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In this episode of Bloomerang TV, Jeri Alcock, Founder of DonorDynamics, sits down with us to to discuss bequests for small shops. You can watch the full episode here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, hey there, thanks for joining us for this week’s episode of Bloomerang TV. Thanks for tuning in. My name is Steven, and I’m the V.P. of marketing over here at Bloomerang. Today I am joined by the co-founder, or actually the founder, of DonorDynamics. Her name is Jeri Alcock. Hey there, Jeri. How are you doing?

Jeri: Hi Steven. It’s great to be here.

Steven: Yeah, great for you to be here, too. Just for the folks who are listening or watching who maybe aren’t familiar with DonorDynamics, could you just tell the people a little bit about yourself and the work you’re doing over there.

Jeri: You bet. I’m a lifelong fundraiser, and that’s what inspired me to start DonorDynamics which is an analytics technology. We help you find the buried treasure hidden in your database so you can target the right people with the right ask.

Steven: Yeah, it’s a really great program. After you watch this video, definitely check that out. It’s a really cool tool for finding, like Jeri said, the best donors that are already in your database.

Jeri, we met at A.F.P. International a couple of months ago. We quickly realized that we both work with small shops, small nonprofits, at both of our companies. We got to talk about bequests and bequest giving. I know this is kind of a hot topic and it’s something that you are an expert in for sure.

Is it possible for small nonprofits to actually get bequests? I mean is that something that only big nonprofits can do? What’s your feeling on bequests for small shops?

Jeri: Absolutely it’s possible. I feel really strongly about this. We know that the greatest transfer of wealth in our nation’s history is currently under way, and trillions of dollars are going to be transferred to the next generation and to charity.

My hope is that that creates a tide where all boats rise. We already know the wealthiest and best funded organizations are going to benefit from that. But, I think for the quality of life in our communities we need all organizations to benefit from that resource flow.

We also know from the fundraising effectiveness survey that bequests have some of the highest return on investment than any fundraising activity. So, it’s actually a really good fit for small shops because it’s really some of the cheapest dollars to raise.

Steven: Yeah. It’s clear what impact it can have, even just one can have, on an organization, their confidence going forward, their security.

What can small shops do to get bequests? Is it something that they should go out and kind of find themselves and be really proactive? Or, are there things that they can do to maybe make themselves more likely to get one? What can small shops actually do boots on the ground to make a bequest happen?

Jeri: Sure. Well, I like to remind people that bequests are gifts of passion. If you have a compelling mission and you have any vintage at all on your organization then you’re likely going to have some bequests in the pipeline that you may not know about.

The first step is promote bequests. Promote bequests across your entire constituency. I think one of the most common mistakes I see is that people focus on elderly donors or boomers. We know that boomers were disproportionately hit by the great recession, and we know that many times elderly donors when they go into poor health are least receptive to those conversations.

People are making wills at earlier ages, so, you know, get out there and talk to your entire constituency. Promote it.

Second step is to really celebrate and tell the stories of folks that have disclosed to you that they’re making a bequest. They’re leading the way and will inspire others to follow.

Then, finally, I encourage organizations to tell great stories about what those bequests are accomplishing with their missions.

Steven: You kind of mentioned that maybe some of these bequests are hiding in plain sight, to use a phrase, within your donor database now.

What are some of those signals or those triggers that a fundraiser should look for or maybe acknowledge that they wouldn’t ordinarily see within their database that may suggest that a bequest is likely from this donor or group of donors?

Jeri: You bet. The first thing you want to do is look for your high affinity donors. In data we measure affinity by frequency of giving. You want to go through your database and look for people who have a high frequency of giving.

They’re high repeat donors, and it’s really gifts at any level. We’re looking at high frequency. I encourage groups to look at folks who have made six or more consecutive gifts, and start to have some discovery conversations with them.

When you have a deep relationship with your donors it’s not unnatural to want to know about their life. They share information with you. They certainly may share the other causes that are near and dear to them.

Start by asking if they’ve made provisions for causes in their will. Get a sense about where you are on the dance card for them in terms of charitable priority.

