Who are the rich people on your database?

By Sean Triner

Those lovely people at Fundraising Research & Consulting (FR&C) have decided to give a massive gift to all you fundraisers wondering where the money is in Australia.

For years they have been trawling the web and building a database of the richest people around, who they give to, how much (where known) and anything else in the public domain.

This information helps charities save lots of money on targeting but also FR&C offer a service where they have a look at the people who are already donating to you and match that to this database of big givers. You may well have someone who donated $1m to another charity giving you $100 every Christmas. That doesn’t mean they will suddenly give you a million, but you certainly should be talking to them differently.

You have to pay for this service but there are a load of free resources available too, and this is the gift FR&C are giving to you: A full list of all those resources. Now you could go and find them yourself, but using this free list will save you over a hundred hours of work (and you would probably not have found them all anyway!)

Check out

Can a killer curry improve your bequest program?

By Sean Triner First published by Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine in July 2011

Lunch with the head of fundraising at a major Australian charity had to be an Indian curry. Like me, this fundraising boss is English-born and we exiles do love our curry. Fish and chips were usurped by curry as the British national dish a very long time ago.

What better way to spend a beautiful Sydney winter day than munching an eggplant madras, playing poppadom geography* and talking about … death.

This charity gets a lot of money from bequests. My friend told me that about two thirds of these bequests were unknown – people who didn’t seem to have any connection with the charity.

So, should it be spending more on marketing bequests to the ‘general public’? A good point and a good question. Initiatives like ‘Include a Charity’ and ‘Make a Will Week’ are certainly pushing that way, and it is good for the sector that they exist. But what about general marketing spend for bequests?

On a curry-spotted napkin, we ran through a little thought experiment.

Curry-fuelled fundraising conundrum

A large charity received 400 bequests last year. This was a normal year, and the bequests were worth an average of $50,000 each, meaning a bequest income of $20 million. Of these bequests, only 150 (just over a third) were ‘known’ to the charity, perhaps as donors or volunteers. So, about $12.5 million came in from unknown people.

At first glance, it would not be an unreasonable approach to divide spend – say one third – for targeting the organisation’s own database and two thirds onto the wider public.

But let’s think this through. We have a finite budget (never enough, of course) and need to spend that wisely. Wisdom in marketing manifests itself through targeting, so we need to target people more likely to write a will and, put crudely, realise that gift sooner or later.

Age is the obvious place to start. Older people are better bequest prospects. People tend to change their will just before they die.

And, of course, we should target people who are more likely to put us in their will.

Skip the next four points if your head hurts or it’s too early for maths:

1. In the example above, it seems at first glance that non-donors are more likely to leave a legacy, but let’s just think about that. The charity has 200,000 donor records on the database.

2. Around 138,000 Australians die every year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Of those, 400 mentioned this charity in their will. That means about one in every 345 that died put this charity in their will.

3. The average Australian is 37 years old. Looking at the charity donor records, people on that database are on average 50 years old, so they are more likely to die sooner. Let’s assume that they are twice as likely to die in the next decade.

4. That means of my 200,000 donors, I can assume that 2,752 died last year. Of those, 150 put my charity in their will. That is one in 18.

In other words, someone who has donated to my charity is about 20 times more likely to put that charity in their will.

With such a difference in expected success, and easier methods to communicate to them, it makes sense to target those in your database first.

If you are in a relationship with someone, you can also work with them to make sure they put a residuary or percentage of estate in their will for you. These types of bequest can be ten times more valuable.

Do the madras math

My conclusion is that when you see something really obvious and use it to make strategic or even tactical decisions, think it through first. Look at the data and do some maths. You could be making a mistake.

By the way, I used Australian Bureau of Statistics to do most of this work, but came across a great site where you can see how long you have left. All things being equal, I should now make it to 14 April, 2051.

