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Bequests and Legacies

Is this a Good Time or a Terrible Time for Bequest Fundraising?

One of the more surprising outcomes of the COVID-19 crisis is a surge in people updating their Wills. Several online Will sites have reported twice the normal volume of people creating or updating their Wills.

Well, it makes sense, according to planned giving experts Professor Russell James and Michael Rosen. Read their new white paper, titled Legacy Fundraising: The Best of Times or the Worst of Times? You can find it at the Michael Rosen Says blog, where it is also available as a downloadable PDF.

Here’s what’s happening. Most people, most of the time, put off estate planning. They don’t see it as urgent, and they expect it to be difficult, both logistically and emotionally. Two things typically trigger people to consider their Will:

  1. Changes in family structure — marriage, divorce, birth of first child, etc.
  2. “Death becomes real” events — such as a diagnosis of cancer or other health crisis.

We are in the middle of a “death becomes real” event for almost everyone.

So should we be out there with bold, loud planned giving messages everywhere?

Not quite, Russell and Michael say.

Brash, simplistic, reminders of mortality are never a good way to encourage people to make charitable bequests. And now, where virtually everyone is experiencing “death becomes real,” the downside of that approach will likely be worse than ever.

So here’s what you can do:

Be top of mind for your donors.

That means doubling down on some things we should all be doing all the time anyway. Here’s what Russell and Michael recommend:

  • Thank donors, the right way. Thank donors quickly, well, and often. Show your appreciation for them as people, not simply sources of money. Research shows that thanking donors for their positive human qualities can make them feel better about their support — which can increase future giving.
  • Check in with donors. Call donors and say, “I’m calling to thank you for your support. With everything going on now, I wanted to ask how you’re doing.”
  • Collect and share stories. Tell the stories of donors who have left you in their Will — why they did it, and how it makes them feel. These stories are very powerful!
  • Show the impact of legacy giving. Tell a story about how your organization is able to fulfill its mission because someone who has passed left you in their Will.
  • Use a laundry list approach. In your regular fundraising, mention the variety of ways someone can support your organization. Include checkboxes for gifts by check, credit card, stock, gift in a Will, IRA transfer, real estate, or Donor Advised Fund. This de-emphasizes the reference to death.
  • Ask for permission. Ask donors if they would like to know more about monthly giving, gift in a Will, real estate, or Donor Advised Fund. It’s a great way to offer information without forcing it on them.
  • Offer help with their Wills. Make sure your website has information donors might find useful when writing their Wills, such as suggested language they can use to include the charity in their Wills. Offer helpful tools like a legacy journal workbook, an estate planning checklist, or webinars.
  • Engage with donors. Remember that your donors are far more than sources of cash for you. Look for ways you can provide value for them. Like symphony orchestras offering online concerts, museums and universities delivering online courses and others posting online tutorials. You could host virtual happy hours or other online events and virtual conferences.
  • Survey your supporters. Ask them for their thoughts. This is a powerful way to increase engagement and learn important things about your donors. (The Supporter Connection Survey is especially good at doing this!)

You might have noticed something about these recommendations: they are things you can and should do all the time! This is good bequest fundraising always. But it’s extra critical now.

The more you can help donors feel a strong sense of wellbeing, the more they will appreciate you and your organization. And the more likely they will be to include you in their Will.

Russell and Michael note that in the short-term, charities can expect a decline in revenue from completed legacy gifts. The massive drop in the stock market and a possible recession could erode real estate values, shrinking the size of bequests of people who die in the coming months. But as investment and real estate values rebound, estate values will once again increase, resulting in larger legacy gifts.

So are we in a good time or a bad time for legacy giving? It’s up to you. The bottom line for success: Keep talking about legacy giving, but do it in the right way!

Interested in the power of bequest fundraising? Members of The Fundraisingology Lab have access to Christiana Stergiou’s comprehensive online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests — along with tons of other courses and resources for your fundraising. Check it out here.

