You don’t get to disagree with your own heroes everyday. But last month I published a piece that does just this. Not because I like disagreeing with people, but because I want charities to succeed in their legacy giving programs.

Your legacy newsletter is a vital tool for doing just that. Here’s why:

Like all fundraisers I have my heroes. There are people in the sector I admire and whose thoughts and opinions I soak up like a sponge in my search to get better at what I do.
So here I sit – feeling itchy and awkward because I disagree with two of them.

In the world of donor communications, Tom Ahern is my Superman. He’s a brilliant guy who simply gets donors – and has a genius for connecting with them meaningfully. In the field of legacy giving, Richard Radcliffe is my Batman. This guy has been listening to donors for decades – and putting their wishes first in his work.
So to the question at hand: Are legacy newsletters a good idea?

In a post quoted in last month’s issue of GPIC, Tom Ahern argued that they’re not. He’s never seen one that he likes. He believes that legacy information should simply be included in the charity’s regular newsletter.
Richard Radcliffe (in his usual Monty Python style) refers to these pieces as ‘death letters.’ He asks why a charity would mail a donor and encourage her to think about
her impending demise.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think both of their criticisms are valid. I just don’t think they’re complete. I think that legacy-specific newsletters can be a superb tool to cultivate bequest prospects, persuade them to consider a legacy gift and to steward them once the gift has been made. Here are my six top reasons why I’m taking a deep breath and disagreeing with my superheroes:

  1. Legacy newsletters should be about life – and not death. Richard Radcliffe is right when he criticizes newsletters that focus on death, estate planning and tax avoidance. But I don’t think these newsletters should talk about those things at all. Rather, they should focus on advancing the cause, shared beliefs and how legacy gifts expand and amplify the purpose and meaning in the donor’s life.
  2. Legacy newsletters can be highly targeted. I agree with Tom Ahern that just about every piece of donor communication should contain some sort of legacy messaging. Having said that, some donors are more likely to make bequests than others. In my experience, legacy prospects make up about 20% to 25% of a donor database. It makes a lot of sense to me that these folks get newsletters that are focused on bequests.
  3. Legacy newsletters can be very personal. Imagine a newsletter where 80% of the copy is actually from someone real, rather than written in third person institution-speak. Stories by volunteers, donors, program recipients, board members and staff leadership bring the cause and the organization to life.
  4. Legacy newsletters can (and should!) be about people. This is your opportunity to tell stories – and lots of them! Human stories. Emotional stories. Passionate stories.
  5. Stories that donors will connect deeply with and be inspired by. (Remember that the purpose of these newsletters is to INSPIRE, not INSTRUCT.)
  6. Legacy newsletters can be highly persuasive to many older donors who don’t want to feel the ‘pressure’ of phone calls and visits. I’ve witnessed many donor focus groups where the right kind of legacy newsletter is embraced by donors who support the charity in question.
  7. Legacy newsletters might give the planned giving director more control over content. In many charities (especially larger ones), newsletters are the property of the marketing and communications branch. It’s often frustrating and exhausting to try to get persuasive legacy content into the general newsletter. In this case, publishing your own can make more sense and be much more effective.
  8. Legacy newsletters can do a great job of speaking to an older donor’s life experience and stage in life’s journey. They can connect with the donor at the level of beliefs (which is the crazy glue of human relationships). They can help forge deep and loyal bonds.

Richard Radcliffe is right when he talks about ‘death letters.’ If your newsletter focuses on death and taxes, you’re missing the boat. I guess my disagreement with Richard is that newsletters don’t have to be this way.

Tom Ahern is right when he says that regular donor newsletters should contain legacy content. I’d go so far as to say that almost all your communications vehicles should be planting legacy
gift seeds. But, I disagree with Tom when he says that legacy newsletters are ineffective. Let’s face it. Many of them are poorly written. But they don’t have to be!

Tom and Richard are still my super-heroes. I agree with almost everything they say – and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned from them. But in this one instance, I’m afraid I’m not
on the same page.

This article originally appeared in October’s issue of Gift Planning in Canada (Vol. 16, number 10)