part of that story. So you’re giving just enough detail to tell a good story but not so much that the donor can’t place themselves into it and I’ll show you examples of that.
I have been part of a lot of focus groups and surveys and research around bequest donors and at the end of the day donors, they know already how to leave a bequest. And just in case you’re wondering why I’m talking about bequests almost exclusively, it’s because in Canada 95% of planned gifts are bequests. In the state it’s about 90% and maybe slightly more. So if you have a limited budget, limited time, limited real estate on your website, you should be very bequest focused. That’s really where the money is.
So what about the terminology we use? It’s funny because Steven and I had a quick chat about this before we went live. I suspect if I asked you all to put your hands up if you use the word planned giving or legacy giving on your website, I would see a lot of hands up. I don’t think we can do that virtually but just do it in the privacy of wherever you are.
The thing about those terms is that donors don’t understand what they mean. All these focus groups I’ve done, planned giving just doesn’t make any sense to them. They just don’t understand the terminology. When you start asking them what they think legacy giving is, they’ll say things like, “Oh, that’s when you get your name up on a building.” And they see it as a very lofty thing, not for them. It’s for people with a lot of money here and now and they think more in terms of major gifts.
But also to get you to put up your hand, if the planned giving information on your website is mostly about the how of planned gifts. So for example, sample bequest language, maybe you’ve got a couple of scenarios in there, different kind of financial models and calculators. An actual fact, donors, the majority of donors know what a bequest is and they know how to make a bequest. What they want to know is not how to do it, they want to know why they should do it with you.
In fact donors get a little offended if we start telling them how to do it. They don’t see it as the charity’s place to be giving them that kind of guidance. So we need to stop talking about how to leave a bequest. We need to start talking about why. How do we do that? We talk about things that would inspire the donor, the future that we believe in, talk about our hopes and dreams for the cause and show them what you’ll be able to accomplish and the amazing things you’ll be able to do in the next 15, 25, 100 years.
What kind of bequest stories work? I’ve done a lot of them in my time and these tend to be . . . in fact I would say they’re probably in order of effectiveness. So telling the story about a bequest donor, a living bequest donor, what motivated her? How did she become involved in your cause, what difference has her bequest made? How did she provide for her family and her favorite charity? And you’ll see there you’re kind of dealing with an objection before it has a chance to be spoken. You can deal with your family and provide for your family and leave a bequest.
In the first person is always best, and again I’ll share one example. Visionary or leader story, so tell the story of the chair of your board. Why does he or she volunteer so much time and energy to your cause and why has he or she made the decision to give a bequest? Both can be very powerful stories. Write the story of the people who founded your organization, if they’re still around, all the better. If not, then telling their story on their behalf. You can bet there’s a huge amount of passion in that story and if you haven’t told it already it’s waiting to be told.
Invite a direct beneficiary of your work to tell their story. It could be a patient at the hospital, a student at the university, a former resident of a woman’s shelter and again I will share an example when it comes to the case studies. Have the surviving loved ones of a bequestor tell their story, these can be quite powerful as well. Or tell the story of a donor who passed on and that can be done really creatively and respectfully and be pretty powerful as well.
So just an important note here, when it comes to the storytelling and the teller of the stories. Older donors do tend to hold the staff and volunteer leadership in very high regard. So how your CEO or your board president is perceived, especially their integrity might actually end up dictating whether or not a donor leaves a bequest. So that’s why including that sort of visionary leader message in your mix of messages is really important. Kind of that voice of authority.
So here is probably get all your money’s worth in one slide here, I hope. I’m going to let you in on a little bit of a secret. Over the years I’ve worked with many clients who’ve paid tens of thousands of dollars to have their data analyzed by consulting firms and agencies to come up with who their most likely bequests or planned giving prospects are. And I’m going to tell you in one slide probably the same information that gets pulled from those and from what I’ve seen in the past, what I tell you here is about a 95% overlap with what [inaudible 00:19:00] I need to get. And again, these are pretty much in order as well.
So look in your database, look for your volunteers, your dedicated long-term volunteers. There’s a huge correlation between volunteerism and bequests and again, Russell James has determined that. A volunteer who also occasionally gives is a fantastic bequest prospect. Figure out who in your database uses the honorific miss. If you think about it, you won’t have very many. But if you think about that, that’s very likely to be an older single woman. Miss is not used very often anymore, so it does kind of give you a sense of a person’s age.