I am just putting in an appointment in my diary – I hope the run up to that day is interesting, but not as deadly as Roy Batty’s (Rutger Hauer) “Time to Die” in Bladerunner.

*Rules for poppadom geography: Break the poppadom into bits and see if you can spot the outline of countries and states. France is always there, and usually Argentina and Tasmania, too.

Encountering Grief

By Sara Mansfield

I promised you last time that I would tackle another aspect of speaking with bequestors and prospects via the telephone – encountering grief. Many of us fundraisers encounter grief from bereavement or from a shocking diagnosis quite frequently. Although, this advice is not just limited to talking to bequestors or the bereaved parties of the bequestors, but can hopefully help with handling any conversation of this nature. I hope that this will help you as much as it has helped me and the callers in our dedicated fundraising call centre in Brisbane.

1. Grieving is a normal healing process

It is interesting that the one thing we are certain about in this life is that it will end, yet when that happens we are never prepared. Emotionally we just don’t seem to be well equipped to deal with such a loss, we either fall apart or head straight for denial. But, in reality, falling apart or going through denial is all part of the normal process of grieving. Grief is a normal, healthy response to loss and we need to understand how to best deal with it in order to provide comfort to someone who is grieving. Regardless of the type of loss, there is a natural process of grieving. Understanding the nature of grief and bereavement gives you the insight that will enable you to help someone else cope. The more you understand about the basics of the grieving process, the more you may be able to help them:

  • It is normal and necessary to experience intense emotional sensations in order to heal properly
  • Feelings of guilt, embarrassment and anger are part of the restorative process.
  • Each person grieves differently.
  • There is no set timetable for bereavement.

As a matter of fact, loss can come in many forms. As devastating as the death of a loved one can be, any life altering experience can trigger a sense or feeling of loss that will trigger the same sense of grief and will send that person through the same stages of grief as experienced through the loss of a loved one. Other losses might include the loss of one’s health or the health of someone you care about, or the end of a relationship, such as a marriage or even friendship. Healing from a loss involves coming to terms with the loss and the meaning of the loss in your life.

The most important thing you can do when you speak to someone who is recently bereaved or diagnosed with an incurable illness, is simply just be there for them.

You might not know exactly what to say or what to do, but that’s okay. Don’t let your discomfort get in the way when you want to reach out to a person who is grieving or upset. Be willing to push past the awkwardness and be honest and straightforward. Know that you don’t have to solve their problem; simply provide a listening ear.

Many of us have no idea what to say or how to handle the situation. It is difficult to know what words you should say to comfort someone grieving. I think it is natural to feel uncomfortable and unsure in this type of situation. We have so much fear wrapped up around death or any kind of loss in our society that it is difficult to know how to handle our own emotional response much less know how to support another person who is grieving. But, here are the ways that I have identified that can help us be there for a supporter who is coping with loss.


Act Naturally – You may not feel comfortable but the more uncomfortable you let yourself be, the harder you are making it for the grieving or sick person. Let go of the discomfort and truly put yourself in the moment to listen to the caller.

Be prepared for and allow the caller to talk about their grief and how they are feeling. Try to listen without offering advice or interruption other than empathetic encouragers.

Show genuine concern if the caller seems open to it – your empathy and understanding is important to them.

Be mindful of how difficult holidays and weekends can be for the bereaved.

If you recognise that the grieving caller is very distressed and may be experiencing depression, gently ask them if they have considered bereavement counselling to help them work through their emotions.

Do say…

  • I am so sorry
  • I am so sorry for your loss
  • I don’t know how you feel and can only imagine how terrible it must be for you and you have my deepest sympathy.
  • It’s ok if you do not feel like talking right now. Just know that I am here to listen whenever you are ready. You can call again if you would like to talk
  • Talk openly and sensitively about the person who died if discussed


Use probing questions – allow the conversation to be directed by the caller and for them to share what they choose to.

Ask questions about the circumstances of the death or loss – you can ask about the person who has passed on, but not how it happened.

