Stephen Pidgeon: What’s Holding Back Your Legacy Fundraising?

What is one of the major things holding back your legacy fundraising efforts?

It’s your own naivety.

You might not like that answer, but it’s the conclusion reached by veteran fundraising expert Stephen Pidgeon, the author of How to Love Your Donors (to Death). Pidgeon will be sharing his insights at the AFP International Fundraising Conference (Baltimore, March 29-31, 2015) in his session, “Bequest Asks: Getting it Right.”

So, why does Pidgeon think many fundraising professionals are naïve?

Because THEY don’t like to thinHow  to Love Your Donors (to Death)k about death, [fundraising professionals] assume everyone else is the same. Well, older people (those in their late 50’s and older) do think about death, and they do it perfectly maturely and with no fuss. And the older they get the more unexceptional it becomes. Indeed, supporters are often hugely grateful for the opportunity to make such a major contribution, albeit after they have died. It is a matter of immense pride to them that they have made the decision and sorted their affairs.

“I’d ask what right has some well paid, youthful charity executive (meaning in their mid-50s or younger!) to deny their best supporters the opportunity of such deep satisfaction. That’s patronising age-ism and when you get into your 60’s or older, nothing is more irritating. Casually mentioning the possibility of a bequest in a newsletter that is read by less than 20 percent of its circulation is NOT ‘…giving your best supporters the opportunity…’!”

The key when speaking with people about bequest giving is to do so in the right way. After all, you’re not helping them plan their funeral; you’re helping them build their legacy. (Be sure to read my post “One Word is Costing Your Fundraising Effort a Fortune” about the latest research findings reported by Dr. Russell James.)

Pidgeon also identifies another problem with bequest marketing:

Linking bequest marketing with planned giving is as daft as using direct mail to solicit major gifts. Most bequests will come from ordinary supporters who passionately believe in the work of the organisation. They will be comfortable, not wealthy, and they know they should write a will. They do not relate to the concept of ‘planning their estate.’”

In other words, bequest gifts are the major gifts of the middle class. By contrast, planned giving, as referenced by Pidgeon, involves wealthy donors making sophisticated contributions using complex vehicles such as trusts. Pidgeon believes that marketing needs to be tailored to the target population and that population will vary depending on the gift vehicle.

During his upcoming presentation, Pidgeon will also look at how charities acquire and continue to solicit lower-level donors. He argues that “aggressive” “demands” for money alienate potential legacy supporters. He asserts that people will only leave a legacy gift to a nonprofit organization that has made them feel “deeply that their support has been appreciated.” Sadly, fundraising and stewardship tactics often lead to negative feelings rather than positive.

Pidgeon promises to share figures during his talk that “will force fundraisers to re-evaluate the aggressive way they demand money from ordinary supporters.” He’ll also share bequest-marketing insights from around the world.

So, what do you think? Is Pidgeon right? Let me know by commenting below.

In addition to the session I’ve just described, Pidgeon will also serve on the panel for “I Wish I’d Thought of That – AFP & SOFII” during the Conference.

If you’re unable to attend the Conference, an audio recording of Pidgeon’s sessions, as well as other sessions, will be available for purchase shortly after the Conference.

By the way, I’m planning to attend the gathering of about 4,000 fundraising professionals from around the world. Let me know if you’ll be going. I hope to see you there.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

10 Responses to “Stephen Pidgeon: What’s Holding Back Your Legacy Fundraising?”

  1. Pidgeon is right! And I’m glad to see that momentum is building for these ideas.

    Thank you for sharing this, Michael.

    • Greg, thank you for your comment. Most nonprofit organizations either do not engage in planned giving or do so only with passive marketing. Perhaps that’s why only 22 percent of Americans over the age of 30 report that they have been asked to consider a planned gift (Stelter). However, Stephen Pidgeon is right to suggest that legacy giving should be marketed actively and that it is perfectly fine to initiate conversations with supporters about bequest giving. Very importantly, donors actually agree with Pidgeon. Among donors to nonprofit organizations, 88.7 percent “indicated they believe it is appropriate for nonprofits to ask for legacy gifts (Sargeant and Jay).” It’s about time that fundraising professionals get into alignment with donors.

  2. Great approach, thanks for sharing, Michael.

    One additional quick thought … there’s no need to separate “planned giving” from “bequest marketing” (if I understand correctly). It’s all about legacy giving and connecting with your SUPPORTERS (not just donors) of ALL ages. It’s nice to see this additional voice; however, he’s still stuck a bit in the old world of planned giving per above, and also by his comments on age. It’s more about loyal supporters (as he mentions above) and much less about age.

    • Greg, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I agree with you that connecting with supporters of all ages is important when seeking legacy gifts. While Stephen Pidgeon focused his comments on older donors to make a point about death and fear, I’m not sure he would disagree with you regarding the broader opportunities for legacy gifts.

      When Pidgeon suggests the need to separate “bequest giving” from “planned giving,” he’s not suggesting building a firewall between the two. Rather, he’s suggesting a market segmentation strategy. For example, we would not market Charitable Gift Annuities to 30 year olds. We would not market CRUTs to lower or middle income/wealth individuals. Pidgeon makes the point that bequest giving can be marketed more broadly than other planned giving vehicles. He’s not suggesting that bequest or legacy giving conversations should not take place with wealthy supporters. You’re right. It is all about legacy. Holistic conversations with donors will always yield the best results. Discovering what a donor wishes to accomplish will lead to finding the most appropriate gift vehicle to achieve the donor’s vision.

  3. Good Morning — this is excellent and a much needed “shout” out to the NP community. We talk about being donor-centered, but then don’t often live donor-centered. If NPOs really understand that it’s about the donor, they would make so much more progress, in every way. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sue, thank you for your comment and for sharing your thoughts about the importance of being donor centered. Today at lunch, a colleague and I were discussing the point you made. My colleague and I have both observed that the nonprofit sector pays a lot of lip-service to the idea of being donor centered without really living it. Frankly, it’s frustrating. Knowing where you stand on this, I think you’re sure to enjoy tomorrow’s post; stay tuned.

  4. At first, I thought Pidgeon was off-base when he said bequest gifts are the “gifts of the middle class.” But, as I thought about it more, I have to agree that most of our bequest gifts are not large. Dollar amounts do not exceed $10,000 and percentages are typically one percent of the remainder value of a trust or estate. Most of our donors, who are “middle class” according to assets and income, are faithful givers to the annual fund, but have little in the way of assets to make a sizable bequest. On the other hand, our “upper class” donors are big Major Gift givers ($500,000 and $1,000,000).

    • Jay, thank you for sharing your insight. The typical middle-class donor who passionately cares about a nonprofit organization lacks the resources (though not necessarily the desire) to make a major current gift. It’s planned giving that allows middle-class donors to support their favorite charities in a major way. Of course, wealthy donors have the capacity to be current major donors AND planned gift donors. However, research shows that wealthy donors are less likely to support an existing charity; these donors often set up private foundations, for example. You can learn more about this research by Dr. Russell James and his analysis of the ratio of annual giving to bequest giving values by reading my post “How Much is a Bequest Commitment Worth?

      By the way, the line about bequest gifts being the major gifts of the middle class is my line, not Stephen Pidgeon’s. While I suspect he’d agree with me, I don’t want to put words in his mouth. Thank you for giving me a chance to clarify this.


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