Sometimes it seems as if bequests actually do come from storks. They drop out of the blue, and you have no idea why. The gift isn’t from someone you recognize as a major donor. Often you don’t recognize the giver at all.
Because they seem mysterious, it can be hard to know where to look for bequests. So what do you do? You can choose to do nothing and wait for the stork to arrive. Or you can learn a bit more about where they really come from [HINT: It’s not storks] and see what you might do to hasten the process along.
The truth is, folks don’t need to be Rockefellers to make a bequest.
Here’s something I learned from a development director at my local YMCA 26 years ago, and I never forgot it. He told me:
For every 50 bequests we receive we end up with $1 million.
So that meant an average gift of $20,000. Some folks would give a lot more; some a lot less. But it all added up. I took this information, sat down with my board and committee members and closest donors (in small lunch groups so I could handle this in 10 meetings rather than 100), and asked them if they’d made any provision in their estate plans for our organization. In most cases, the answer was no.
“Why?” I asked.
“We never really thought of ourselves that way… We thought only rich people made bequests… We didn’t know you accepted them…” were the most common answers.
I told them how much we relied on their annual support, and how when they stopped giving it would leave a big gap in our ability to continue to serve folks who relied on us. I let them know how a $20,000 bequest would endow their $1,000 annual gift in perpetuity (in today’s economy, it would be more like $25K), assuring their values lived on. Even a $5,000 bequest would make a real difference (remember, they all add up!), and likely their heirs wouldn’t even notice.
“Hmmn…” they thought. “Yeah, I could probably consider that.”
After some modest follow up on my part, would you believe that 50% of the folks I talked with ended up making some kind of provision for us in their estate plan? Adjusting for inflation, in today’s dollars that would be $1,977,311!
If about now you’re thinking, yes, Claire, but we don’t have rich donors like you probably had, then think again. Did you know that the largest percentage of bequests come from those with a net worth of $2 million and less?
So, you don’t need rich donors. But you do need a few other things to put yourself in the running to receive bequests.
You can legitimately ask for and expect to receive bequests if:
- You’ve been around for awhile and your mission is oriented towards a long-term vision. Folks need to be reassured that you’ll be around for a long time after they die.
- You have a loyal base of constituents. Bequests may seem to come out of the blue, but usually they come from someone who has had a long-term association with your cause or who has a friend or family member who has been so associated.
- You have a strong reputation for effectiveness. Folks may not have been on your donor list, but they may have been on your mailing lists or simply read about you in the news. Your name is top of mind for excellence, achievement, ethical management and transparency.
If you’ve got these pre-conditions in place, here is where I’d suggest you begin. Start with the folks who have skin in the game. Usually this will be board, active volunteers and major donors. But also look for folks with 5 – 7 of the following characteristics.
- 5 or more years of regular, consecutive giving.
- Sustained long-term giving that may not be consecutive.
- Frequent giving (monthly credit card donors, or those who give more than once a year).
- Family has been involved in some way in the organization (the longer the better).
- Recognized by your organizations (e.g., event honoree, giving society member, volunteer service award).
- No heirs
- Few family obligations (heirs are appropriately taken care of, no mortgage, no indebtedness)
- Securely retired (feeling comfortable and confident about future financial situation)
- Age 65+
- Been kept informed (have been on your mailing or in contact over a period of time)
- Has been called on regarding legacy giving.
- Has requested information about legacy giving.
- Has demonstrated an interest in an organization similar to yours (similar mission, vision, values).
- Just experienced a major life event. (e.g., ill health, birth of a child, or a death in the family – things that may cause folks to visit their attorney).
Talk to these people! Tell them you value bequests. Do this consistently so that it sinks in and you become like those rooftops in Holland with wagon wheels atop that act as stork magnets.
Few people will jump to their own conclusion that they should do this, even if they love you. People don’t like to contemplate their mortality. So bequests are not top of mind for most folks. Use your newsletter, website, thank you letters, emails, blog and even your stationery to suggest you welcome their legacy gifts. And emphasize less how the donors’ dollars will affect your organization and more how your organization’s work will benefit society.
Bequests donors are folks who really care about your cause. To infinity, and beyond. Let folks know the difference their bequest will make.
If you’d like a little help…
Want to set up a simple legacy giving program for your nonprofit? I’m pretty good at getting you started with very little muss and fuss. Just contact me and let me know what’s going on with you, and we’ll see what we can do!
Images courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net