Number three, I actually wouldn’t quite put these in order because loyalty is huge here. Loyalty . . . and I’m speaking in broad terms. So I don’t mean just as the donor who’s given every year for the last 15 years. I mean loyalty in terms of volunteering, of taking action. Certainly loyalty in terms of the length of time on the file, but I would say that length of time on file is more important than number of gifts. You watch what’s been on that donor’s radar screen for as long as possible. So even if they only give to three or four gifts over say, a 30-year period, they’re a better prospect than someone who’s given every year for 10 years because again, you’ve been on their radar screen.
And don’t forget that donors have no sense of when they last gave. If you ask a donor who last gave four years ago, when they last gave, they’ll often say, “Oh, I think it was a few months ago.” They don’t keep track. Then you’re regular givers, your monthly donors, depending on the sustaining donors, depending on the language you use. Those are donors who give every month through credit card or debit on their account. Those tend to be donors who are much closer to your cause and can be great prospects.
Then the major too, although it’s at the bottom for a reason. Major donors think a little differently than bequest donors although they can often do both kinds of gifts. Then down at the bottom here, these are kind of bonus criteria. If you can determine age, so for example colleges, universities can often do this because they know graduating years. If you can determine gender, females tend to leave more bequests than male. Education level, it plays a role, marital status and childlessness is the big indicator as well for propensity [inaudible 00:21:57] gift.
Much of those bonus terms come directly from Russell James. So again, I encourage you to check him out and read everything about that he’s written. He has determined that bequests are much more likely over the age of 55, higher levels of education are associated with higher levels of bequests. Childlessness really, that’s the single strongest predictor of including a charitable bequest and childlessness is increasing so that’s good for all of us. The unmarried have less wealth but they do generate more bequests.
So how do we best communicate with these donors? Now that we have our group of prospects, let’s look about what we know about marketing to them. And I’m going to again say, please if you can, stay away from the terms, “Planned given” or “Legacy giving” when you’re communicating with your donors. Donors really don’t know what that means. I think that a much better approach is to call it what it is. Ask for a gift in the donor wills, ask for a bequest, but even bequest is a little tricky. There’s been research done showing compared terminology using the word bequest versus gift in will, gift in will is much more easily understood, really straightforward. People know what it means.
And you want to communicate to donors in the way that they want to be communicated with. Like I said before, leaving a bequest is a really very, very personal decision. Donors take offense if you start advising them. Don’t use an aggressive approach for the majority of your prospects. Use a very passive one. These donors prefer for you to present the information to them, then allow them time to think about it on their own or with their family and if they want more information they’ll ask.
But even more likely, they start checking you out. They will go visit your website for example. In fact, more than 65% of them with visit your website before deciding whether or not to leave a bequest. Think about that. What does your website look like? How easy is it to find the information? Is it the kind of information they need? Again, I’ll share a real-life example of a great legacy website closer to the end.
So focus on bequests on your website, keep it jargon free, think about that autobiography, that sort of walk down memory lane, talk about lifetime impact, and provide the name of a real person to contact, not a 1-800 number, a real live person, put their picture in there in fact. Even better. Downloadable information is okay. You will have financial planners, you’ll have lawyers looking for that so it needs to be available. And you can track leads using surveys or forms on the site, people do fill those out. Write at a grade 6 level, both not just for your website, for all your donor communications.
I’m just going to talk a bit about the impact thing. I’m going to go back to that because lifetime impact, those are big. But donors want to know what kind of impact they’re likely to have. It’s often harder to do that with legacy giving because we like to have unrestricted funds, don’t we? But the key is to let your donor know that there will be a need for your gift in 50 years, in 100 years from now. And that this is a cause that your organization can help solve, can help make change, and that you can fulfill those donor wishes.
All right, so this is the good stuff, getting into case studies here. We can talk all we want, but unless you actually see how it works and what kind of results you can expect, it’s a very different story. Let’s start with the University of Saskatchewan. Don’t worry if you don’t know where Saskatchewan is or how to pronounce it. This is a wonderful, beautiful university here in Canada. It has a very royal group of alumni, beautiful kind of spread outside, you can see the building behind there it’s just a gorgeous, gorgeous place. And Good Works started working with the University of Saskatchewan, I’m thinking it’s about four or five years ago now and Good Works continues to work with the University of Saskatchewan.