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Blithering Nonprofit ExecutivesBequests and Legacies

VIDEO: Blithering Nonprofit Executives Decide: Golf, Not Bequests

Why should you put any time or energy into bequest fundraising? Sure, it means creating a stream of large gifts that will fund your organization for years to come …

But not right now!

And who wants to talk about death? Or focus on older donors, when there are young donors to be cultivated?

The Blithering Nonprofit Executives make it clear: Golf events are where they want to put their emphasis!

Discover how you can master bequest fundraising for your cause and transform your income! Take our online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

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Bequests and LegaciesMajor and Mid Value DonorsMonthly Giving

Here’s One Easy Tool That Transforms Your Fundraising

Suppose I told you there’s a fundraising tool you (yes you!) can put to work that will do these things:

  • Gather information on what motivates your best donors to give, so you can speak more personally and relevantly to them.
  • Meaningfully increase your number of monthly donors.
  • Help you find and upgrade mid-value and major donors who’ve been “hiding” among your general donors.
  • Find donors who are ready to put your organization in their Wills — resulting in a revenue windfall that will play out for years to come.

You might think I was selling a certain bridge over the East River in New York.

But what I’m talking about is 100% real. And you can do it now.

It’s not even all that difficult to create.

It’s called the Supporter Connection Survey. It’s a very specific type of survey that can be fielded by direct mail or email (preferable both!) to find out what individual donors think about your organization and the cause you share.

Connecting with individual donors is the key. This is not a research survey to uncover what “the file” knows and believes. You will not get meaningful statistically valid findings about your donor file with a Supporter Connection Survey! In fact, you will almost surely lead yourself astray if you try to use it to get valid research. (Real research is hard. If you need to do some research, get professional help if you want to do it right!)

It’s also not a fundraising “push” survey. You know that kind that basically gets the reader to agree with your values, leading up to a fundraising ask. These work well for some organizations, but they are not at all what we’re talking about here!

Here are the types of questions in a Supporter Connection Survey:

Questions about their connection with you and their motivations for donating. These questions are highly qualitative and aimed at giving you specific insight into that donor — why she cares and what matters most to her. Her answers arm you to speak back to her later with super-focused communication.

  • A question about being a high-level donor — sometimes more than one. This helps uncover donors with a desire and capacity to give at a higher level than they have before. It almost always finds “hidden gold” in your file.
  • A question about being a monthly donor. This one helps you find donors who are ready to make the leap into this high-value group.
  • A question about bequests. This is the “money” question because it surfaces bequest leads, which can result in huge revenue in the coming years.
  • A question about the donor’s “loyalty” – highly tested to find donors who feel most connected with you, regardless of their current giving level. This helps you find people who you might want to concentrate on more than you have.
  • Donor facts that help you build a better relationship, like email and phone number (if they’re willing to share); mailing address, in case you have it wrong; birthdate and other demographics that can help you connect with them more.

In case you’re thinking, “There’s no way we could field such a complex survey” … I have good news for you. You can do a Supporter Connection Survey.

We’ve worked through Supporter Connection Surveys with fundraisers at every level of experience.

We’ve done it with very small organizations, huge global organizations, and everything in between.

We’ve done it with all types of causes.

And we’ve done them in every part of the world. Supporter Connection Surveys are quite common in Australia and New Zealand, but less so elsewhere. They are especially new to North America — so if you’re in the western hemisphere, you can benefit from “first mover” advantage!

If you aren’t doing Supporter Connection Surveys now, chances are you eventually will … ideas this good tend to spread!

So why not start now?

Discover the success your own Supporter Connection Survey will have, take our online course The Most Powerful Communication Tool: The Supporter Connection Survey. It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab and will show you how to raise more funds for your cause from every channel! 

