12 things you need to know about talking to donors about bequests

by guest blogger Christiana Stergiou, Fundraisingologist at Moceanic.

Just the idea of talking to donors about bequests can be overwhelming. As fundraisers, we’re used to simple calls to action, quick solutions to problems, and lots of urgency.

If you’re good at fundraising, you are equipped to be good at bequest fundraising. But here are 12 things you should know that will make you a lot better at it:

1. Donors love to give.
This is a basic truth about fundraising, but it’s especially important when talking about bequests. You are not trying to get them to do something they don’t really want to do. You are trying to suggest a different way they can do something they love doing.

2. Most people have never thought about a bequest.
That’s the hardest part about bequest fundraising — but also what makes it so exciting. They simply haven’t thought about this great way to leave a legacy. You’re usually bringing a whole new idea to them.

3. Older donors don’t have the same hang up you do about death.
The old “they don’t want to talk about death” excuse is rarely true about older donors. The people most likely to feel creeped-out by death conversations are younger people. Like you! But when we talk to donors about bequests, it’s really not about death… it’s about a donor’s life, their life story, their values and continuing that support into the future.

4. Bequests are a continuation of the donor’s values and aspirations.
If you think of bequests as something that happens after they’re gone, you’re missing it. They see it as part of who they are now! Research by Professor Russell James at Texas Tech University has shown that phrases such as, “with a gift in your will you can support a cause that has been important in your life,” is particularly useful when talking to donors about bequests.

5. Thanking is a key component of asking – recognizing past gifts.
When you remind them of all they’ve already done, you pave the way for an opportunity to talk about bequests.

6. Don’t use complex technical terminology or insider language.
Most people get lost when you use professional jargon or “contract” language. Use simple words, not formal words. Avoid terms like estate planning, estate gifts and bequest gifts. Instead, talk about “a gift in a will.”

7. Use soft language, asking a donor to consider a gift in their will.
Ask people to consider a bequest whenever the time is right for them. No urgency, no deadlines. This is one area where bequest fundraising is decidedly different from other fundraising! Talking to people about having a ‘lasting impact’ changes the conversation. But let’s be clear, that doesn’t mean not asking. We still need to ask for bequests, just in a slightly different way.

8. Listen – understand why the donor gives to you – reflect that back when talking about bequests.
So hard to do sometimes! Some donors’ reasons for supporting you may surprise you. Ask questions about how a donor’s life story and experience is connected with your cause.

9. Share stories about living donors who have done it.
Stories of others who have put your organization in their will give social proof and inspiration. It helps them see that this is “normal.” The key to these stories is to make them feel like this is something ‘I’ could do too!

10. Start promoting bequests in your donor newsletter.
This is an easy first step to getting the idea of bequest giving out there. Newsletters are a great place to share stories of your living bequest donors.

11. Use fundraising and data segmentation tools to help you identify those most likely.
Not all donors are equally likely to think about a bequest. Your most committed supporters, those who are older, and those without children are those most likely, but certainly not the only ones, to be receptive to a bequest offer.

The number one way to identify interest is to include a question about bequests in your donor survey. That leaves the door wide open to having a brilliant bequest conversation. But there are other great tools to find those most likely to be interested, too.

12. It’s okay if someone says no.
It’s inevitable. Some will flat out turn you down. They aren’t rejecting you, your organization, or your cause. It’s just that a bequest isn’t right for them. It’s great to know that and you can respect your donor’s wishes.

Want more on putting the power of bequest fundraising to work for you? Check out Christiana Stergiou’s online course, Your Complete Roadmap to Raising Money with Bequests. This game-changing, super-practical course is now available for $100 off the usual price. Click here to find out more.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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