I love this photo because it really [inaudible 00:27:00] the awesome relationship that I have with Bev Cooper who is the head of Planned Giving at the University of Saskatchewan. When I went to visit once she drove me around in her little convertible bug and as you can see we had a really good time. What did her campaign look like or their campaign look like?
They developed a brochure, or we developed a brochure that was very different from what they’d had in the past, very story focused and meant to act as a follow up for those donors who expressed some interest. They had, once we kind of dug into their data and also based on . . . Bev’s done an amazing job of identifying different levels of prospects. Probably she’s done more work in that area then I’ve seen in a lot of organizations. She’s really dedicated time to it.
So we were able to find 3200 good prospects. And then over the course of a few years we sent those prospects five different mailings and currently, those five mailings came to an end, and currently that is rolling out a new way, the same five mailings but to a different set of prospects. And I hoped, she promised to share the results of how that’s going and I haven’t received them yet. But I’ll be happy to share afterwards once I hear from her on that. So I’m going to show you what this all looks like.
This was the brochure that we put together, very story focused. We did use the word legacy here, but in this case, it was appropriate. We used a mix of story, so we told stories of people who benefited from bequests. We told stories of work that benefited. So scholarship recipients and researchers, we told stories of people who had left a bequest and we devoted hardly any real estate at all to how to do it. So this acted as a lovely follow-up to folks who expressed some interest because it was quite different from what they had seen before.
One of my favorite parts of their brochure was this is, I think their second last page or maybe it’s the last page. I’m a big believer in letting your donors see who it is on the other end of the phone or email or a letter. So here are the three, at the time, the three planned giving staff at the university and they’re telling their own stories and there are pictures of them. They provided their direct phone line and their direct email address and think about that. If you’re considering a bequest I think of my grandmother always, maybe she’s in her 80s and she’s got a question. She’s a little nervous about calling. How much more likely is she going to call if she sees, Bev, she looks lovely, she looks very friendly. She’s smiling. Look, there is her line directly so I don’t have to go through a phone tree to get to her. Much more likely to make that call.
Now this shows you what this mailing looks like. This is one of them. They all looked a little different. This is the first one that went out. Sorry no, it’s actually the second one. You can see there’s very minimal branding and that is something I encourage. We want this package to look like it really did come directly from someone’s desk, so the simpler the better. Bev did have to work pretty hard to convince their communications department to let her do this.
They wanted branding everywhere and a certain look. I know she also struggled with letting them let her use the type of font that is used here. It’s a bigger font, I think 13-point Times Roman. Very easy to read for older eyes. This is a very genuine donor story. The stationary is really high quality. You can’t tell from the picture but it’s like thicker stock. The outer envelope was hand addressed, hand addressed using a machine.
There are machines that will actually hold a pen in hand address for you, a live stamp, a real stamp. And the level of detail is really important here. Every single piece, every single word was carefully considered. I’m going to grab over here. I’ve got my desk full of samples. So you’ll hear shuffling papers. But I’m just going to give you an example of the power, the power of story here. So this was written in first person and it was from a donor, Diana Duncan, and I’m not sure how much of this you can read but I’m going to just read you a little bit of the story.
There’s this wonderful quote, “The power of creating a better future is contained in the present moment. You create a good future by creating a good present.” And she starts the letter by saying, “That quote have been rolling around in my head lately, I’ve been thinking about the impact I’ve had during my lifetime and what I can do now to create an even better future. If you’re like me, perhaps you’ve been taking stock of your life. What do I stand for? What’s important to me?” I’m going to pause there because you see first of all, these [inaudible 00:32:56] were pulling the donor into the story right away and we’re encouraging them to think back on their life.
So that walk down on memory lane, this is all really deliberate. She says, “This is why I feel so good about the gift I’ve left in my will for a student award, for first year pediatric residents at University. It aligns with my passion for education, for helping kids to grow up healthy. It’s a gift I was helpless to give my own son David who died in my arms at the age of nine.” I still get goosebumps from the story and it goes on. It’s a four-page letter.
