If you’ve listened to me talk about legacy giving over the past fifteen years, you’ll already know that I’m pretty fanatical about how it’s marketed to donors.

At the highest, most strategic level, there are three over-riding principles that direct everything else in a successful legacy program. To review:

  • Since more than 90% of planned giving revenue comes from bequests, focus your marketing efforts STRICTLY on wills. Stay away from gifts of insurance, annuities, and remainder trusts, because donors just don’t understand them.
  • Tell stories in the first person to get your message across most effectively. Testimonials from living bequest donors are a great place to start.
  • Your emphasis should be on WHY your donors should make the gift rather than HOW to fill out the paperwork. Donors have told us repeatedly in focus groups that they want inspiration to give, far more than they want an instruction manual on how do so. Sadly, most charities still spend way too much time trying to play the role of financial planner – and donors don’t see you as a credible personal finance expert.

Having said that, I do think there’s room for a little bit of HOW along with a whole lot of WHY on your website, in your print materials, and in your conversations with donors.

Let’s start with the 80:20 rule …

Say you’ve been allocated a full page in your next donor newsletter to talk about legacy giving. The 80:20 rule means that 80% of that full page needs to be devoted to WHY the donor should make the bequest. Again, some form of storytelling will make up the majority of your full page.

However, you may want to use up to 20% (and not more!) of that page to talk about some of the HOW information that the donor may in fact find helpful.

Here are a few items you can include that the donor would appreciate – and that are also to your benefit as a charity:

  • Explicitly stating the legal name of your charity (and your address, phone etc.) is always a good idea. The donor may know your name, but her lawyer may get it wrong.
  • Including a sample of codicil language is also helpful. This sample should also be accompanied by a very short description of what a codicil is, and a reminder that the donor need not necessarily make out a whole new will to add a beneficiary.
  • Finally, it’s very useful to talk a little bit about three ways that donors can choose to allocate their bequest to you. Start out with a short preamble that many donors want to leave gifts in their wills, but they’re feeling uncertain – because they don’t know how long they’ll live and they don’t know how large their estate will be when they pass on.

You now have the opportunity to reassure them that there are two ways to leave gifts in wills that won’t encumber the donor or her other heirs:

  • You can explain that a residual gift is the money that’s ‘left over’ in an estate after all the fixed commitments are met. Assure the donor that residual gifts are most welcome – and that they still contribute greatly to your mission and programs.
  • You can present the second option of a percentage gift. In this case, the donor decides to leave a percentage of her estate to you – and the amount of this gift will ultimately vary depending on the estate size at the time of the donor’s passing. I often like to use an example of a donor who has three children and four grandchildren. She divides her estate up into eight equal portions. Each child and grandchild gets a portion, and the final share is split between her church and your charity.
  • You may now also present a fixed sum gift (namely a specific amount of money) as a third option, although mentioning that it lacks the flexibility of a residual or a percentage gift.

As it happens, residual bequests turn out to be the largest of the three. (I know of one example where an occasional hospital foundation direct mail donor left the residual of her estate – and it turned out to be $9 million!).

Percentage gifts aren’t as large as residual gifts – but they’re significantly larger on average than fixed amount gifts.

Donors love hearing about these options – and they’re grateful that you’ve laid out options that make giving easier and (to them) less risky. Presenting these three choices to your legacy prospects in the way I’ve just shown you could mean millions of dollars in increased revenue to your charity over the next twenty years or so.

So – to sum up – keep the HOW information very limited in your digital and print legacy materials. But, use your that information wisely. Your donors will love you for it – and you’ll raise a LOT more money!

This article first appeared over at The Hilborn.

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