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 email@example.com
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.