First published April 2015

Want to ensure bequestors are part of your organisation’s inner circle? Follow these suggestions from Evelyn Mason.

Tip 1 – Satisfy your bequestors’ deepest needs.

Donors feel really good about themselves when they support your nonprofit organisation. The latest research has revealed that each time we make a donation to charity, our brains act in a similar way to when we are having sex or eating chocolate!

But donors also have deep seated needs that the bequest officer must meet. Using as your guide the basic tool provided by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, your goals are to make them feel they belong and are respected, and to build up their confidence and self-esteem.

Tip 2 – Understand and reward them.

Some bequestors want to become part of your community. Although there has been debate about the usefulness of bequest societies, these create an opportunity to recognise donors and show your appreciation; they encourage loyalty and a sense of belonging to your organisational family; they offer participation to the organisation’s network; they convey your commitment to donors; they open the door to asking bequestors to take a leadership role in the organisation; and provide donors with exclusive benefits, like invitations to special activities.

You might be wondering about people who ask to remain anonymous (which means they do not want their name listed in any public format … and that is not the same as wishing to be ignored), or those who definitely want to be left alone.

The bequestor is king (or queen as the case may be!) and his or her wishes should be respected. However, those who won’t join a bequest society still need to be consciously embraced by the bequest officer so they feel valued and involved, although they’re outside the formal recognition structure.

Also, according to Nudge Theory, the way an offer is made affects the response a supporter selects. So howyou invite membership to your bequest society is important. Ask people to join and the percentage who do drops to 50% or more. Inform them they are eligible for membership to this prestigious group, and the proportion who are delighted to be part of it increases to 80-90%.

Tip 3 – Meet your bequestors and really get to really know them.

Offer bequestors a minimum of a once-yearly home visit, or offer to meet them in your workplace or at an appropriate meeting place such the local church or coffee shop. Nurture them, say “thank you” and make them feel special. They are special and we want them to know this.

Meeting bequestors one-on-one is also important because you can ask them questions that reveal their motivations. In doing this, it is more important for a bequest officer to listen rather than recite a list of the organisation’s latest achievements. Whilst the latter needs to be done now and then, remember that the majority of the time the bequestor should do the talking.

Prepare some questions before you meet your bequestors. Here are some that will probe their passions:

  • In your life, what do you really care about? What is important to you?
  • Are there particular causes or issues you have been naturally drawn to through life experiences?
  • What disturbs you or worries you most about the world and the future?
  • When have you felt most connected to a community?
  • Describe a time when you felt truly inspired.
  • If you had a ‘mission statement’ for your life, what might it be?
  • Generally speaking, what would you say motivates you to be philanthropic?
  • In an ideal world, what would you like to get back from the process of giving?
  • What do you think constitutes a ‘good society’?

Tip 4 – Thank them, again and again.

Saying “thank you” often and sincerely is simply the right thing to do. It is good manners. As you get to know each individual, you will find the most appropriate way to customise these thank-you messages.

Always recognise that it is about the bequestor – not you. Make them feel proud and part of something bigger, which is one of the levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, bringing me back to Tip 1. Evelyn Mason

Evelyn Mason

Evelyn Mason CFRE FFIA is the principal of fundraising consultancy Evelyn Mason & Associates. She has more than 24 years of fundraising experience and is a specialist in bequest marketing. Evelyn will run bequest workshops and masterclasses in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane mid-July to end August, and in Canberra, Hobart and Adelaide if requested. E-mail [email protected] for more details.

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