Fundraising Lessons from Jedi Masters

Fundraising Lessons from Jedi Masters

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When it comes to bequest-aware fundraising, we sometimes have to look at our work in a new way. That can be difficult.

I think we are entering a new era. The value and huge size of bequest giving from donors has become clear, and how that changes the way we approach donor engagement is profound.

In some ways, the changes we face are jarring and difficult.

We’re going to need some Jedi Knight training to succeed. So I’ve uncovered some wisdom from two Jedi Masters, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. They can help us as we navigate this challenge…

“Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.”

Okay, I’m not going to put a vision-blocking helmet on you and send you into a losing battle with a miniature training drone that shoots painful mini-lasers at your rear-end.

But this approach is important. Not trusting your eyes alone can make all the difference.

You see, in fundraising, we tend to be guided by what’s immediate and obvious: That is the day-to-day donations donors give in response to our day-to-day fundraising. That’s our revenue now – this year, this month. It’s our cash-flow today.

That’s why we’ve so often overlooked bequest giving: The benefits of working on that area aren’t obvious. They don’t happen immediately. The rewards come years, even decades, in the future.

The activity we can easily see, that’s in front of us every day, can distract us from the much larger opportunity that tends to hide in the data. Don’t let your eyes deceive you!

“Size Matters Not.”

Of course a Jedi Knight who’s two feet tall would say that.

But it’s good advice when you think about donors and their legacy giving.

It’s common in organizations for Bequest Fundraising (and “planned giving”) to be handled within the Major Donor structure. That makes sense, because the skillsets for both are very similar.

But that tends to put the focus on the big donors who may have the capacity to leave huge six- and seven-figure bequests – the game-changing legacy gifts that we all dream of.

That’s fine. We should be on top of that part of bequest fundraising.

But legacy giving is not just for rich people. Any donor who wants to can do it. The average charitable bequest in the US is $38,000. That’s not seven figures, but it’s still important!

You have the potential to get a bunch of five-figure bequests every year. They will likely add up to a lot more revenue than the occasional mega-bequest from wealthy donors.

Size (of donor’s overall wealth) matters not. Any donor might include you in their will – if you promote it to them.

“Do, or do not. There is no try.”

Personally, I find Yoda’s most famous quote a bit fatuous, because it makes a distinction between “trying” and “doing” that may or may not exist.

But it’s useful.

Some organizations never get fully into bequest fundraising because they see it as overwhelming. They think they need to hire a bunch of people and have a massive new communications budget to do it right.

Sure. That would be great. But it’s far better to do something than to do nothing.

So do what your budget and capacity allow you to do. Make bequest fundraising part of one person’s duties. Do a Supporter Connection Survey. That gets you into the game. As successes happen, then you can expand and do things in a bigger way.

Do what you can do. Wholeheartedly. It makes all the difference.

“Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”

The “dark path” in our case is head-down fundraising that isn’t looking deeply into the data or thinking about the future.

All the work you might do today to connect with donors is unlikely to appear as actual revenue for many years. In all likelihood, you will have moved on to a different job before it happens. That’s why it so often doesn’t get done. If the people who had your job ten years ago had been on top of this, you’d be reaping the benefits now.

So why not do the right thing for those who will follow you? That’s how it should work.

The dark path in fundraising is getting more difficult all the time: costs are rising, response rates are falling. We’re on a treadmill that is getting more stuck and harder to move. It will eventually become unsustainable. It already is for some.

Get off that dark path now, while you can.

“The Force is what gives a Jedi his power.”

For Jedi Knights, “the Force” is (to quote Obi-Wan), “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

There’s also a Force for Jedi Fundraisers: Love.

Love makes fundraising work. It especially makes legacy fundraising work.  Once we realize that donors give out of love and respond in return to our love, our respect, our understanding of why they give, we can reach our potential as fundraisers.

When you work from a position of love, bequest fundraising stops being an awkward and unpleasant conversation about death. It becomes life-affirming and joyful.

If you see donors as ATMs who have to be cajoled or tricked into making donations they don’t really want to give, you’re just hitting your head against a wall. You don’t raise much money, and it’s no fun at all!

May the Force be with you and your fundraising!

Want to get in on the secret that can turn any fundraising program into a future-proof long-term revenue powerhouse? Register now for Sean Triner’s blockbuster online workshop, A New Hope for Successful Donor Acquisition. Discover the clear path that leads from new donors to breakthrough legacy gifts. Workshops happening this week! Sign up now and get (FREE!) Your Ready-Made Donor Communications Calendar sent straight to your inbox, too!

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  • Jeff Brooks

    Jeff Brooks is a Fundraisingologist at Moceanic. He has more than 30 years of experience in fundraising, and has worked as a writer and creative director on behalf of top nonprofits around the world, including CARE, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Feeding America, and many others.

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