Sourcing bequests for your organisation? Helen Merrick reveals new Include a Charity research that will assist in helping you with getting gifts in wills right.


Bequests - getting gifts in wills rightNew Australian research into gifts in wills provides detailed insights into a core audience who plan to leave a gift. Quiet and reserved they may be, but this group is incredibly valuable, with most planning to leave bequests to multiple charities – many of which are presently unaware that they will.

The report, Getting Around to It: How to Promote More Gifts in Wills, which was commissioned by Include a Charity and undertaken by More Strategic, was informed by a series of interviews with 18 bequestors aged 50 plus from five charities. Not surprisingly, at the core is a generation from the post-depression era who inherited their parents’ values and are infused by a cultural responsibility to work hard, live frugally and give back.

“They see their wealth in terms of being ‘lucky’ and their attitudes to charity are often driven by a Judeo-Christian sense of responsibility to give back, even if they’re not religious. They’re the traditional ‘battlers’ who don’t whinge about their own situation, even if it’s dire,” says More Strategic Director Gavin Coopey.

Having grown up in a different era, they often think the world today is not as community spirited or generous, and they feel it is important to leave a bequest, as others may not. Some were not shy in saying that other beneficiaries like family may not respect their inheritance as much as they should. Importantly, however, even those without children will ensure the needs of the next generation (nieces, nephews etc) are covered first before calculating a charitable gift.

The research found that this group didn’t donate for the thanks or to be recognised. They have a desire for their values to live on and to make a longer term impact on their favourite causes. They often support three or more charities long term.

Why potential donors stop giving

It takes a lot for a confirmed bequestor to remove a charity from his or her will, but consistently poor communications that fail to recognise the individual’s motivations or their past contributions can provoke this reaction.

Three respondents had removed charities from their wills for poor customer relations; in one case, because the charity had not been honest in admitting it didn’t conduct research when this had been stipulated as the reason for the gift. Another cancelled her gift because a charity refused to acknowledge its own repeated mistakes when she needed to reduce her child sponsorship commitments upon retirement. Intriguingly, some bequestors said they found the ‘light and hopeful’ stories used by charities in bequest materials a bit too upbeat. They said they didn’t mind stories that tell a darker story to demonstrate need.

Research found ambassadors and case studies influence them more than rational advice, facts and figures. Ambassadors have to be credible individuals, not just ‘celebrities’, whose involvement often evoked cynicism.

From the interviews, Include a Charity drew several further conclusions:
•    this is the frugal generation so demonstrate you are cost conscious – it’s not about ratios but ‘unnecessary’ wastefulness
•    very few had considered a percentage calculation of gift value – often they want to put a set amount in a will, saying: “It sounds like a fair amount and I know what it will achieve”
•    if you are a big organisation, make sure you’re small enough to appreciate what you are getting from these donors
•    gifts in wills messages should be communicated to all supporter groups, irrespective of whether they are donating at the moment or volunteering – many of these donors are also very active community volunteers
•    build positive relationships and treat lapsed long-term donors as committed ‘supporters’.

Use living donor stories to encourage more bequests

Gifts in wills fundraising appeals that involve sharing stories about living people who have left bequests to their favourite causes are more successful with potential bequestors than stories that focus on deceased legators.

This finding comes from recent US research, which also informed Include a Charity’s 2016 campaign video. The paper, We the Living: The Effects of Living and Deceased Donor Stories on Charitable Bequest Giving Intentions, examined responses from over 2,500 people who reviewed vignettes of donors’ life stories and the gifts in their wills from the Leave a Legacy campaign.

When compared, living donor stories where the gift had been planned rather than completed were consistently more effective than deceased donor stories at increasing interest in leaving a gift in a will to charity.

After reviewing the research, the Include a Charity team made a video focusing on three living bequestors who were leaving gifts in their wills to Guide Dogs Victoria, Stroke Foundation and Bush Heritage Australia.

The one-week video campaign was a success – it attracted 76,000 views on the Include a Charity website plus 90,189 views on Facebook along with a 400% increase in likes from 2015 (more than 16,000 people on Facebook viewed the video) – and suggests concentrating on living donor stories is the way forward.

Helen Merrick

As Campaign Director of Include a Charity, Helen uses her marketing, events and advertising acumen to encourage people to leave gifts in their wills. She provides marketing and strategic expertise as a consultant to charities and has previously worked in senior marketing and fundraising roles.


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