Bequests, legacies, gifts-in-wills —whatever terminology you prefer, this critical fundraising channel has always been the quiet achiever… until now. 

For as long as I care to remember, the main way to generate bequest leads has been through the tried and tested survey or DM activity to gauge a donor’s level of interest and push them through the funnel from interested, to considering, to intending, to confirmed. When I worked on the charity side, this was what worked. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Wrong. 

We know that innovation is not always about the bright and shiny new thing. It’s about taking what we do and making it better — reinventing ourselves and our approaches, testing, tweaking and pivoting (yes, I said it) so we can increase our impact on the world. 

That said, it takes guts to try something a little different — and to be honest, a little complicated — especially when your program is already widely regarded as one of the best in the business.

Royal Flying Doctors Service (QLD Section) currently brings in $6.1 million in bequests per year. They are an inspirational organisation and they are great at what they do. But they knew they needed to do something else beyond new donor acquisition to find more bequestors. 

RFDS were brave enough to undertake a pilot that relied on their existing donor base to identify new prospects. 

That pilot involved a multi-stage, cross-channel journey developed by More Strategic and Cornucopia. The journey incorporates two key elements: 1) an integrated supporter engagement survey (SES) with a new approach to identify propensity in non-traditional audiences and engage them in a personalised nudge journey; and 2) a calling campaign targeted at the best and most engaged prospects.

So the first step in the pilot was More Strategic’s supporter engagement survey, which goes well beyond a ‘bequest lead’ generation approach (and yet still delivers around 15% of respondents as bequest leads). We used sophisticated, highly personalised and engaging surveys to: identify and qualify bequest and mid-value prospects; create segments that inform who we talk to, what we talk to them about and what message frame would influence their behaviour; deliver dynamic and tailored experiences to donors and nudge them to their next ‘move’; and benchmark RFDS against other charities.

So far, so good. But what about the people who didn’t respond? That’s where the second stage came in — the IDEA approach. This approach involves four steps:

Step 1: Insight 

In partnership with Lemontree, we combined the past behaviours and transactional propensity score from RFDS’ database with commercial and charitable data to devise a propensity score for each donor in their universe. We then selected the best 11,000 prospects for bequest giving and appended details to them (on average we can append 50-70% of mobile numbers and 20% of email addresses to improve contactability).

Step 2: Design 

Based on insight-driven personas, we developed a journey using the principles of excellent supporter experience and behavioural economics. The journey introduced ‘Heather’ as the authentic, approachable face of the campaign. Via a gift-in-will testimonial from a genuine RFDS bequestor, we educated donors and normalised bequest giving as something that anyone can and should consider. A short-form survey asked the donor to share their experience of RFDS, giving them an opportunity to have a voice and RFDS the opportunity to get to know their donors better. The process integrated an email journey and conversational SMS, delivered by Conversr.

Step 3: Engage 

By tracking behaviour on SMS, email and surveys, we measured the level of engagement of each donor. Opening, clicking, replying, watching and answering are all indicators of engagement that awarded donors a higher score. Combining this score and the original propensity score enabled us to choose the best 4,000 prospects to send to Cornucopia for calling.

Step 4: Act 

With a wealth of knowledge about the selected donors, their history and their engagement in the campaign, Cornucopia were then able to do what they do best — engage donors in meaningful, data-driven and personalised conversations. The conversations were made easier as the supporter already had an understanding of a gift-in-will. Each conversation culminated with the donor having the opportunity to express interest in being sent more information about leaving a bequest to RFDS.

What did this complex, insight-driven, collaborative, multi-channel and deeply personalised approach mean for RFDS QLD? Well, it meant 437 enquirers, 341 new considerers, 292 new intenders and 90 new confirmed bequestors.

This project was all about stretching the budget to achieve more. A waterfall selection of supporters allowed us to continuously optimise and select the warmest prospects per conversion channel, delivering an overall $139 CPL. It was all about the right ask at the right time.

And to think you’ve had these bequestors all along! 

Ruth Wicks MFIA is a Senior Consultant at More Strategic. Ruth will be presenting with Lindsay Wilkinson, Fundraising Strategy and Projects Advisor, Royal Flying Doctor Service QLD, at Big4 Fundraising. Check out their session.

If you’d like to know more, reach out to More Strategic or Cornucopia.