Fraser Green

Fraser Green

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

Legacy Stewardship: What You REALLY Need To Do

July 4, 2017

STEWARD: One whose job is to manage the property or finances of another.

I want to bring you into a classic conversation I’ve had over and over with my fellow fundraisers over the years. Someone has invited me into her office to talk with her about her organization’s bequest income potential. I’ll do some pretty straightforward calculations based on the size of her donor base and the types of fundraising the organization employs – and I’ll come up with a revenue target that I know is within the organization’s reach.

Let’s join that conversation now, shall we?

Fraser: Jill, with 15,000 annual donors, I’d say you can raise about $13.2 million dollars in bequests. If we amortize that amount over a generation, you would increase your net revenue by about $660,000 per year for the next twenty years.

Jill: Wow, that sounds great Fraser. How much would it cost?

Fraser: It would cost you a few hundred thousand dollars over four or five years, but over the long term, your cost per dollar raised is about four cents.

Jill: Wow, that’s amazing! How many expectancies would I be dealing with?

Fraser: Well Jill, keep in mind that the majority of the people who make bequests will never tell you during their lifetimes. They’ll keep that to themselves. But you might have around a hundred people who tell you that they’ve made a bequest.

Jill: Oh, that’s too bad. We just don’t have the staff or the resources to steward all those donors.

And, our conversation sputters to an end here…

let’s get back to legacy stewardship basics.

What do legacy donors want, need and expect once they’ve told you about their bequest intentions? The answer is probably simpler and less onerous than you would expect.

Let’s start with recognition: The quick fact here is that most legacy donors don’t need, expect or even want any kind of public recognition. They don’t want their names on a donor wall or even have their names listed in your annual report. Keep in mind that many of these donors are everyday middle-class women who aren’t used to any kind of philanthropic attention or special treatment.

In fact, donors in focus groups have told me repeatedly that they place a higher value on privacy than they do recognition. To them, a legacy gift is a highly personal decision – and it doesn’t feel appropriate to broadcast the news of this gift. Furthermore, many of these donors worry that if their names get released, they’ll be barraged with legacy requests from charities that they don’t support. And, they certainly don’t want to be harassed!

What legacy donors DO want is actually what every donor wants! They want to know that you manage donated moneys effectively – and that those moneys achieve tangible, positive results that are congruent with your cause and mission.

Legacy stewardship is business as usual

So, identifying a bunch of new legacy donors does NOT mean that you have to build a donor wall or start having quarterly legacy donor receptions. You don’t have to do any of that. What you SHOULD do is just keep reporting where your spending money and how you’re getting great results. Just keep sending newsletters and updating your website. Keep telling stories about people whose lives have changed because of the good work that donated dollars have made possible.

So relax, have fun, and go out and recruit lots and lots of legacy gifts. It won’t hurt a bit, I promise!


This post originally appeared on The Hilborn.

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