In the previous issue, I introduced you to the remarkable Richard Radcliffe. Richard has personally interviewed more than 16,500 UK donors, asking them, among other things, why they've chosen to leave legacy gifts. Plus his London employer, Smee & Ford, daily analyzes the contents of 1,000 British wills, looking for data about charitable giving. As a consequence, Richard's opinions regarding bequest marketing are uncommonly deep, wide, and often notably -- pay attention now -- at odds with our industry's accepted wisdom and practices.
"In the UK," he noted this October, "bequests represent the only increasing source of funds, especially in a recession." Let that thought echo for a few moments. Things are bad right now. One group of hospitals I know, envied as a fundraising powerhouse, saw its major-gift income tumble 70% last year, thanks to the still unresolved Global Economic Crisis.
Now is the time. Bequests are the opportunity.
Here is what Richard Radcliffe has to tell you (which he gladly shared, with joyful, arms-thrown-open permission [you want to thank him? an email of appreciation, maybe...? he's a lovely man ~ richard©smeeandford.co.uk
Be Aware #1: Bequest marketing pays off more quickly than you'd expect. The knock on bequests has always been: We need income now ... not 10 years from now! Holding that attitude is like super-gluing a board to your forehead that says in bold black-on-white letters, "I'm stupid."
Bequest marketing programs actually start producing results ~ i.e., charitable bequests that name your organization as beneficiary ~ within 6 months to a couple of years. The reasons are based on irresistible demographics and other facts of life (and death); we won't bore you with the math.
Never forget (you can take the "stupid" sign off) ... the reason you need income now is because you don't at this time have enough charitable bequests. If someone in your organization had worked on this problem 10 years ago? Today, you'd be fine.
~ Bequests are your organization's future. It's as simple as that.
~ Bequests will dependably cover your organization's structural deficits.
~ Bequests will dependably cover your organization's emergencies.
~ Bequests will dependably mean that your organization will no longer have to spend as much annually on a scramble for individual donors. So your per-donor costs will go down.
But wait ... there's more: Philanthropic bequests that are invested as endowed funds become permanent income streams ... forever income streams ... that (count on it, until Wall Street decides to commit mass suicide) will grow and grow and grow.
Be Aware #2: Bequest marketing is easy, cheap, and doable, no matter how busy you are.
Good bequest marketing is dirt simple. At bottom, it requires you to talk once a year to your very best, most loyal, and least demanding donors.
You send a letter. A brief, personable letter of a dozen lines or less. Not to everyone, mind: only to your most "committed" donors and volunteers.
You thank them for their years of support. "You've been fantastic." You let them know that there's another way they can make a difference: "...with a gift in your will." You remind them that a legacy gift costs nothing now. You describe what past legacies have achieved. If you're writing to volunteers, you ask them to spread the good word about bequests; they like doing that (and, in the process, convince themselves).
Successful bequest marketing, in truth, takes about as much energy and cost as buying a cup of coffee. Is there any excuse for not bothering?
Be Aware #3: Bequest marketing taps the middle class. It's not an elite thing at all.
In Europe, the typical bequest donor commands, at death, an estate worth 400,000 euros (about half a million US$), including the house and savings.
Is this unusual? Meet an average American named Bert, writing in December 2010: "I've worked all my life, am a veteran, went through college on the GI Bill, always made far less than President Obama's upper limit for middle class income ($97K per year), and my estate will be between $1 million and $2 million depending on the value of my home. I think of myself as lower middle-class."
The hottest prospects for charitable bequests, says Richard Radcliffe, are middle-class females who have donated for 10 or more years to your cause. Lapsed donors who once gave to you regularly are also surprisingly good candidates. Why? Because they loved you but had to stop giving as they aged and went onto fixed incomes. But making a bequest costs them nothing.
Getting started: the Radcliffe Way.
Here are three things you can do to launch your bequest marketing.
1. Send your draft bequest letter to 50 loyal donors, asking, "Do you think this would work? Is this any good? Please help guide us."
2. Send a bequest-promoting letter on the anniversary of the donor's first gift. "Imagine: it was 10 years ago that you made your first gift. You've done so much good since."
3. Create a bookmark. Send it to your loyal donors. Older people read a lot. On the bookmark include a message: "Every gift in every will makes a difference." On the back print a little story that demonstrates the impact of bequests.
Just do it?
PS: Dear CEO, ED, and chair... Stop short-changing your organization's future. Only hire fundraising chiefs who know how to properly market charitable bequests. The "fingers crossed" and "we'll make it up as we go along" approaches don't work. Richard Radcliffe's approach does work.