How to Take the Guesswork Out of Fundraising

Many nonprofit professionals think that fundraising is an art. They rely upon conventional wisdom, best practices, what feels right, what they themselves like, what their boss likes. They often guess about how they can be more effective.

Yes, fundraising is an art. However, thinking of it only as an art will limit your success. Guessing about what might work, and relying on trial and error to find what will work, can be costly.

While fundraising is an art, it is also very much a science. Because fundraising is also a science, there’s plenty of solid research that can guide our efforts. In other words, you don’t need to rely on your gut to figure out the best fundraising approach.

As the winner of the Association of Fundraising Professionals-Skystone Partners Prize for Research in Philanthropy and Fundraising for my bestselling book Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I’m admittedly biased regarding the value of scientific inquiry for the nonprofit sector. Nevertheless, I recognize that it’s not always easy to find valid research reports on a given subject. Furthermore, busy fundraising professionals seldom have enough time to read all of the terrific studies that are now available.

Well, I have some great news for you! The folks at the University of Plymouth Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy have prepared a literature review, commissioned by Legacy Voice. Authored by Dr. Claire Routley, Prof. Adrian Sargeant, and Harriet Day, the report will help you take the guesswork out of planned giving. Everything Research Can Tell Us about Legacy Giving in 2018 “is [an] in-depth report, compiled from more than 150 papers across fundraising, marketing, sociology, psychology and behavioural economics, available to anyone working in the not-for-profit sector free of charge,” writes Ashley Rowthorn, Managing Director of Legacy Voice.

In the Foreword of the report, Prof. Russell James III, JD, PhD, CFP® says:

It is wonderfully encouraging to read this review of research on legacy giving, and to know that it will be available for so many who can benefit from the work. Such a work is timely, significant, and much needed. Fundamentally, two things we know about legacy giving are that it is important, and it is different…. [The] possibility of dramatic expansion [in planned giving] starts with learning how legacy giving and legacy fundraising works. That starts with this excellent summary of what we know.”

Here are just seven tidbits from the report:

Do you know what three major life events lead people to write a Will? The answer is: 1) changes to family, 2) changes to wealth, 3) changes to health. These three things can occur at any point in someone’s life. So, your legacy-giving messaging needs to be ubiquitous. That way, people will be more likely to consider including your charity in their Will at the critical time in their life when they choose to draft their Will.

What are the top three reasons people make a planned gift? People make legacy gifts for many different reasons or multiple reasons. The top three reasons are: 1) desire to support the charity, 2) the ultimate use of the gift by the charity, 3) desire to reduce taxes (though this is a distant third). In other words, prospects and donors do not need to be motivated by you. They have their own particular motivation. Your job is to understand what motivates these people both generally and specifically. Then, you’ll be better able to connect with them in a way they will find meaningful.

Are men or women more likely to make a legacy gift through their Will? Women and men are just as likely to intend to make a legacy gift. However, women are more likely to actually make a completed legacy gift through their Will. One major reason for this is that women have a longer life expectancy than men do. So, even if your prospect is a man, you should consider including his partner or spouse in the philanthropic conversation.

Does religious affiliation affect legacy giving? Research shows that those who have a religious affiliation, especially those who regularly attend religious services, are more likely to have a charitable estate plan. When doing prospect research, make an unobtrusive effort to gather information about the religiosity of your legacy-giving prospects. Also, be aware that religious affiliation is on the decline, which will make planned-gift fundraising more challenging. You’ll need to make an extra effort to connect with less-religious prospects.

Does personal wealth have any bearing on legacy giving? Wealthy people have the ability to give more to charity than less wealthy individuals do. That’s no surprise. What is interesting is that research shows that the wealthier donors are, the greater the percentage of their estate they give to charity. For example, those with estates of $1-2.5 million give five percent of their estates to charity. By contrast, those with estates valued from $5-10 million give 12 percent of their estates to charity. While a prospect’s wealth does not indicate whether she will give to your charity, it may affect the amount she leaves for your charity.

What causes attract the most legacy giving support? You can probably guess the most popular cause: Worship. Research from the UK might surprise you regarding the next three most popular causes: Hospices/Hospitals, Animal, and Cancer Research. If your charity falls into one of those categories, planned giving should definitely be a major part of your fundraising agenda. However, even if your charity does not fall into one of those categories, planned giving is still an important source of philanthropic support. You might not be able to attract quite as many planned gifts, but the gifts you do secure will likely be significant.

Is it acceptable to actually ask someone for a legacy gift? According to research, 76.5 percent of charity supporters say it is fine for the charities they support to ask for a planned gift. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will make a legacy-gift commitment or tell you if they do, but it does mean that you can safely ask for the gift. I would argue, it also means you should ask for legacy gifts.

The report provides a massive amount of insights that will help you enhance your planned-giving efforts with less guesswork. You’ll learn about the barriers to making a Will, the determinants of a General Bequest, motives for Bequest giving, the profile of Bequest pledgers, effective legacy communications, how older people make legacy decisions, and more.

To take some of the guesswork out of your planned-gift fundraising, download the full report for free by clicking here.

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

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