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Monday, August 21, 2017

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What I learned in class about marketing planned gifts
Tom Ahern

January, 2006

Very lucky me.

Because I speak at fundraising conferences across North America and in Europe, I get the HUGELY rewarding chance to hear many of the world's top experts talk about their findings and insights.

Lately I've been gathering information on how to market planned gifts. Even more precisely, how to market bequests; since bequests make up the vast majority of planned gifts.

Below are some of the things I've heard including data, step-by-step how-to's, and tips ("Write as if you're writing to your mom" is a good one).

And here's a curious fact: give to charity in your will, and you'll live longer. Philanthropy, it turns out, is a healthy lifestyle.

  • People without wills live to an average age of 69.
  • People WITH wills live to an average age of 79.
  • And people whose wills INCLUDE a charitable gift live to an average age of 82.

Strange but true, at least in the UK.

Read on…


Mal Warwick, founder of one of the nation's leading fundraising firms, March 2004

  • “Some say bequests constitute at least 80% of so-called planned gifts; others say 90% or more…”
  • Since 1982, the amount given through bequests has grown 6.2% every year in the U.S. More and more Americans are choosing to make legacy gifts.
  • There’s lots more room to grow. In the U.K., legacy gifts account for 29% of total annual giving…vs. just 7.5% in the U.S.

Robert Sharpe

“It is in the fourth quarter now. Birth rates dropped 25% in the U.S. between 1925 and 1935. This segment of the population is now age 68 to 78. In other words, the population who will be leaving bequests is about to start a downward trend that will not reverse until 2017.”

Translation: Don't wait to start marketing bequests. There are a lot of age-qualified people about to die.


David Love, ED, The Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto

Common sin: Successful campaigns make problems real. They don't patronize seniors by shielding them from the ugly truth.

Like all donors, yet probably even more so since they're counting the days, seniors want to feel like they've made a difference. How many ways can you say, "Your gift changed the world."

Older people treasure privacy, so have an easily read, easily found published policy.

Avoid incorrect perceptions of seniors in your materials. Show them as they really are (50 is the new 40, etc.). Avoid ageist language such as "the aged," "the elderly," feeble." Know that magazines are pushing concepts like "Welcome to the Power Years."

Seniors are the fastest growing demographic online. They are connection starved and information hungry. Can you create a community for them? Are you providing lots of valuable information that might prompt a visit?


Findings from Le Donateur Mystère

The test: She sent a letter to 40 French nonprofits, all of whom had previously received bequests. She said she was 79, her husband had just died, she had no heirs, and she wanted to leave money to charity in her will. [She actually writes for the Trait d’Union pour la Générosité, the major French fundraising magazine]

Her assessment of the materials sent:

  • “Type is too small!”
  • “All these pretty brochures are hard to understand! I’m not a lawyer!”
  • “I like it when you tell stories and have simple explanations.”
  • “Please answer my questions!”

Far worse:

Only 5 out of 40 sent a complete package: a brochure about legacies, a brochure about the organization, information about financials, a sample of its newsletter, and a personalized letter that responded to her questions. 14 out of 40 never responded. Most took more than a month. Only one expressed condolences for the death of her husband.


Richard Radcliffe, the dean of legacy researchers; he had conducted thousands (!) of focus groups with older donors, mostly in the UK, his home

Looking for a target? Right now in the UK about 10% of those who have a will leave a charitable bequest.

People tend to leave bequests to three kinds of charities:
1. "life saving," for research into things that kill us (these are often in thanks for health care); 40% of legacy gifts are for that;
2. children's (in the UK, animals);
3. "traditions" (either their church or an old, well-established charity)

Women are more generous. Why? Because they live longer. Women leave 78% of all legacy gifts. Most of these are NOT wealthy women. In the UK, they are typically worth about 200,000 Euros (US$164,000) at death. They are, however, committed donors (that's how you spot them). But they aren't wealthy.

Interesting fact to share at cocktail parties: People will no will die at the average age of 69 in the UK. People with a will die at the average age of 79 in the UK. People who leave a legacy gift in their will die at the average age of 82. Give to charity: you'll live longer.

In the UK, about 1% of the population dies every year. But that percentage is about to rise quickly, as the baby boomers start dying. (Don't cry for me, Argentina…)

The best way of looking at bequests: "life driven, death activated." In other words, people give because they have beliefs and a history of giving, and a legacy gift costs them NOTHING.