More blog posts about Supporter Connection Surveys:

Have you done a Supporter Connection Survey? Please share your experience by leaving your reply below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

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Bequests and Legacies

VIDEO: The Amazing “4-S” Method for Nervous Bequest Fundraisers

In this quick video interview, Professor Russell James, Professor of Charitable Financial Planning at Texas Tech University, shares the “4-S” Method of engaging with donors about bequest giving:

  1. Story
  2. Story
  3. Story
  4. Shut up

Following this method can make the most nervous or shy fundraiser into a bequest superstar because it connects with donors on a meaningful level.

You don’t always get a “yes,” but you can count on having a good conversation! Try it! I’d welcome your thoughts and feedback in the comments section of this blog!

Want to learn everything you need to know about bequest fundraising? My online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

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Bequests and Legacies

How to Lose $17 Million Without Even Trying

It’s incredibly difficult to be smart about opportunity cost.

There’s just something in our brains that push us toward bad decisions that cost us dearly.

When we overcome that innate human shortcoming — that’s when we make amazingly smart decisions that can transform situations around us.

What is the opportunity cost when we’re talking about fundraising?

I’ve always loved the way the great Mal Warwick put it:

“Opportunity cost is the money you would have raised if only you’d done things right.”

It’s money you never see, so you don’t have to record it as “lost.” You can ignore it.

But it’s lost money all the same.

Opportunity cost really piles up when it comes to bequest fundraising. Let me give you a quick calculation that can help you quantify the monetary difference between doing it right and not doing it at all.

It’s A x B x C = D.

A  = The number of your donors who have given 2 or more gifts, and at least one of those gifts was made in the last 18 months.

B  = Your successful pledge rate. This is the big variable, the number you can change by what you do or not do. It most likely is somewhere between 0.01% and 5%.

C  = Your average bequest. For US charities, it’s around $35,000. If you don’t know your average, this is a good number to use.

Multiply those three numbers, and you’ll have the value of future bequests to your organization.

Let’s play it out with these assumptions. You can adjust these to your realities:

Here’s how it looks for an organization that has no bequest program or does almost nothing to cultivate bequests:

A  = 10,000 donors who’ve given 2 or more gifts, and their last gift was within the last 18 months

B  = 0.01% successful pledge rate (very low because you aren’t actively seeking bequests)

C  = $35,000

D  = $350,000 in future bequest income

Ok. Not bad for doing nothing. And a lot of charities skate along like that, seeing that $350,000 as a kind of random windfall. They’re happy with it. They’d be a little less happy if they thought about the opportunity cost they’re paying for doing nothing!

Here’s what it looks like for an organization that has a not-terribly-effective bequest program. They’re consistently doing something to encourage bequests, just not the most they could:

A  = 10,000 donors (that meet the criteria I’ve listed above)

B  = 1% successful pledge rate

C  = $35,000

D  = $3.5 million in future bequest income

So the opportunity cost of doing nothing about bequests, as compared to doing something (though not a great job at it) is $3.15 million ($3.5 million minus $350,000). That’s nearly $3 million that will never go to your cause. It’s not lost in the sense that you had it and it disappeared, but it truly is lost because you could have had it.

Now let’s look at a well-run, effective, consistent bequest program:

A  = 10,000 donors

B  = 5% successful pledge rate (high, but completely achievable; some organizations do even better)

C  = $35,000

D  = $17.5 million in future bequest income

That’s a more than $17 million cost to doing nothing.

This is not “fake money.” It’s money that can come in the door if you do the right activities.

Or won’t come in if you don’t. CEOs get fired (or jailed) for losing that much!

But because it’s opportunity cost, there will be no penalty to anyone.

So my question to you, smart fundraiser, is this: Are you interested in that completely achievable $17.5 million in revenue (or whatever your equivalent is)? Or are you okay with letting it float away like a bit of dust on a breezy day?

Oddly, most people let the revenue float away.

I don’t think that’s you.

That’s why you are serious about bequest fundraising.