It’s a very long letter and tells the story of what happened with David. He died in her arms. He had a severe peanut allergy and he died in her arms on the way to the hospital. And she’s a strong believer in supporting that local health care so that in future, other mothers don’t have to go through something like she went through. Any of these letters, I’m happy to share in full for people who want to follow up afterwards. I will give you a sense of what . . . now you all have my home address like that Christmas cards.
This is what the letter looked like when it arrived in my mailbox. That address and my name are written by a machine and you wouldn’t know because the machine actually holds the pen and writes my name and address. So it’s even indented a bit like it would be with a pen. Everything is deliberate here. That stamp was really important. That’s the Saskatchewan Roughrider football team and people in Saskatchewan are crazy, crazy for the Roughriders. So it was really important for us to choose a stamp that would resonate with people. All those little details are noticed. We also, although this package wasn’t produced in Saskatchewan, it was dropped in a mail in Saskatchewan so that it would have kind of that local stamp and have that cancellation stuff that indicated that it was local.
So here’s the full series of what we send out to donors for the University of Saskatchewan. The first letter that we sent to this group of 3200 prospects was written or signed by a woman named Vera Pezer. So she is a Chancellor Emeritus. This letter had to set the tone for the entire series of letters. So the signatory choice was very deliberate. She is very much loved and known by everyone on campus and by all the alumni. She has a powerful story of what the university means to her and why she’s left a significant gift and she is able to speak to that walk down memory lane by talking a little bit about the campus and what she’s seen over the years and what joy it gives her.
And this package was, it’s slightly different size and shape than the others. They’re all a little bit different. You can see again there’s really no branding at all here. It says, “A note from Vera” up at the top and other than that, the letter is completely plain. There are no graphics. The outer envelope looks very much like the one I just showed you and this resonated with good donors. In fact, Vera was approached by folks afterwards thanking her for the lovely letter she had sent. That went out to 3200 people but it felt very much like she was writing one on one to folks.
And then for the second letter. This is where we had Diana Duncan, so very different. We went from Chancellor Emeritus very well known, kind of leadership person on campus to a donor with a heartbreaking story to tell, but a story with hope as well. Hope in that the university’s hospital is doing everything it can to make sure this kind of tragedy doesn’t happen again. Again, super powerful and different. You can see the mix here, so we have sort of the leadership story, we have here a living donor. There were all sent about three to four months apart, not three to four, they were actually sent every six months. You’re going to see that, you’ll see exactly when they were sent when I show you the results.
And then for the third letter that these donors received and it’s all the same donors. This is a series, this is a student, a student who benefited from a legacy gift and again, I’m going to ready you just a little bit. One of the keys is to make these really authentic, these packages. So here’s how it starts. “First off, I want to tell you how incredibly excited and honored I am to be able to write to you today. It’s not often that students like me have a chance to talk directly to someone like you who support the University of Saskatchewan.”
It sounds like a student is writing this letter. It’s not sounding very academic. There is one coming up that sounds much more academic. It’s super authentic and is really genuine. Her gratitude for receiving scholarships and the ability to continue her studies is so genuine and again, it’s a different mix. Here we have this beneficiary. We have the vision letter, we have a donor letter, and then we have a beneficiary story.
The fourth letter was a professor, is a professor, and a legacy research award recipient. And here he tells the story of how impactful the bequest that was made was to his work and how it’s going to really advance the university and the research and it’s place in the world, you can see it’s a little more formal, this one. There is logo on this because it is from a professor, that just made a lot of sense. And you also see that this package included the story of the donor in kind of what we call a lift note there, smaller to the right. So we do weave that donor into the story even though she’s passed. It directly connects in a very obvious way, the gift to the impact that it had.
And then the final letter, the fifth letter was signed by a woman named Catherine McIvor. So Catherine and her husband C.D. are living donors. So similar to Diana Duncan but a little different in that they met when they were very young. They met at a dance. They went to the University together, they had to get married to take advantage of certain funds available to help them with their education. But they were quite happy to do so because they were quite in love. They’ve been married a very long time. Catherine shares her story of going through cancer treatment, shares the story of the impact the University had. In all of these, they’re inviting donors to consider a gift, a similar gift. It’s a very subtle not aggressive approach.
