Don’t tell me how easy it is to leave a legacy gift – inspire me!

April 16, 2018

I want you to pick up your planned giving brochure – or go to the legacy giving pages on your website – and check something for me…

Do you stress to supporters how EASY it is to leave a legacy gift in their wills? Do you stress the convenience and efficiency of legacy gift-making? Because if you do, YOU SHOULDN’T!

My fellow Good Workers and I believe it’s a big mistake to emphasize how easy it is to make a bequest. And here are the three fundamental reasons why:

1) For many donors, leaving a bequest to you is a big life moment. It’s a very significant and meaningful moment in someone’s life. Think of it – leaving a bequest to a charity is like welcoming a new member into the family. When you look at things from this perspective, stressing the ease of making a gift serves to minimize it. We think that, in the vast majority of cases, this is a big mistake.

2) Stressing how easy it is to transact the gift puts the focus on the TRANSACTION, when it ought to be squarely on the DONOR. We’ve said it a million times before – and we’ll say it again now: legacy gifts ARE about the donor and they’re NOT the money. Russell James of Texas Tech University has done a brilliant job of showing us how donors make bequests from the autobiographical parts of their brains. The gift is an epilogue to the story of the donor’s life – and it’s consistent with that donor’s values and beliefs.

3) Perhaps most importantly, talking about how easy it is to make a bequest may have little (if any) persuasive impact on your legacy prospects. And, as a legacy fundraiser, surely your job is to PERSUADE your supporters to include you in their wills! What CAN you do to be more persuasive?

  • Talk about your cause.
  • Use first-person testimonials from donors who have already made bequests.
  • Tell stories.
  • Be emotional.
  • Stay focused on bequests.
  • Keep talking about WHY the prospect should want to make a bequest – rather than HOW she does the paperwork.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with mentioning how easy and simple it is to leave a legacy gift. You can – and should – mention it on your website and in your donor newsletters. But the ease of the gift is a supporting actor. The star of the show is the donor’s heart and her life story.

Fraser’s Golden Rule

You might find it helpful to follow a simple rule that I use when I’m creating any kind of legacy gift marketing content. Whether it’s advertising, direct mail copy, website content or whatever, I do my best to stick to what I call ‘Fraser’s Golden Rule’:

  • 40% of what I say should be about the donor (This includes donor testimonials.)
  • 30% of what I say should be about the cause.
  • 20% of what I say should be specifically about your charity; and
  • 10% of what I say should be about the gift itself. This is where the ‘It’s easy to make a bequest’ information sits. It’s a small part of the story, but definitely not the headline.

I hope that this line of thinking makes sense to you, and that it will be of help to you the next time you have to do some legacy gift marketing work. And, please do let me know how it works for you!

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Fraser Green

Fraser Green

Former political campaigner and current fundraising strategist with a knack for understanding how audiences will react to messages.