I think the biggest piece of advice I try to give people is to be brave and make room for that conversation. The unfortunate thing about bequests is that so many people don’t disclose or prefer not to have their intentions to bequest to you disclosed before they pass.

Steven: Right.

Jeri: We want to make room for those conversations, because wouldn’t we want to thank them while we can.

Steven: Is it just because maybe they haven’t been asked? What’s the reason for that sort of secrecy or maybe just lack of bequests? I mean I’m 30, and I have a will.

Jeri: Yeah.

Steven: But, I don’t have any bequests in it. I think if I got asked I would definitely consider it. Is that something that folks should do? What’s your feeling on that?

Jeri: You bring up a great point. People are making wills at much younger ages, and this is really important. Because the existence of a will is a key predictor for a bequest. The average age when people make their first will is about 44.

Steven: Okay.

Jeri: But don’t… You know, that’s why I say promote it across the constituency. I think it’s important for us to talk with people to get a sense about their philanthropy, and how they go about philanthropy, understanding what they would like to see happen in their vision for their involvement with your organization. And, ultimately, big projects or audacious vision will rise out of those conversations.

Steven: When should that start? I don’t think that a 25 year old first time donor you should give them a call and start talking about bequests. That’s probably not a good idea. Or, maybe it is.

You mentioned that people maybe start a little too old in the age brackets. You know, they’re asking boomers or asking people who are retired.

Is there a sweet spot for when you should start talking about this with a donor? Should there be a few donations before that relationship really forms? What’s the timing on all of this?

Jeri: It’s definitely relative to the relationship you have. So, it’s important to be aware of your high frequency donors, your high affinity constituents, to get to know them, to get to know them personally and what their goal for philanthropy is.

I think the other thing is that successful bequest programs are top down and inside out. They start with the board and the nearest and dearest donors, employees, volunteers to your cause, and they move outward. Because the nearest and dearest lead the way and inspire others.

Steven: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Thinking about someone… You’ve encouraged someone to start doing this. Maybe they want to put together a program.

You mentioned a successful program. What’s a successful program look like? Is it ten bequests? Or, is it a certain dollar amount? What are some goals that people should shoot for or aim for when they want to start this process?

Jeri: Well, this is the really hardest thing, I think, for small shops. Because bequests are a long term strategy, and even though they are some of the cheapest dollars to raise and have a high return on investment it’s many, many years typically before that work begins to pay off.

Steven: Right.

Jeri: So, bequests have a place in your long term strategic plan. They have a place in your fundraising program to keep your R.O.I. robust. But, you have to understand that it’s a process and it’s ongoing.

Something to understand first is to uncover anyone you suspect might love your cause that much that they have named you in their will and ask them to promote that to others. Secondly, promote across the constituency. Third, have those discovery conversations with folks that you sense have a high affinity but you don’t know very well.

In terms of numbers, that’s really hard to gauge. Some years people see a windfall of bequests. Other years they go without any bequests at all. But, the great thing about bequests is that even a fairly modest bequest is typically a pretty large gift for an organization…

Steven: Yeah.

Jeri: …and certainly for small shops.

Steven: Great. That makes a lot of sense. Well, this is a really important topic, so thanks for sharing all of your knowledge with us. Hopefully, some people will listen to this, and hear it, and start their program off on the right foot. Thanks for sharing that with us.

Since we’ve got a few minutes left, I want to give you a chance to talk a little bit about DonorDynamics and maybe how folks can learn more about you, check you out online, and talk to you more about this topic.

Jeri: Sure, absolutely. You can find us at Facebook, and LinkedIn, and We have a great little video up that you can learn about how the product works and read some testimonials about other organizations that have used it successfully.

Steven: Cool, yeah, check that out, everyone. Jeri, this is awesome to have you. Thanks for hanging out for 10 or 15 minutes to talk about bequests. It was a lot of fun.

Thanks to everyone who tuned in or is watching a little later on. We’ll talk to you next week, so join us again. Bye now.

Jeri: Bye bye.

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.