If you’re looking at how to trigger your bequest fundraising, Amel Bendeddouche says you can’t look past the right target and a clear ask.


If you’re looking at how to trigger your bequest fundraising, Amel Bendeddouche says you can’t look past the right target and a clear ask.
Where does your bequest story start?

Every fundraiser will tell you the same story: “Gladys Smith left us a fortune. We couldn’t figure it out. She wasn’t on the database.” Any decent bequest officer will give you the real story: “Actually, Gladys was a donor. Every year she bought Christmas cards from us.”

No one gets bequests out of nowhere. Someone has triggered the gift. Many nonprofits in Australia try to recreate that trigger with a tick box wedged into their direct mail reply forms or a question embedded in a donor survey. But how much is that worth? How much time and effort will it take to establish if that response is worth anything, and, if so, how much? When would you receive the monies?

The big ‘ifs’

Imagine a 42-year-old mother of two signing up at a shopping centre for $20 a month. She then ticks a box in her welcome kit stating her intention to leave you a gift in her will. At her age, she isn’t going to die for another 40 years. And 40 being the new 30, she’s hardly likely to run off to her solicitor to have her will written.

She might add you in a codicil years down the line – if she’s still considering you as her nonprofit of choice, if she’s got anything left to leave, and if her children don’t take the lot. That’s three big ‘ifs’ in a row.

So, if tick boxes and survey responses are only worth the effort the donor put into them, then what kind of communication works better?

Be upfront – not bashful

I find the charities that do best with bequest fundraising send communications that are clearly only asking for a gift in a will. The discussion is not at all bashful. On the contrary: the nonprofit offers up lots of information, and donors provide lots of details in return. If you are serious about acquiring bequest donors, the key is to ask. Ask to be put in the will. Ask about what you’re going to get. And don’t pretend to be doing something else.

Aim before you fire

A bequest appeal we recently produced for one of our clients resulted in 2% of the mail file telling us: “I’ve done the deed and here’s what I’ve left you.” All very nice, but why were we statistically confident that these responses were worth x amount of dollars and would ‘convert’ in x amount of time? Targeting. Targeting sets aside recency, frequency and donation value, instead focusing on the following big guns:

Age – An 85-year-old who is not recorded on your database is a more valuable prospect than a 42-year-old monthly donor. Targeting a bequest letter to a very high age demographic can generate responses that will produce income within a short space of time. Subsequent bequests can then be tracked over a five-year timeframe.

Gender – Women generally outlive men and make the greatest proportion of donors.

Marital Status – ‘Ms’ or ‘Miss’ fare even better than ‘Mrs’.

Children – The fewer children a donor has and the older they are, the more money will be left over for your organisation.

Factors such as income, home ownership, and postal code are also predictive of higher or lower bequest values. Combined with other variables, they can be used as a ‘proxy’ for age when that key data element is not available.

The changing nature of bequests

Those key insights are changing the landscape of bequest marketing in Australia. My 80-year-old neighbour recently received a letter asking her for a bequest. She had never previously communicated with that nonprofit. Brilliant.

I’ll assume that letter was sent to 50,000 prospects, with a response rate in the region of 0.2%. Over five years, let’s say that 10% of the respondents die and ‘convert’ into actual income, with an average bequest value of $50,000. If the cost per mail piece is $2, you net $400,000 in the first five years. That’s the topline.

See the whole picture

If you want to get a more detailed picture, factor in the kind of bequest that’s been left to you and how long it will take for full distribution to occur. That’s why it’s important to ask what type of bequest has been left to your nonprofit. Information about distribution and timing can be garnered from your finance director.

Bear in mind that wills are a goldmine of information. They tell you about the types of gifts that are left to nonprofits, and also which other organisations you’re sharing the cake with. They also tell you a lot about the people who leave you a gift.

Bequests are also subject to interest rates and other geo-economic factors. Consider asking your donors to make their gifts index linked.

Bequest fundraising, when communicated the right way and targeted the right way, can be a measured and predictable fundraising channel. You can control what is happening.