Don’t say…

  • “I know how you feel.” Truthfully, you don’t know how they feel – no one does – whether you have been through a loss before or not. Don’t be surprised if they turn around and say, “YOU don’t know how I feel; no one knows how bad I feel!”
  • “You should.” or “Time heals all wounds.” “Oh, it’s not that bad.” Or “You’ll be ok.” Or “Things will go back to normal before you know it.” Or “It will get better.” Grieving people know this intellectually, but in their heart, they may feel so lost and alone. Offering trite advice or quick solutions can just end up frustrating and upsetting the grieving person. Also, these statements tend to minimize the loss and could upset the grieving person and they may even feel frustrated and angry with you in particular.
  • “Don’t cry.” It is uncomfortable and painful to hear someone cry, but they need to do it – telling him or her not to cry is embarrassing for them and probably impossible and does not support the natural grieving process that needs to occur.


Having a list of accredited bereavement counsellors for referral

Having a list of accredited palliative care services, groups and information resources that you can direct people to.

Checklist for bequest calling

By Sara Mansfield

  • Do you call your supporters from time to time?
  • Are you a sole fundraiser, responsible for all levels of supporter relationships?
  • Are you a new bequest or major donor relationship manager?
  • Are you a senior manager that is required to make personal calls to bequest or major donors?

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may be interested to hear about my recent experiences on behalf of one of our clients.

I was commissioned to make highly personalised, relationship building calls to a small group of identified bequest prospects. My task was to help their extremely time-challenged sole fundraiser sift out the confirmed bequestors from the maybes and from the nos.

I had a whole lot of fun and some fantastic, inspiring conversations and I re-learnt some lessons – the most important of which was the preparation and planning that needs to take place before you make the call so that it can be as personalised and specific as possible. Being prepared really does help you to build rapport and move the relationship with your donor to the next level.

Here is my 3 part checklist for getting properly prepared:

1. Prepare to get to know your supporter

  • What is their name? How will you address them? (Most people in the older generation prefer to be greeted formally, rather than using their first name – if they feel otherwise, they will tell you.)
  • Where do they live? What is the weather like there today – are there any local nuggets of info you can use to help build rapport? Have you been there?
  • When did they start giving to you?
  • What recruitment method was used to get them on board?
  • What has motivated them to give – which appeals? Is there a specific area of your organisation’s work that inspires the supporter?
  • When did they last give?
  • How much have they given in the last 12 months?
  • Are they a volunteer, patient or committee member, as well as a donor?
  • Have they ever written to you or called, prompting there to be notes on their record?
  • Have they expressed any preferences – e.g. mail once a year, don’t mail receipts etc
  • Have they told you anything else such as via a survey that they will expect you to know when calling them?

2. Prepare yourself

  • First impressions are very important; you have (research tells us) 4 -6 seconds to make a positive impression.
  • The initial impact you make is within your control and takes conscious effort
  • You are an ambassador of your organisation
  • They will be pleased to hear from you, by and large
  • Relax and be natural
  • Smile – it truly can be heard in your voice
  • Be enthusiastic and passionate about your organisation – it is infectious
  • Remember their name and use it slightly more than feels natural but not every other sentence
  • Be positive (never say “I was just calling” or “I don’t expect you’ve had a chance to think about your bequest yet”)

3. Prepare your call

Take some time to think about what you want to say, what you want to know and how you are going to fit this into the call. Are you at the early stages of a relationship and you want to ask them to consider a bequest or are you some way down the track and would like to get them over the line to a confirmed status.

