Charitable bequests are easy, abundant, and well worth the small effort needed to acquire them. So why are most of us so bad at it?
Suggested New Year's resolution: "I will not let another year slip through my fundraising fingers until I've taken the few steps necessary to ensure my organization's future by promoting charitable bequests the right way."
Is there a wrong way? To judge by performance, apparently so.
In the UK, about 30% of the nation's philanthropy annually arrives in the form of charitable bequests. The dead are big givers on the Sceptered Isle.
In the US, not nearly so much: according to Giving USA, charitable bequests in America amounted to a meager "7% of total estimated giving" in 2008.
One astute reporter wondered, though: "Could this [discrepancy] ... be a reflection of the fact that the British do not give as much to charity during their lifetimes as Americans do?"
Fair question. Maybe living Americans are so abundantly generous that giving by US dead looks tiny in comparison.
A comforting thought ... were it not for an inconvenient bit of research hiding inside an unusually useful little book called Iceberg Philanthropy, authored by three CFREs with collusion by Mal Warwick. (Don't let the title fool you: the book is about bequest marketing, not penguins.)
The authors asked average North American households who donate regularly via direct mail, "Would you be willing to put a bequest in your will to benefit your favorite charity?" Around 90% of respondents said yes.
Lovely ... but. When the authors asked the very same people, "OK, how many of you have already put a charitable gift in your will?" the percentage quickly shrunk to single digits.
Fewer than 10% of North American households who give regularly to direct mail appeals have made a gift to charity in their wills as well, the research found. And it's a HUGE missed opportunity (hence the reference to "iceberg").
Who's to blame for not cashing in on this fantastic untapped opportunity? To some degree, I think, the marketers of charitable bequests.
These are the people who call the whole enterprise "planned giving," a self-inflicted act of obscurantism that should be put out with the weekly trash.
These are the people who think of "planned giving" as a major gifts strategy, when in fact most bequests originate from middle-class households.
These are the people who try to sell the poor donor 10 things at once when only one - bequests - has any popular appeal. Up to 90% of so-called planned gifts are simply bequests, and that percentage will not change.
Look, giving is down. Things are going to get worse before they get better, because the GEC (Global Economic Crisis) is far from over (witness the Irish banking collapse). The coming years are likely to be bleak for fundraising.
"In the UK," Richard Radcliffe notes, "bequests represent the only increasing source of funds, especially in a recession." Which brings me around to him.
What the butler saw
The admirable Mr. Radcliffe's eyes, I have to tell you, are a shade cloudy at the moment. He's staring at me, steadying himself on my desk.
Outside the classroom window, dead tulip fields ripple under dour North Sea winds.
It is the second morning of the IFC Congress outside Amsterdam, presented by The Resource Alliance. Richard's pupils struggle to peer with decision through a hairnet of red veins.
"I'm hungover," he finally shrugs. What can you do? Part of the schmoozing business.
The night before at the IFC banquet, I sat next to Richard, at a delightful table. Two seats away, direct mail legend, Mal Warwick, explained his new business: the undeflatable blue soccer ball. Seated next to him: Kay Sprinkel Grace, the major gifts guru for American public broadcasting. Next to her: Ken Burnett, "father" of Relationship Fundraising, the transformational approach now commonly known as "donor-centricity." Next to Ken: Marie, his business partner (and wife); they have pretty much moved back full-time to London. Next to Marie: Guy Mallabone, a record-setting collegiate fundraiser in Canada who'd just hitched his wagon to a star, signing up with a global firm. Next to Guy: Simone Joyaux, my co-author-in-crime.
And next to her sat Richard Radcliffe. He told us how his family had managed to lose 2.5 of their 3 castles while he was still a teenager; they only had the half-castle left. The talk then turned to table etiquette. Richard learned his from the butler.
That was last night. Now, it's 9 a.m. "You continued to party, I take it?" After the rest of us tired codgers had zombied off to bed.
"Oh, yes!" Richard replies with vigor. He seems proud.
Richard Radcliffe stands alone in his knowledge of donor behavior. He has personally interviewed more than 16,500 donors and volunteers about their motivations for giving, their opinions and preferences.
Richard kindly gave me full permission to pass along his research and tips to you. That will take at least two issues of this e-newsletter.
This was his first point: There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all legacy strategy. "Will writing is different in every country. Legacy giving is different in every country. Every culture, age, both genders, and degrees of wealth: all have their own needs." Take away: You have to test approaches to find what works best for your target audience.
That said, here's what works in the UK.
How should you communicate with donors regarding bequests? Most donors (68%) prefer you raise the notion of a charitable bequests via direct mail. Everyone (100%) expects donor newsletters to promote charitable bequests. Donors do not want to be phoned on this topic. Nor do they want a personal visit on this topic, unless they are unusually wealthy.
Who are most likely to make a charitable bequest? Top of the probability ladder: "committed" female donors, those who have given for 10 or more years to your charity.
Next: committed volunteers, either gender.
Third most likely: male donors who have given for 10 or more years. Somewhat likely to give are people who have had direct experience of your charity (say, an elderly widow who's received service from the Visiting Nurses Association). Least likely to give, but still potential candidates: major donors, lapsed donors, and occasional donors. Don't get sidetracked. Focus on the most likely first and then work your way down, as time permits.
Vist Tom Ahern at www.aherncomm.com.