Overcoming the Awkwardness in Bequest Fundraising

Posted on May 13, 2016

Bequest Fundraising has developed considerably in Australia in recent years. This is in no small part thanks to the campaign efforts of ‘Include a Charity’, a collaborative effort between some of Australia’s most progressive charities. Happily, our most recent data confirms that these efforts are working.

Bequests currently represent between 0% and 75% of income for all non-profit fundraising in Australia. Programs range from complete multi-faceted bequest programs to no program at all. This isn’t just the preserve of super big charities. With the average bequest in Australia today being over $60,000, you should understand the potential that this form of income holds for your organisation.

Who are my best bequest givers?

The success of your bequest program comes down to two main things: asking the right way, and asking the people who are most likely to give. If you are a small or medium-sized organisation like a school or a for-purpose organisation doing amazing things in your community, you already have a list of potential bequest supporters. You just might not know it yet!

I’m going to go against conventional opinion and say that your best bequest opportunities come from your current supporters. The fact that this is not the general consensus reveals an unfortunate bias that we must overcome, rather than a discernible pattern in donor behaviour. We simply don’t like asking for bequests! What’s more, we aren’t asking enough.

I find it remarkable that, as fundraisers (and fundraising consultants!), we generally have no problem applying this principle to every other area of fundraising. Programs across the sector, from Individual Giving and Middle Donor Development, are founded upon the idea of upgrading. That is, the idea that with great relationship management, a compelling case for support, and good planning, donors will give more if they can.

We ask for so many things in fundraising: volunteers, event attendance…even baked goods, for peats sake! But when it comes to bequests, we shy away from asking people to leave a gift in their will.

Why is this so?

Any conversation about death, particularly in the western world, tends to make people uncomfortable. Writing a will just isn’t a topic on the radar for most people under the age of 40.

But this is not a good enough a reason to refrain from asking people for a bequest. I actually believe that, given the opportunity, you will find people are more open to this conversation than you think. I was! And I have certainly found this to be the case with others.

So how do we overcome this aversion?

Let me give you some helpful pointers:

  1. Don’t be scared. If you have highly engaged supporters with multiple touch points across your organisation, it is likely that they are going to be good prospects for your bequest program. 
  2. Debunk the myth that your best bequest prospects are old. They’re actually much younger than you think! If you have highly engaged supporters already, now is the time to prime them for a bequest. Do you have rusted-on supporters in their thirties that might not have a will yet? Odds are that they know they probably should. Why not offer to help them do it?
  3. Know your supporters. If you genuinely know your supporters and have invested time in building a trust relationship with them, then you should have no doubt in your mind about approaching the conversation about bequests.
  4. Ask appropriately. Let me give you a single, BIG hint: avoid situations where someone is on their deathbed. If you know your supporters, asking for a bequest should be an obvious and natural progression in the evolution of their supporter journey. If it isn’t obvious, then you have more work to do.

I have a will. In it, I have made provisions for bequests for two charities. I did this because they asked me to and because I am financially and emotionally invested in the work they do. I trust that the charities I currently support will continue to support the causes I care about long after I am gone. I am 31 years old.

If you’re still unsure about how to get your bequest program up and running, seek help.

Social Impact Institute services are available throughout Australia, including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and regional areas. Call us on 1800 822 763 to have a chat and book your consultation. 

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