  • Always start with a big thank you for their support, time or interest
  • Recognise their past support, most recent support and be mindful if they have expressed any preferences
  • Always check if it is a convenient time to speak, if not agree a time to call back and keep to it.
  • Update supporter on how their money is helping – tell them something new that your organisation is working on or something that will have a lasting and long term benefit to the community
  • If the call is a fundraising ask, make the case for further support
  • Make the ask – clearly and confidently
  • May I ask, is leaving a gift in your will something you are still considering?
  • May I ask, have you have prepared your will yet?
  • What would you like me to do to help you with this?
  • When checking details, use phonetics to check spelling and read back to confirm accuracy with supporter.
  • Re-confirm any actions you or they will take and leave the opportunity open for another follow up call or for a visit
  • Always finish with a big thank you – regardless of the outcome of the call


Many new fundraisers or bequest officers tell me they worry about talking about death with their prospects. This is an understandable concern, but it may reassure you that in my experience I have never had a situation where talking about the possibility of a charitable bequest has upset anyone. Obviously you couch your request in context – ‘I am sure Mr Donor, that you will be taking care of your loved ones in your will, I was wondering if you would also consider including as well, with a donation that keeps on giving to the lives of others beyond your own lifetime’. I know that you all know how to be respectful – stick to your personal codes whilse recognising the responsibilities of your role, and I am sure you will get the balance right.

I would love to hear your experiences – positive and negative and I will follow up this article next time with some tips on how to deal with grief when you unexpectedly come across close bereavement when building relationships via the telephone.

The must do’s of bequest fundraising

By Fiona McPhee

Bequest income could currently represent 0% to 75% of your income. You might have a multi-faceted bequest program, no program at all or be somewhere in between. Whatever your situation, you should know that the potential bequests hold for your organisation is huge. With the average bequest in Australia today over $60,000, just think of the possibilities.

Whilst it might feel like ‘big brands’ benefit the most from bequests, any non-profit that offers a solution to a problem that is going to impact on society in a positive way has the potential to solicit bequest income.

Yes many bequests are reported as coming from “people we have had no previous association with”, but that is no excuse to do nothing. Organisations with large bequest income have not generated this without investing in their bequest marketing. And if you are from one of these larger organisations there is always room to improve. I recently worked with a well known, major charity who upon implementing some new facets to their bequest program uncovered hundreds more bequest leads on top of their already successful prospecting program.

The key? Seek bequests appropriately.

There are a multitude of ways you could approach the development of a bequest program. Staff on the road making face-to-face asks, direct mail programs, phone programs, press advertisements, online programs or a combination of these. There are some highly successful programs out there and there is no one magic formula. There are some things you can ensure you do to maximise your chances of success. Having had the opportunity to analyse and work on a broad range of bequest programs, I’ve come across some ‘must dos’ that underpin each successful program.

When it comes to ‘getting started’ the often perceived challenge with bequest marketing is ‘how do you raise this delicate subject with donors?’

The first ‘must do’ has two parts:

  • Don’t be afraid to bring up the subject – everyone else is talking about it, you will be the only one not talking about it. Speaking with supporters who are engaged with your cause and want to know the best way they can help – bequests are one of these ways.
  • Remember to ask – as fundraisers we ask for donations, we ask people to volunteer, we ask people to participate on our events. But for some reason many don’t actually ask their supports to put them in their Will. A bequest brochure that provides information on how to change your Will is not asking.

Like all fundraising program budgets bequests budgets are not infinite. Its important we are spending our money with the best return possible our goal.

The ‘our bequests don’t seem to be coming from our donors’ insight often leads organisations to invest their bequest dollars in mass advertising or ‘Wills Days’ targeted at older audiences not necessarily already affiliated with the cause. I accept that not all bequests come from donor records already on your database – I can see it in the data. But the data also tells me that those most likely to be thinking about putting you in their Will or willing to get up and change their Will to add you in are your current supporters. These people who know you, know what you are trying to achieve, want to help your beneficiaries and believe in your vision. The second ‘must do’:

  • Start with warm before you spend your money on cold. Start prospecting in your warm file first – start with the people who have already shown they care. Once you have that all covered then broader marketing can be considered.