Now we’ve sent, we’ve done a brochure, we sent five mailings to this group of 3200 donors. And this is what we see at the other end. So these were mailed in February and September, I believe, of each year. So every six months the donor would receive a letter. You can see legacy mailing number one, the number of mailed just under 3200. The reason that number goes down over time is because in every letter we gave the option for the donor to remove themselves from future mailings.
They could say, “You know what? This is something that I’m just not interested in and I’d prefer not to hear more about.” So that number slowly went down over time. You can see the number of responses to each mailing and the response wait to each mailing. So then we’re turning the little coupon and response includes “No, I don’t want to hear from you again,” to “I’d like more information,” to, “Yes, I’d like to gift.” Then the inquiries, those are the folks who actually said, “Yes, I’d like to learn more about leaving this kind of gift,” you see the percentage there.
Overall again, this is all the same group of donors, so it’s really the numbers in the darker yellow at the bottom that are key, so 1.21% asked for more information. The number of confirmed expectancy was just over 2% and again, I’m waiting for updated numbers from Bev. These numbers have gone up. So after the five series of five, they’ve been able to confirm 65 expectancies with an estimated value of $7.2 million and those are just the expectancies that they were told about.
We also know from research that has been done by Good Works that only one in nine donors will ever tell you that they’ve left a bequest. So although you wouldn’t do it officially, you can roughly estimate that if 65 had told you, you can multiply that by nine for the number of people who’ve actually done it and then the numbers get really big.
I see we have some questions here. So I am going to address those at the end. I will leave time for that and thank you. Looks like they have some great questions there. So again, if you have questions about this in particular just type them in and we’ll talk about it.
So WWF Canada, here is our second case study. They think a little differently, everybody does. So let’s see how this worked with them, a little different. So their campaign included some website development work to ensure that the website was in top notch shape, the legacy portion so that when donors did visit they got everything they needed. They also did a lovely brochure. They had exactly the same number of prospects, purely coincidentally, 3200. They only did three mailings but then they did a follow up call, so they did it a little differently than the University of Saskatchewan. But again, this all has to fit in with other things you’re doing.
Let’s take a look at their website because that is very unique to them. This will have changed a bit since I did these screenshots because it’s constantly changing. But you can visit their legacy giving portion of the WWF Canada website. It’s excellent. So you can see that right up front they talk about leaving a gift in your will and they immediately go into that autobiography. Where were you when we first experienced nature. Maybe it was seeing a [inaudible 0:45:12] or the stillness of the woods behind your childhood home. Or the first time you saw the ocean, where were you? Lovely and you can see they’ve got some great photos, a great photo of nature up top there.
Their logo is much more subtle up at the top left, big font, easy to read. As we scroll down the page, so imagine we’re scrolling down the actual page here. There’s lots of great stuff here. On the right, folks who might be interested are invited to an estate planning seminar session. We move onto how that legacy gift will help. So here’s where we talk about impact and they share a lot of stories of what your gift will make happen. Then again on the right we have a picture of the planned giving person out in nature with her young son. And as we move down a little further on the page, you can see top right she says a little bit about herself. There is her direct line, her direct email address. So you know who you’re calling when you pick up the phone.
We also have a little profile of someone named Monte Hummel who was the president and CEO of WWF of Canada for a very long time. He is an amazing man. One of the letters that they sent out was signed by him but very personal talking about his legacy gift. His face is familiar and respected. So again, very deliberately included there.
As we move farther down the page we start to see a little bit of the how. So here’s how you can leave a gift in your will. There are different ways of doing it. You can download a full information package on the right if you would like to and in there you might find some bequest language. And then what you need to know. Well, finally here’s the how way down at the bottom. So you can see it focuses on story, story of donors, story of the deceased donors. There is a chance to fill out a survey and they have a lot of uptake on that. Very simple survey that just asks . . . this doesn’t tell you much, does it? But asks for a bit of your information and then a few very short questions about legacy giving and how that fits into your life.
Here is the brochure that was produced. I love this one. I’m all about the outdoors so that’s probably why. But a beautiful piece again, very focused on story. Using a lot of deliberate language in here. For example you can’t see it here, but one of the lines that they use is, “Every day donors just like you.” This is a really powerful sentence to use in planned giving because we are creatures of habit and behavioral science will tell us that we always look to what other people are doing before we make a decision.
