Are you old enough to remember watching Sesame Street on TV when you were a kid? Well, boys and girls, today’s blog is brought to you by the letter “I”.

If I were to give the gift of knowledge to new planned giving fundraisers, my biggest gift would be to teach them the difference between “The Two I’s”…

When you focus on one ‘I’, you raise lots of money and create joyful donors.

When you focus on the other, you bore your prospects, lose credibility and blow your chance at the legacy gift.

So, what are these two I’s? And why do they matter so much in legacy communications? Let’s reveal them, shall we?

what not to focus on in legacy communications

The first ‘I’ is INSTRUCTION. This is the word that way too many fundraisers focus on when talking to donors and prospects about making bequests. These fundraisers think it’s their job to teach their legacy prospects (most of whom are over age 60!) how to make wills, do taxes and plan finances.

This is a big mistake for two reasons. First, it talks about money rather than what the donor cares about – namely your cause and mission. Secondly, you presume (as a charity may I remind you!) to offer financial advice to people who have been managing their own finances for decades. I’ve watched donors look at – and react to – planned giving materials in focus groups. You should see the looks on their faces when charities start telling them how to manage their money. In short, they get VERY pissed off!

what donors really want

Which brings us to the second ‘I-word’, which is INSPIRATION. Your donors don’t want you to talk about financial planning. But they’re dying for you to show them how a legacy gift can change the world for the better!

You see, these are good people we’re talking about here. They care about humankind, the environment and our animal friends. They have big hearts. Most importantly, they want to help – and they want to make their mark on the world.

Your job as a fundraiser is to offer that INSPIRATION. You get to show what a beautiful and noble gesture a legacy gift can be.

So, how do you actually go about inspiring donors? That’s a subject for another blog, but here’s a taste that might get you started…

  • The word ‘inspired’ actually means ‘in spirit’. So, it’s important to realize that the state of being inspired is a spiritual (rather than an intellectual or emotional) state of being. A great way to get your prospect into this spiritual mindset is to articulate the beauty that’s inherent in your cause and mission. That beauty could be found in a hungry child’s eyes, the smile of a hospice patient in his final minutes, a sunrise over a protected forest or the sight of a wagging tail of a puppy that was abandoned just days ago.
  • Keep in mind too, that legacy gifts come from the autobiographical part of the brain. This is the part where the donor creates the story of her own life as narrative, and explains how her life was a good and positive thing. Frame your communications in this biographical and existential fashion and you’re well on your way to success.
  • In my experience, inspiration and aspiration often go together. Can you find a storyteller – often a legacy donor to your organization – who can both inspire your donors and cause them to aspire to make similar gifts? In other words, find someone who can become a legacy hero for your cause and employ that hero to inspire others to become heroes as well.

in conclusion…

The takeaway from all this is simple: There are two words that start with the letter I that you can employ to communicate legacy giving to your donors and supporters. When you INSTRUCT them, you’re headed down the wrong path. When you set out to INSPIRE them, you’re well on your way to beautiful outcomes!