Make your messages JOYFUL. Legacy giving is not a death experience. It is an affirmative experience. Remember: "life driven, death activated."

Trust is a huge issue for older donors. Every legacy message MUST have a photo, a name, and a caption explaining who this person is.

Richard's TOP TIPS…

1. Ask supporters WHY they support the charity. It might not be why you think. Most donors are "staggeringly ignorant" of what the charities they give to actually do, even though they leave gifts.

2. Ask yourself, "How would I like to be asked for a legacy?" 68% of donors would like a letter --- because they can choose to throw it away. 0% want a legacy brochure (or at least they don't want "a death brochure"). 90% prefer an event. Most want a newsletter. NOBODY (100%) wants one-to-one except for those who are very lonely and have no mobility.

3. Write a "legacy vision." What is a legacy vision? Two examples: (a) "Thank you. The difference you have made is remarkable. Forty years ago things were much worse. Did you know that survival rates of children has risen from 2% to 35%?" (b) "One in three gets cancer now. But in 2020, 50% of your children will have a cancer experience. We want to cure cancer in two generations of your family."

4. The structure for a legacy vision is, in order: Proof of past impact so far. Proof of future need and outcomes. Proof you are cost-efficient. Say that they should "protect the future of your own family first." And only then, "Protect the future of those who will need our charity."

5. Every focus group says: Don't ask me for legacy. Make me aware but don't ask.

6. When writing messages, pretend you are writing to your mom.

7. Tell them how you've used past legacies. Report back.

8. Use direct mail for an initial ask for legacies. "There are lots of ways of supporting us. A bequest is one." Make it a one-page letter (not longer). And remember: this is NOT an appeal; you're just making them aware. Have it signed by a credible expert on how good your charity is (NOT someone who has already pledged a bequest). Add a paragraph in every appeal letter, if that's all you can do.

9. Make it easy to get in touch via the website. Don't have a click button labeled "legacies." DO have a button labeled, "Do you want to protect our future?" Change the message every three months.

10. Have a legacy page in your newsletter -- just don't call it that. ALSO: Every newsletter should have a lawyer column with answers to questions.

11. Different messages are suited to different messages. Board members should talk about vision and future plans. CEO should talk about past successes and future ambitions. Fundraisers should talk about case studies of past legacies. Lawyers should talk about making and updating wills. Experts in the charity should talk about past successes and future need. Volunteers should talk about satisfaction and need for more. Next of kin should talk about how glad she or he was to leave the legacy. For this last, use a woman who is nicely dressed but not rich-looking.

12. In fact, the word "legacy" is a problem. People hate it: 90% of the population thinks "legacy" means "death," especially cancer survivors. They PREFER the phrase "a gift in your will," as in "If you can, leave a gift in your will."

13. Every year send an annual review to every legacy pledger, summarizing accomplishments and accounts. This is your real legacy brochure. On page one, explain key accomplishments. On page two, have a story illustrating a key accomplishment. On page three talk about cost efficiency. On page four, mention: You can support us in many ways, and when the time is right, please consider a gift in your will. Include contact information and sample language.

14. Hold an annual general meeting for your organization as a way of meeting prospects. Hold it at 11 AM. Provide a light lunch. Have someone stand up and say the vision statement, then give the annual review.

15. In the UK, charities are testing direct mail and having response rates of up to 9% (which is astronomically high). They're including a codicil that can be added as an appendix to your will, which with two signatures can be sent to your lawyer. Half hate it because it's pressure. Half love it because it's so convenient.


P.T. Barnum

Without publicity, a terrible thing happens: Nothing.

Tom Ahern is recognized as one of North America's leading authorities on how to make nonprofit communications consistently effective. He speaks frequently in the U.S. and Canada on reader psychology, direct mail principles, good (and not very good) graphic design as applied to fundraising and nonprofit branding. He is a writer and president of Ahern Communications, Ink., a consultancy specializing in capital campaign materials and other fundraising communications. He has won three prestigious Gold Quill awards from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). His offices are in Rhode Island and France.

To learn more go. to www.aherncomm.com ..... Tom is also author of the fabulous new book, RAISING MORE MONEY WITH NEWSLETTERS THAN YOU EVER THOUGHT POSSIBLE or get it at amazon.



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