So if we’re told that every day donors just like me are making this kind of gift, we’re actually more likely to give because we want to join the pack. We like to be told what to do. So again, very, very simple. This is the letter that was signed by Monte Hummel, the president, or past president and CEO. I love up at the top here, “Reflections from Loon Lake,” he’s writing this from his cottage and it’s really personal. He talks about where his love of nature came from, you can see the coupon here fairly clearly. Again, it’s really simple. A few responses available. “Yes, I’ve already done this,” “I’m thinking about it,” “I’d like to talk to someone about it,” “This is not the right thing for me right now,” or “Please don’t send any more information” All of that is useful information.
And the next letter was from a donor, a donor talking about why they left a bequest and again, very personal, talking about you and pulling the reader into the story in a really effective way. Once again, we see simple font, lots of white space. It’s really easy to read. And then the third letter, again, from a donor. Minimal branding. Even on the envelope. There is no logo on the envelope and when you get these in the mail, when I get them I still think I’m being invited to a wedding. They’re highly personalized.
So that was the last letter in a series and then they did follow up calls to answer questions and to provide more information, to confirm bequests. So the results that they saw, a little different because it really depends on the organization. But they had almost 500 of the original 3200 people who were mailed responded to the campaign. So they got 46 expectancy, that’s 1.44% with a future value of over four million, that’s Canadian dollars, a little less than US. One hundred and forty-five warm leads, so just under 5% with a future value of $6.5 million. This all cost them about $70,000. And the ROI, check that out. It’s huge, it’s very big.
So that kind of gives you sense of what this can look like in terms of direct marketing or using those direct marketing techniques, communicating to people through the mail and on your website. And I did notice there was at least one question, maybe a few here and this always comes up. What about tiny little organizations. These were kind of full campaigns, what even the smallest organization can take from this is the identification of the prospects using those criteria I talked about. The way to communicate with those prospects and you don’t have to send a mailing every three to four months or even six months to 3000 people.
A lot of organizations I’ve worked with have a pool of a couple hundred people or even a hundred that they send these letters. Those can easily be produced in house. And your cost is really a little bit of time, a stamp and maybe some kind of follow up brochure. So it can be scaled way down, it can be scaled way up which is what I love about this. The key elements are telling a story, communicating in a way that these donors want to be communicated with, and pulling them in, making them the hero of this potential bequest and what will happen because of it.
Steven, I’m going to jump in. You’ve identified a few questions. So I’m going to jump in other than that broad statement, because that usually comes up, how do we scale this? And it can certainly be done. I see a few familiar names here. Gary, you asked, you’ve just developed a planned giving presence on your website with an emphasis on bequests. How can you tie that together using the Bloomerang email capability? That is probably a question for Steven. Steven, are you able to jump in and talk to that?
Steven: Yeah, Gary, I may answer if offline. But it seems like the same principles that you just laid out over direct mail. You tell me, Leah, do you think those [inaudible 00:53:39] translates to the electronic mediums in terms of emails meaning they would have the same impact as they would coming through the mail. It seems like maybe the mail, the physical copy will be more impactful. But maybe not. I don’t know.
Leah: I think its fine to use it as a support, the digital stuff. But at the end of the day in this moment in time the donors who are leaving bequests are really responsive to direct mail. Direct mail is not dead. When all the focus groups, when we talk about how do you want to receive this information? Every single time they’ll say we prefer sampling in the mail or over an email. We get so much e-mail, open rates are going down. But as a support, yeah, absolutely. Another way of sending out the message, another way of telling the stories in a different format.
Steven: Speaking of the direct mail piece, a lot of people asked about the length of the letters. It’d be one page? Are there any hard and fast rules? What do you think?
Leah: The longer the better. Every single example I shared with you today was four pages. So both sides of two pieces of paper, I have seen them go even longer. I truly believe that you can’t tell these powerful stories in under two pages. You want to tell them deeply and include lots of details. And I will stick to my guns on this and a lot of other people will say the same thing, that every time I’ve ever done a test of letter length, longer letters works better. Four pages up I would say. Yes long.