Here’s the best thing you can do to jump-start an effective bequest fundraising program: Click here to find out more about Christiana’s online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests, that is available for all members of The Fundrasingology Lab.

* Note that income stated is illustrative only and is not reflective of actual results. Your level of success will depend on many factors including, but not limited to, your background, experience, time allocation, budget, database, risk management as well as massive and consistent effort and action devoted to the program.

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Bequests and Legacies

The Surprising Way You Find People Who Really Want to Put Your Organization in Their Will

It’s almost hard to believe.

You have donors who are waiting for you to ask them if they’ll include your organization in their Will.

On average, each one is ready to hand over $35,000.

But you have to ask them first.

But how do you find those people, and how do you ask them such a personal question?

I know.

It’s an amazing fundraising technique called the Supporter Connection Survey.

I was blown away when I learned about it…

If the Ice Bucket Challenge and the LiveStrong Bracelet got together and had a child, that child would be ineffective compared to the Supporter Connection Survey!

It gently and relevantly allows those who are ready to raise their hands and say, “Yes, I’d love to put you in my Will!”

It does some other great things too, like finds hidden upper-level donors and people who want to be monthly donors. Plus you find out why these excellent people are giving in the first place!

When I learned about the Supporter Connection Survey, I blogged about it.

I want to quote extensively from that post, and then tell you how I missed the mark at that time. I simply wasn’t amazed enough!

Here’s that post:

I’ve just learned about an exciting new direct mail fundraising technique. Yes, I’m using the word “new” in the same sentence with “direct mail.” I know we all tend to think everything about direct mail is older than dirt. But this is new.

And it just might blow your mind the way it did mine.

It’s called a Supporter Connection Survey. It’s a direct mail pack that features a survey.

You might be saying right now, “Surveys are not new in fundraising, you idiot!” That’s more or less what I said at first. But a Supporter Connection Survey is different. It’s so different; it’s not a survey at all — even though it looks and acts exactly like one.

Sean and Paul, the co-founders of at Pareto Fundraising, used similar surveys in the UK in the 90s, and Pareto developed them further with charities in Australia from 2003. This type of survey is now common in Australia and New Zealand and used in some form by the majority of successful fundraising charities there.

In short, a Supporter Connection Survey is meant to discover what individual donors think and say about your cause so you can talk back to them about the things they care about. It’s not unlike an actual conversation!

It also helps you find substantial legacy giving leads and other forms of valuable connection with donors. (And this — revenue-wise — is even more critical.)

A Supporter Connection Survey looks almost precisely like different kinds of surveys, so let me show you what it is not:

It’s not a research survey

You are not going to get useful, statistically valid findings of your donor file with a Supporter Connection Survey! You will almost inevitably lead yourself astray if you try to use it to get valid research. (Real research is hard. If you need to do some research, get professional help if you want to do it right!)

It’s not a fundraising “push” survey

That’s the type of survey more widely used in fundraising. This type of survey is also not for research. You don’t get any usable information from a push survey.

Push surveys work quite well in many areas of fundraising, especially those that have an advocacy flavor, like the environment and civil liberties. They are a mainstay of political fundraising.

But they’re not at all like Supporter Connection Surveys.

Supporter Connection Surveys are all about creating two-way communication between organizations and donors. Done right, they are virtual magic.

Okay, that’s what I said a few months ago. Since then, I’ve walked alongside several organizations as they created and launched a Supporter Connection Survey. They got more donor interest, more bequest leads, and other leads than our most optimistic projections. A lot more! So many more that they are looking at a future with many times the revenue they get today.

This single survey (and you can bet they’ll be doing it again) will transform the life of the organization. They’ll be able to do more of their good work than they’ve dreamed possible — until now. And they’re dreaming!

Thus the reason I’m telling you this.

Want to learn everything you need to know about bequest fundraising? Click here to find out more about Christiana’s online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests that is available when you join The Fundraisingology Lab.

