The big fundraising opportunity you’re likely missing

legacy gifts

If your organization is like a lot of nonprofits, you may be missing out on one of the biggest opportunities for potentially transformational donations.

Asking your supporters to include a donation in their Will.

I’ve been in your shoes, so I know how the refrain goes when you're talking to your ED, or CEO or board about planned giving – does this sound familiar?

“We don’t need the money in the future – we need the money RIGHT NOW.”

This is short term thinking, and it’s holding a lot of charities back from realizing their potential.

I won’t throw a lot of numbers at you about baby boomers and the trillions of dollars of wealth that’s being transferred between generations, but I will ask you this:

Could your organization use a $50,000 donation?

Because that’s the average size of a charitable bequest made on their platform, according to a 2022 research report from FreeWill.

And that’s the kind of money you’re leaving on the table if you’re not talking about legacy giving in your organization.

The best news is, planned giving doesn’t need to be expensive, or complicated, or time consuming.

Here’s how to start tapping into the power of legacy giving at your organization:

Focus on the type of donation that makes up almost 95% of all planned giving

If you're a small to mid-sized shop, you'll have the greatest success when you focus on the type of donation that makes up almost 95% of all legacy giving: a gift in the donor’s Will.

Legacy giving communications often read like a laundry list of technical options – in addition to boring the pants off your donors, some planned giving vehicles can be challenging and time consuming for you to administer.

Bequests make up the vast majority of planned gifts, and they typically represent very generous donations.

Use language your donor understands

When we use internal fundraising jargon like planned giving and legacy gifts, donors don’t understand what we’re talking about.

Research by charitable financial planning expert Dr. Russell James indicates that formal language actually suppresses charitable interest – donors were more likely to consider a planned gift if it was described in plain language than if technical or legal jargon is used (delve deeper into his fascinating presentation here).

Moral of the story? Keep it simple, and ask donors to leave a gift in their Will.

Tell the stories of living bequest donors

What's the single most important message that you can share to influence your donors to include a gift to your organization in their Will?

According to more great research from Dr. Russell James (seriously, if you haven't read any of his work, you need to get on it!), it's the life stories of bequest donors who are still living.

Sharing these stories helps set a powerful social norm with your other donors - and interestingly, stories of living donors are more influential than otherwise identical stories of deceased bequest donors.

Don't have any bequest donors? I've been there!

A great first stop for finding legacy givers is your board of directors, or other dedicated volunteers - would they consider taking the lead, and setting a great example you can share with your community? (You may be pleasantly surprised - perhaps they already have!)

Drip, drip, drip…

While a legacy marketing budget is nice, you don’t need a lot of money to effectively promote the idea of including a gift in their Will with your donors.

Borrow from the idea of drip marketing, a campaign where a series of messages on a single topic are sent, or “dripped” to donors in a specific order, on a predetermined schedule.

Take stock of all the opportunities you have to communicate with your donors over the course of a year – newsletters, events, impact reports, donor surveys, new donor welcome packages – and plan to incorporate a series of simple messages about gifts in Wills in as many of these contacts as possible.

Take it one step at a time

I’ve seen so many charities hold back from promoting gifts in Wills with their donors because they feel intimidated by planned giving, or they think they need to replicate the complex, glossy legacy giving packages that many larger shops seem to favor when it comes to planned giving.

There’s no need to complicate things. 

If you can take even one of the steps outlined above, you’ll be that much closer to receiving a potentially transformational gift.

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