What A Rainy Day Can Teach You About Legacy Gift Marketing

July 9, 2018

Raindrops on the roof…my favourite sound of summer.

As I write this blog, I have two more days until my July summer vacation. And, I’m looking forward to it SO much…

My wife Sylvie and I have rented a cottage perched on a bluff above a beach on the shores of Lake Huron. We’re both looking forward to cycling trails, hiking with our dog, swimming, snoozing, reading and generally taking it very easy.

And, while we’re hoping for hot sunny weather (who doesn’t after all?), I do hope that we’ll get one lazy rainy day. Don’t you love those days during summer vacation? For a change, the rain keeps you inside – playing board games or reading a trashy novel. There’s the sound of quiet conversation, the dog yawning and my favourite – the soft patter of raindrops on the roof.

This isn’t a thunderstorm that explodes in the late afternoon and then disappears as quickly as it came. This is a gentle rain that goes on all day. It’s soft and steady, like a quiet drumbeat. This is what the Irish call ‘a soft day’.

So why am I going on and on about my summer plans and my love of raindrops? I’m trying to create an image that is going to stick in your mind for years to come. And that image is the sound of slow, steady rain falling on the roof.

Because – if you’re smart – this is how you’ll communicate your legacy persuasion messages to your bequest prospects. Nice and easy. Slow and steady. Like a never-ending drum beat. Raindrops on the roof.

START WITH THE DONOR

Great marketers throughout the ages understand one fundamental principle. And that is to start your strategy inside the mind of the person you’re trying to influence. In marketing, we often call this ‘thinking from the outside-in’.

So, let’s apply this outside-in approach to bequest-making. How do your average donors actually make charitable bequests?

Here is my personal and subjective take on the subject:

  • Many of us make our first will when we do one of three things: get married, buy a house, or have our first baby. Come to think of it, I made my will a couple of months after my daughter was born. This will-making often occurs sometime in our twenties or thirties.
  • Once we’ve made that will, most of us pretty much leave it alone for about the next 25 years, until our kids are grown and our house is paid off. I am NOT a believer in marketing bequest gifts to people under the age of 60, because I believe that most of them are just not at the stage of life yet where they are going to make charitable bequests.
  • Somewhere around the traditional retirement age of 60 to 70, many people start updating their wills. Maybe a brother has died. Or a granddaughter has been born. The important thing here is that many of these changes are TRIGGERED by changes in family composition. (The trick is to be on the person’s mind when she’s changing her will for other reasons.)
  • Many people over 60 update their wills about every four or five years. And, it appears as though the last update to a will often occurs about 4 years prior to death.

CREATE YOUR RAINDROPS

What does all this mean to you, the charitable bequest marketer and persuader?

It means that you can influence your prospect to include you in her will when she next updates it. But, it also means that you probably can’t influence her to update her will on your schedule. You’re going to have to accept that, even if she wants to include you with a gift, the actual act might not happen for five (or more!) years.

This brings us back to our raindrops on the roof…

The big mistake I see charities make with legacy gift marketing is that they keep doing ‘campaigns’ to different audiences. They start up – they stop – and then they start up again. This approach totally misses the boat.

Smart legacy marketers pick the best available audience of prospects (usually your most longtime, loyal supporters) and send them consistent, repeated legacy persuasion and cultivation messages over a LONG period of time. And, by ‘long’ I mean 5 to 10 years.

Now, our instinct is to say to ourselves ‘That’s WAY too long. My donors will get sick of hearing this stuff over and over from me!’ I get it. I feel that way too sometimes. But that instinct is just plain wrong.

If you want to persuade your loyal donors to make bequests to your organization, your most effective method is – you guessed it! – raindrops on the roof. If you’d like an estimate, I’d say that you’d want to put between 4 and 6 messages per year in front of your prospect audience over a period of about 7 years. That’s assuming that a prospect will hear about 35 legacy messages from you before she actually goes and makes her gift.

It may sound a bit weird. But, that’s how it actually works.

So fire up your legacy marketing machine. Make it rain. And keep those raindrops falling gently on your prospects’ roofs for many years to come.

Have fun!

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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.