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Bequests and Legacies

12 Things You Need to Know about Talking to Donors about Bequests

Just the idea of talking to donors about bequests can be overwhelming. As fundraisers, we’re used to simple calls to action, quick solutions to problems, and lots of urgency.

If you’re good at fundraising, you are equipped to be good at bequest fundraising. But here are 12 things you should know that will make you a lot better at it:

  1. Donors love to give.

This is a basic truth about fundraising, but it’s especially important when talking about bequests. You are not trying to get them to do something they don’t really want to do. You are trying to suggest a different way they can do something they love doing.

  1. Most people have never thought about a bequest.

That’s the hardest part about bequest fundraising — but also what makes it so exciting. They simply haven’t thought about this great way to leave a legacy. You’re usually bringing a whole new idea to them.

  1. Older donors don’t have the same hang up you do about death.

The old “they don’t want to talk about death” excuse is rarely true about older donors. The people most likely to feel creeped-out by death conversations are younger people. Like you! But when we talk to donors about bequests, it’s really not about death… it’s about a donor’s life, their life story, their values and continuing that support into the future.

  1. Bequests are a continuation of the donor’s values and aspirations.

If you think of bequests as something that happens after they’re gone, you’re missing it. They see it as part of who they are now! Research by Professor Russell James at Texas Tech University has shown that phrases such as, “with a gift in your will you can support a cause that has been important in your life,” is particularly useful when talking to donors about bequests.

  1. Thanking is a key component of asking – recognising past gifts.

When you remind them of all they’ve already done, you pave the way for an opportunity to talk about bequests.

  1. Don’t use complex technical terminology or insider language.

Most people get lost when you use professional jargon or “contract” language. Use simple words, not formal words. Avoid terms like estate planning, estate gifts, and bequest gifts. Instead, talk about “a gift in a will.”

  1. Use soft language, asking a donor to consider a gift in their will.

Ask people to consider a bequest whenever the time is right for them. No urgency, no deadlines. This is one area where bequest fundraising is decidedly different from other fundraising! Talking to people about having a ‘lasting impact’ changes the conversation. But let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean not asking. We still need to ask for bequests, just in a slightly different way.

  1. Listen – understand why the donor gives to you – reflect that back when talking about bequests.

So hard to do sometimes! Some donors’ reasons for supporting you may surprise you. Ask questions about how a donor’s life story and experience is connected with your cause.

  1. Share stories about living donors who have done it.

Stories of others who have put your organisation in their will give social proof and inspiration. It helps them see that this is “normal.” The key to these stories is to make them feel like this is something ‘I’ could do too!

  1. Start promoting bequests in your donor newsletter.

This is an easy first step to getting the idea of bequest giving out there. Newsletters are a great place to share stories of your living bequest donors.

  1. Use fundraising and data segmentation tools to help you identify those most likely.

Not all donors are equally likely to think about a bequest. Your most committed supporters, those who are older, and those without children are those most likely, but certainly not the only ones, to be receptive to a bequest offer.

The number one way to identify interest is to include a question about bequests in your donor survey. That leaves the door wide open to having a brilliant bequest conversation. But there are other great tools to find those most likely to be interested, too.

  1. It’s okay if someone says no.

It’s inevitable. Some will flat out turn you down. They aren’t rejecting you, your organisation, or your cause. It’s just that a bequest isn’t right for them. It’s great to know that and you can respect your donor’s wishes.

Here’s the best thing you can do to jump-start an effective bequest fundraising program: Check out my online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests. It is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

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Bequests and Legacies

The Liberating Truth Behind Smart Bequest Fundraising — It’s About Life

You are going to die. And probably sooner than you think.

Not a great way to start a conversation is it?

To hear some people talk about it, you’d think communicating with donors about bequests is like some kind of cruel, death-obsessed whack in the face. Something no polite person would ever foist on a fellow human.

I hear it all the time: People don’t want to talk about death.