Often the legal side of bequests overtakes our usually accessible fundraising speak. Your great acquisition approaches and successful appeals are based on simple understandable language. So should your bequest communications. The third ‘must do’:

  • Use jargon-free language. Using ‘plain speak’ that your audience can understand

Truly effective fundraising and marketing communications have a clear offer or proposition. The fourth ‘must do’:

  • ‘Leave us a bequest’ is not enough of an offer – you need an appropriate bequest proposition (emotive & compelling, showing the benefits of leaving a bequest) to support your ask. When developing or assessing your bequest proposition ask your self does it:

– Present the need, problem or opportunity?

– Does it offer a solution?

– Does it consider the timing (a bequest is for the future not now)?

– Does it present a benefit to the donor?

– Is it emotional and unique?

And the final ‘must do’ is another classic marketing law:

  • Know your audience. Just because one channel or approach has worked in the past does not mean it’s the only one available to you. Your supporter base is changing shape, your current donors are getting older, your new donors might be from a different generation to your historical support base. What has worked for years could benefit from the testing of new approaches which may appeal to those your currently strategy has not yet motivated.

I have a Will, three charities are in it. All three asked me to consider leaving them a bequest. Each via a different channel and each gave me a compelling reason to do so. I’m 34 hopefully my bequests won’t be realised for many years to come but I expect over time more charities will find their way into my Will as the charities I support continue to develop their bequest approaches to me.

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Bequest fundraising, pure and simple

By Christiana Stergiou

Think of the money your organisation won’t be raising in the future because, for whatever reason, you’ve put off your investment in bequest marketing for another day, another year or even another decade.

That’s the simple concept of ‘Opportunity Cost’ when applied to bequest fundraising. Imagine what those funds would help you achieve for your cause in the years ahead.

It’s time to get on with your bequest fundraising, pure and simple.

Why? Quite simply: it’s a huge source of income from individual donors across the nonprofit sector, yet too many organisations are underperforming in this major area of fundraising.

Pareto Fundraising’s benchmarking cooperative consists of 21 charities operating in Australia and New Zealand that pool together their data to gain insights into fundraising and inform their strategic decisions. Consistently, bequest income is the single largest source of income received from individuals for this group of charities.

In 2008, the 21 charities combined received almost $73.5 million dollars in bequest income, representing 27 per cent of all individual giving. By comparison, cash gifts (including appeal income) accounted for almost $65 million and regular giving (monthly gifts) accounted for just over $40 million.

Yet when you think of how much effort and investment many charities put into different areas of fundraising, bequest fundraising often comes in last, or is left out of the mix completely.

Why? Many charities want bequests, and occasionally are fortunate enough to receive unsolicited bequests, but just don’t know where to start. And many are, quite simply, scared about asking for this type of gift because they feel it is too sensitive a subject and to ask makes them feel uncomfortable.

Furthermore, those organisations that have a ‘traditional’ bequest programme – based on home visitation and/or Wills days – are not sure how to take their programme to the next level. Their traditional approach to bequest fundraising limits their potential in two main ways.

Firstly, human resources are limited: there are only so many people a bequest officer can visit in a day, week or year. Secondly, effective bequest staff are hard to find: bequest officers tend to visit older donors in their home, have cups of tea and maybe, eventually, after many visits, ask for a bequest, if they feel that the donor is receptive.

One organisation that consistently comes top of the pops when it comes to bequest fundraising is Melbourne’s The Lost Dogs’ Home. They’ve eschewed the traditional home visitation model, opting for a modern, direct marketing-based approach, while still building strong and meaningful relationships with their donors through the mail, telephone and donor tours of the Home.

Over seven per cent of active donors (those who have made a donation in the past 12 months) have said they’ve included the Home in their Will. And three per cent of all supporters, including lapsed donors have committed to a bequest. Few charities in the world could claim a more effective bequest programme.

