Think of life as a story. More specifically, think of it as a book – an autobiography to be precise.

If you were going to take on the task of writing a book about your life, how would you lay out the chapters? Maybe your chapter outline would start out something like this:

  1. Before you were born. Where your parents came from, how they met, where they were and what they were doing when you were born.
  2. Your early childhood. First memories. Your siblings, grandparents and extended family. What about you stood out as a toddler?
  3. Primary school days. What you were like in school. Your best friends. What you loved doing outside school.

You get the idea. By the time you’re in your 80s, your autobiography could well be 20 or 30 chapters long. It will define you and demonstrate why your life mattered. It will articulate those aspects of yourself that are most valuable to others – and how you’re creating a positive footprint on the earth that will endure after your passing.

Why am I talking about life and seeing it as a story? Because it ties directly to the subject of legacy giving. And, once you understand the link between autobiography and charitable bequests, you’ll be a much better legacy fundraiser!

The Brain and Legacy Giving

Thanks to technology, our understanding of how the human mind really works has increased exponentially over the last few decades. The MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) machine actually shows visually what parts of the brain are working when that brain is doing certain tasks, like thinking, deciding and feeling.

Professor Russell James at Texas Tech University has pioneered the use of MRI technology on people while they think and talk about making legacy gifts. James has discovered that, unlike most charitable gifts that originate in the empathy centre of the brain, legacy gifts come from the autobiographical centre.

We each have this place in our brains – the autobiographical centre – where we construct the story of our lives as we live them. We are the central character (or protagonist) in these stories, and we’re supported by a cast of characters. Like great stories from literature, our life stories have journeys and quests, moments of drama and climax, episodes of intense emotion and sensation and periods of resolution and completion.

How Does This Help Us?

When you’re communicating with your donors and prospects about making bequests, you’d be smart to talk about their lives as stories, containing many chapters.

The idea is this: The donor can come to see a legacy gift to your organization as an epilogue to her autobiography. The gift can in fact write another chapter that takes place after her passing. That gift will reflect her beliefs and values – her generosity and love – even after she’s gone. It’s also a way that she can achieve what’s known as symbolic immortality (see my previous blog on ‘Your Donor’s Search for Immortality’).

When you frame the idea of making a legacy gift as the opportunity for your prospect to extend her best self beyond her lifetime, she’ll find the idea tremendously attractive. And, you’ll be more likely to get the bequest.

When you do this right, everybody wins!