That might be true. But talking to donors about including your charity in their will has nothing to do with death.

These are some of the most life-affirming kinds of conversation you’ll ever have!

Because bequest conversations are all about life. In the richest, largest, and fullest sense.

To think about leaving a charity you care about in your will is to think about the very purpose and meaning of your life. It’s about your values that live on into the future far beyond you. It leaves you feeling peaceful and empowered. Transcendent.

That’s what you talk about when you talk about bequests. Most donors absolutely love that conversation.

When someone tells me their donors don’t want to talk about death, I think I know what they really mean: They mean, I don’t want to talk about death.

It’s frankly a more difficult topic for young people than it is for older people. I know I learned that as a young bequest manager talking to older donors. At first, I had to grit my teeth and try not to show my discomfort. Gradually I discovered the beauty and joy of it — thanks to my lovely older donors and some wonderful older colleagues at work.

Bequests can and do change everything for organisations that know how to ask for them. And they are a wonderful opportunity for our donors to continue their support well into the future.

If you want to succeed at bequest fundraising, you must work from the basic assumption that it’s not about death. (It’s also not about lawyers, and not about money or taxes.)

It’s about life!

Here’s the best thing you can do to jump-start an effective bequest fundraising program: Check out my online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests. It is available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.
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Bequests and Legacies

VIDEO: The Magic Words of Bequest Fundraising

Professor Russell James, Professor of Charitable Financial Planning at Texas Tech University, shares the words and phrases that help donors connect meaningfully with the topic of bequest giving.

Learn the importance of:

  • “Family” language
  • The importance of simplicity
  • The power of the word “like”

And more … all of it confirmed by neuroscience research and experience. Watch the video to learn more!

Here’s the best thing you can do to jump-start an effective bequest fundraising program: Check out my online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests. You can access it in The Fundraisingology Lab.

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Bequests and LegaciesMajor and Mid Value DonorsMonthly Giving

How You Can Have Your Own Ice Bucket Challenge-like Success

It’s easier than you think!

Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge? It happened in the Summer of 2015 when the ALS Association in the US (and a number of related organizations around the world, where ALS is often called motor neurone disease) became the beneficiaries of a gargantuan fad. They raised more than $220 million worldwide.

I blogged about it at What a weasel is going to tell you about the Ice Bucket Challenge because it sparked a groundswell of demand: We need our own Ice Bucket!

By now, nearly two years later, it’s clear to almost everyone that trying to launch your own Ice Bucket Challenge is like trying to fund your organization by buying a winning lottery ticket. You could win — somebody has to! — but realistically … it’s not going to happen.

But here’s the good news: You can have Ice Bucket-like financial success. Yes, you. It doesn’t take lightning-strike luck. Just smart and well-targeted work. Quite a lot of work, actually. Which is why it’s rarely done. The field is wide open for you to be a hero at your organization!

You only need to do three things. Anyone of the three will make a huge difference for you, but the more you do, the more astounding the amount of revenue you’ll see pouring in!

Here are the things to do:

Focus on planned (legacy) giving

The payoff for focusing on planned giving won’t be this season. It’ll be five, ten, and more years from now. That’s another reason so many organizations don’t do this in any meaningful way. Why spend your time on something that’s going to pay off when you don’t work there anymore? (How about professional pride.)

Find more monthly donors

Between the high annual values and the superb retention rate, monthly donors are more than a nice-to-have. They’re an Ice Bucket.

Spend more time and money on your mid-value and major donors

How should you be spending on them? Communicating with them more. More personal contact, like phone calls. Higher-end direct mail. More elaborate acknowledgements, thank-yous, and reporting back.

The result: More revenue, at a higher return on investment.

Want to know more about Mid-Value Donors and have your own Ice Bucket success? Sean covers this important topic in the Mid-Value Donor Super Course. You can get instant access to this and more when you join The Fundraisingology Lab

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