Three Phrases That Encourage Estate Giving

Since August is “Make-A-Will” month, I’ve been writing about estate and legacy (planned) giving and wills, and plan to continue doing so for the next few weeks.

Please let me know if the content helps you decide your course of action.

Would You Make A “Gift” In Your Will?

Did you know that it’s much more effective to ask your donors to make “Gifts in your will” rather than “Bequest Gifts?” Here’s why:

Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP, a philanthropy researcher based at Texas Tech University, reports that, according to the latest donor surveys, asking people to consider “Gifts in your will” generates far more interest. When asking prospects to consider a “Bequest Gift,” 18 percent responded, “I might be/am definitely interested.” By contrast, when prospects were asked to consider “Gifts in your will,” 28 percent expressed interest!

Yes, you’ll want to use words that raise your donors’ interest, but you also have to use words that actually describe what the donors are buying into, words that are easily understood without requiring esoteric knowledge.

Charitable Gift Annuities

Out of 2,550 donors to an environmental nonprofit surveyed by Texas Tech, Dr. James next focused on just those who said they were interested in learning more about legacy giving. Among this group, the legal term, Charitable Gift Annuities (CGA), was least effective, but the phrase “Gifts that pay you income” resonated the best.

Another phrase, “Gifts that pay you income for life,” also did well.

Most donors didn’t know what the term CGA referred to. Appeals that avoid the traditional fundraising industry’s planned-giving terms in favor of words and phrases that are relatable demonstrably work better in engaging donors.

Other ways to give smarter,” also proved to be a more effective phrase with those interested in learning more about estate- and planned-giving options.

Dr. James’s entire research findings can be seen at this link.

Simplicity Avoids Mistaken Beliefs

In Michael Rosen’s book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, you’ll find insights from a focus-group study for George Washington University that found that many donors mistakenly believe bequests involve very large financial commitments from people who are very wealthy.

Michael says this:
“Three problems arise. First, prospects believe that bequest giving is simply not for them, but rather the wealthy — many who are truly wealthy do not perceive themselves as such and, instead, think of themselves as merely ‘comfortable.’ Second, while some prospects might be willing to give through a bequest, they might not actually do so because they feel their gift would be too insignificant to matter. Third, some prospects expressed embarrassment over the notion of giving a modest bequest gift while the perceived norm is much larger.”

Will Planning

Based on these and other research studies, it’s clear that fundraising professionals should use simple, understandable language that speaks to all potential legacy donors, not just the wealthiest. Therefore, it’s much more effective to ask for “Gifts in your will” rather than “Bequest Gifts.”

The word, “bequest” definitely kills donor interest. Instead, “Will Planning” proved to be the most effective overall moniker, even over “Estate Planning.” Donors know what a will is, but an “estate plan” seems to be a bridge too far. Yet don’t despair.

Those who resonated best with “Will Planning” were also open to learning about life insurance, IRA distributions, and Real Estate Trusts, and would consider naming a charity as a beneficiary of their bank or investment accounts. So when interested donors see the phrase “Will Planning,” they expect you to provide a broad range of estate-planning information. Just don’t call it that!

In my book, The NonProfit Fundraising Solution, I describe how to create a planned-giving program, establish a Legacy Society, and determine the return on investment of your planned-giving program. Order it today to learn more, or, if the budget is tight, email me for a complimentary digital copy.

Please forward this blog post to a colleague who may find it timely.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Posts

Paying for Fundraising

Paying for Fundraising—Fast, Cheap, and Good?

Many nonprofit executives still struggle with how to pay for fundraising. That’s a shame because fundraising done well pays for itself. Yet the dilemma is real and persistent. Below I suggest a few ways to break out of this impasse.

Read More »

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There

A $5 million award letter arrived from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an historic moment in the 15-year-old nonprofit’s existence. They had arrived. Their mission is to build bathrooms in rural schools in the poorest areas to meet children’s basic hygiene needs. It’s a transformative service.

Read More »

5 Common (Easily Preventable!) Mistakes Nonprofits Make with Data

Years ago I was introduced to an adage that has been largely attributed as being an old Chinese Proverb, indifferent to its origin the meaning is still sound. It says, “The best time to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the next best time is today.”

During Q&A sessions in speeches or panels I often get asked by #nonprofits when should we start collecting #data? I share that adage with them. We just went through Giving Tuesday and aside from end-of-year fundraising, this is where we see a lot of nonprofits make mistakes with their data.

This article highlights five of the biggest issues we see nonprofits encounter with their data.

Read More »