Most nonprofits should aim high with a target of at least three per cent of active (non-face to face) donors committing to a bequest. This can be achieved through a simple three-step plan, driven predominantly by direct marketing:

1. Proactively identify leads; 2. Work hard to close the deal; and 3. Build life-long relationships.

The first step involves taking control of the leads generation process by proactively identifying bequest leads from your supporter base – identifying those who intend to bequest, or would consider that type of gift. This can be done by including a question about bequests in your supporter survey, or through a dedicated communication that directly asks donors to bequest.

However, you can’t leave it at that. You must move on to step two and actively follow up those leads and work hard to close the deal.

Immediately send your ‘leads’ a great letter about how important bequests are to your cause – including testimonials by donors who have committed to a bequest, as well as moving stories about your beneficiaries and the impact that the donor’s bequest will have on your cause. This could be the most important letter you will ever write to this donor, but far too many I’ve seen are dreadful.

Four to six weeks later, you need to follow up that letter with a very important phone call that asks the donor more about her bequest plans. This could be the most important call you ever make to a donor, yet it is a call that most organisations never make.

The key barrier to securing a bequest is inertia! If you don’t follow up the donor’s original intention or bequest enquiry, chances are that she may forget, or simply never get around to it. Through active follow-up, by mail and phone, you can work with your supporters to motivate them, moving them from intention to actually writing your organisation in their Will. You need to work hard to close that deal.

Just last month I conducted a workshop with the National Stroke Foundation who has committed to investing more in bequest marketing to secure a higher percentage of bequestors amongst its supporter base.

The Stroke Foundation understands the importance of closing the deal, and the workshop was about that initial follow-up call and focused on how to close the deal by phone.

For the many bequest officers in the room it was a revelation. Firstly, they would have proactive leads to follow (via a supporter survey they have just mailed), and secondly, they can follow up the calls by phone and know from most calls exactly where donors stand with their bequest plans. This can be complimented by an in-home visit if necessary and by events where donors can come to hear firsthand about the fine work of the Stroke Foundation.

However, it wasn’t just the bequest officers in the room that benefited. There was also staff from the donor services and phone team, including the receptionist. They all learnt how to handle a bequest call with confidence.

At the end of the workshop, all nine staff made calls to real donors (to the bequest leads that had come in over the last few months) asking them whether they were still planning to include the Stroke Foundation in their Will.

And the outcome of the calls? Two callers received the best news. The donors said, ‘Yes, I’ve done that’ – two closed deals! All other callers made equally brilliant calls where the donors were very clear that they were still planning to bequest or are still considering it, and one donor had no recollection of requesting info.

That means that from every call, the Stroke Foundation knows where those donors stand on making a bequest. Two confirmed bequests out of nine calls is terrific, and the Stroke Foundation is well on its way to increasing the number of donors who include the Stroke Foundation in their Will, which will result in more money to fund their stroke research, treatment and prevention programmes.

Oh yes, and that final step, that’s simple. Build strong relationships with your confirmed bequestors. Thank them for their special gift at every opportunity. They are amongst your most important supporters.

That’s bequest fundraising pure and simple. A three step approach. And remember, delaying your bequest fundraising will inflict an opportunity cost on your organisation: that’s money you won’t be raising for your cause in the future. So don’t delay. Invest in your bequest programme today.

About Christiana Stergiou

With her revolutionary and practical approach to bequests, Christiana has inspired hundreds of fundraisers from Australia, and across the world to think differently about the way they approach bequest fundraising. Christiana can be contacted by sending an email to

Learn more about bequest fundraising at Christiana’s Melbourne and Sydney Workshops

Christiana will be presenting a workshop in Melbourne on 18 August 2009 and Brisbane 14 October 2009 about how to develop and implement the ultimate bequest plan. She’ll also be presenting a workshop in Sydney on 20 August 2009 about how to effectively follow up your bequest leads. Click here to register now, or to find out more.