Once upon a time there was an aspiring fundraiser. She worked for a wonderful charity that was engaged in a truly great cause. Now, this fundraiser was a dedicated soul. She was always striving to learn more, to get better at her work and to perfect the noble craft that had called to her so strongly.

In bits and pieces, this fundraiser came to learn of the tremendous power of legacy giving. She read in a blog that there are 1.5 million Canadians who have already made gifts to charities in wills. She learned at a conference that middle class people make bequests every day (averaging $25,000!) to the charities they care most about.

Then one day, she sat in on a webinar by a guy who talked a lot about icebergs and philanthropy. This guy absolutely persuaded our heroine that the most powerful and persuasive way to persuade supporters to make gifts in wills is to press emotional buttons by telling great stories.

And so her search began…

Our intrepid fundraiser sought to solve the riddle of the perfect legacy gift story.

Who should tell it? What should it be about? How should it start? How should it end? How long should it be? Should she tell it on the website? In a letter? In the donor newsletter? Face to face? She had SO many questions!

One day, our fundraiser was waiting for a bus, when a kindly gentleman sat beside her and smiled. He nodded to her and introduced himself as the godfather of love. He said he could tell that she was on a philanthropic quest – and that he would happily answer her questions until the bus came.

First, she asked; “Who is the best person to tell the legacy gift story?”

The godfather smiled and replied; “The very best storyteller is a living donor who has already made a bequest. She can talk about how she came to care about the cause. How she got involved in the organization. How her commitment grew over time. How she came to decide to make her bequest – and how she feels now that she’s made it.

But there are lots of other storytellers who can be effective too. The founder of the organization has a powerful story to tell – because the organization is now his legacy. The widowed spouse of a deceased legacy donor can tell the story of his loved one – and how the gift was a part of the testament to her life. Someone who’s received a program or service from the charity can attest to its transformational benefit. A volunteer who helps deliver programs and services can give witness to the power of the donor and the gift. There are MANY storytellers – and many stories!”

Our fundraiser heroine was clearly excited – but also getting agitated.

“But how do I choose ONE storyteller –and only ONE story! These all sound wonderful. I couldn’t possibly choose just one!

The godfather smiled his all-knowing smile and said “My dear, there is no reason whatsoever to limit yourself to one story. The world of legacy giving is a world of endless stories. You will never tire of telling them – and your donors will never tire of hearing them! You should tell all the stories you can – as often as you can – in as many places as you can. Some will be long and some will be short. Some will be sad and wistful, while others will be hopeful and joyous. You will put some on video and others will be written on paper. Some will be found on your website and others will go in newsletters and direct mail letters.”

Just then, the fundraiser heard the bus approaching from around the corner. She realized that her time with the godfather of love was almost over. A look of panic came over her face and she blurted out “But godfather – I have SO many questions – and the bus is coming!”

“Don’t worry my dear” he said reassuringly. “There’s only one more thing you need to know – and once you know this, you will go forward and earn millions of well-deserved dollars. And that lesson is this:

Always remember to follow the 40:30:20:10 Rule when you tell your legacy gift stories.

The rule is very simple – and very effective – although your bosses might not like it much:

  • 40% of your story needs to be about the donor. Tell the story of her life. Outline what she believes in. Talk about her values – and those things that give her life purpose. And, talk about how her legacy gift completed the story of her life and made the story whole.
  • 30% of your story should be about the cause. And remember, the charity is not the cause. The hospital foundation is the charity – while healthcare is the cause. The NGO is the charity – while global poverty is the cause. Donors give to causes more than they give to charities. Never forget that!
  • 20% of your story can now be about your charity. Now that you’ve told almost ¾ of your story, you can talk about yourself! You see? You’re NOT the hero of this story. The donor is the hero. You’re the helper.

And last but not least, 10% of your story can be about the gift itself. The important thing to understand here is that legacy giving is NOT about money. In fact, it never was. Yes, there are some confused fundraisers who think that bequests are about taxes, personal finances and estate planning. But, for the vast majority of donors, this is just NOT the case. Their gifts are about love, hope, purpose and a noble higher calling to do something magnificent for someone else.

The bus hissed and squealed to a stop right in front of the fundraiser and the godfather. They got up from their bench and she kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for his wisdom and advice.

Then, the godfather smiled and said; “You know what? Legacy giving is absolutely full of romance, beauty and heroes doing good chivalrous deeds. So, go and tell your stories. Love the experience of telling them. And think of the joy you will bring to the donors who you persuade to make them. You’re going to have a blast!

 And, our fundraising heroine lived and worked and told stories – happily ever after.