Now I’ve seen there’s also a question about using photos and I’m starting to see some testing results around that, that including the photo of the donor it can actually help to increase response. It just helps [inaudible 00:55:46] build that connection but what I caution is use an appropriate photo. Something really warm. Think back to that WWF website and the photo of the planned giving person with her son out in the woods. That would be an appropriate kind of photo. Not a head shot. But a close-up photo where the eyes are looking out, that can work and worth testing for those who have the capability to do so.
And I’ll get you to just cut me off, Steven, whenever because I could do this all day.
Steven: [Inaudible 0:56:26]. This is great stuff. There are great questions here.
Leah: Jessica asked, “Do you have any tips for organizations that don’t have a legacy gift?” So you can’t tell the story of someone who chose to make a legacy gift because you’re pursuing your first one. That’s a really good question. I would say find your first one and know where your first one is going to come from, probably a board member. Start by soliciting a gift from a board member. And then you have a story to tell. Or even a staff person, those can be pretty powerful stories too. But those are going to be your best prospects for that first legacy gift. That’s where it’s going to come from and then you’ll have a story to tell others.
Someone asked about cost. You asked about the five mailings. I can get back to you, I don’t have it off the top of my head. It depends on the number of packages you’re sending out, whether you’re going to use a consultant or not. I would say kind of you’re hard costs per mailing, these are not inexpensive mailings. You have to pay the first-class postage. You’ve got the hand addressing. So if you’re mailing out a thousand, you might expect to pay somewhere between three and four dollars a package roughly, really rough. Don’t quote me on it, but just to give you a sense of how to plan for that.
Let’s see what else we have here. Someone asked about the mailing list. So again, the mailing list is based on those criteria I shared. So looking in the database for the most loyal donors, those who volunteered, perhaps some of your monthly donors. And then you have to balance that with the budget available. So you may have 30,000 prospects, but you only have a certain envelope of money to spend so you might find your best thousand prospects, or even your best two hundred prospects out of that list. And loyalty is going to be the most important factor there.
How are we doing? So many questions. I’m not going to be able to get to them all. How do you calculate the future value of the expectancy? I actually have a calculator tool that I’d be happy to share offline. You’ve got my email address there. So anyone who I don’t get to your question or has a follow up, please reach out.
You calculate the future value based on what your average request value has been over the years and if you don’t know, then typically about $35,000 is what I would use as an average size bequest gift. But ideally you take all the ones you’ve received, divide the dollar value by the number and that’s what your average gift is and that’s what you can use. I’d be a little conservative, but that’s what I would use for projections. How much time do we have, Steven? I should check. We’re at 2:00. I’m not going to get to it all.
Steven: We are about out of time, but Leah, can people reach out to you by email or Twitter and maybe ask some follow-up questions offline, is that okay with you?
Leah: Yes, absolutely, please do and if you’d like samples, anything you’d like, just reach out and I’ll put that all together for you and we can keep talking.
Steven: Cool. Well, thanks for being willing to do that and thanks for spending time out of your day to share all this great stuff with us. Love the case studies. This is all really great stuff. Thanks so much, Leah.
Leah: You’re very welcome.
Steven: And thanks to all of you for hanging out an hour or so out of your day. I know it’s a busy time of year. So I definitely appreciate it but do reach out to Leah if we didn’t get to your question. Obviously, she’s a wealth of knowledge and I’ll be sharing the recording as well as the slides later on today if you didn’t already get the slides. So don’t worry if you don’t have them. I’ll get them to you today, I promise.
Lots of resources on our website as well. We’ve got our big annual conference coming up Bloomcon, we’ve got some great speakers. If you’re in the Phoenix area or don’t mind getting to Phoenix in February, check that out. It’s going to be really good time. It’s our fourth year. There’s going to be some great sessions there. We’ve got some great webinars coming up as well.
One week from today we’re going to talk about compliance, especially for all those online gifts that you’re probably going to be getting towards the end of the year and then we’re also going to talk about year-end appeals two weeks from today. So we’ve got a lot of really cool sessions coming up. So if you see a topic there on our webinar page that looks interesting to you, check it out. We’d love to see you again on another webinar.
So we’ll call it a day there. Look for that follow-up email from me in a few hours here and hopefully we will see you again next week, if not later. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a fun and safe weekend and we’ll talk to you again soon.

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.