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Findings from the UK...
Paging Dr. Radcliffe. Failing bequest program needs a resuscitation.
I've had the disturbing pleasure of watching Richard Radcliffe, the dean of legacy researchers, speak at two fundraising conferences.

I say disturbing because Richard is easily the most entertaining, engaging -- and challenging -- expert I've encountered in the fundraising world. (There was the time, for instance, when he announced at the start of a presentation that he'd be using the word penis 30 times....)

And he's an expert nonpareil on bequest marketing. Richard has conducted hundreds of focus groups, speaking with thousands of older donors in the UK, his home. Some of his findings:
  • Right now in the UK about 10% of those who have a will leave a charitable bequest. (Jumping to conclusions: there's a lot of room for improvement.)
  • 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, by the way. In the UK, they are typically worth about 200,000 Euros (in 2005) at death. They are, however, committed donors (that's how you spot them): they've given for years to causes.
  • Interesting fact to share at cocktail parties: People with 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. Amd (here comes the punch line) 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. (My generation. Don't cry for me, Argentina…)
  • The best way of looking at bequests: that they are "life driven, death activated." (Richard's phrase.) In other words, people give because they have beliefs and a history of giving, and a legacy gift costs them NOTHING.
  • Hence, make your bequest marketing 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.

Here are some TOP TIPS I've learned from the amazing Mr. Radcliffe…

1. Ask supporters WHY they support the charity. You'll be surprised by what you hear. Most donors are "staggeringly ignorant" of what the charities they give to actually do, even though they leave gifts. (This is not a bad thing, incidentally. The imperative to "educate donors," on the theory that they'll then give more money, isn't as urgent a need as you might assume. Donors give without knowing all that much, for their own reasons.)

2. "How would I like to be asked for a legacy?" His findings:
-- 68% of donors would like a letter --- because they can throw it away, if they choose (as opposed to a phone call, when they have to be polite).
-- 0% want a legacy brochure (or at least they don't want they term "a death brochure").
-- 90% prefer an event.
-- Most want a newsletter.
-- NOBODY (100%) wants one-to-one bequest marketing 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.

Richard Radcliffe is chair of Smee and Ford.
Copyright © 2005-2015 & ∞, by Tom Ahern and Ahern Donor Communications, Ink. All rights reserved. Cool portrait photo: Jonathan Feist
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