Originally published July 2015

Liz Henderson explores how a 14-month phone campaign incorporating elements of nudge theory and social norming techniques has helped the Stroke Foundation identify over $10 million of potential future income from supporters interested in including gifts in their wills.

Two years ago Ross Anderson had something of an epiphany. “We’ve got a lot of active and loyal supporters,” says the Gifts in Wills Manager at the Stroke Foundation. “From looking at other organisations of a comparable size and nature, we knew we should have many more people telling us they had included, or were thinking about including, a gift in their will. We decided we needed Stroke Foundation Bequest Bookletto systematically ask more of our supporters to let us know their thoughts about including charities in their wills.”

Following testing to determine the most effective way to do this, a two-year campaign was planned for 2014/15 during which 20,000 Stroke Foundation supporters would receive an appeal pack, with follow-up phone call from a telefundraising agency. Interested people would then receive an information pack, and ongoing contact with the Stroke Foundation’s Gifts in Wills team.

The charity’s long-term goal? To direct future conversations about wills to the right people, by categorising as many age 55+ supporters on its database as possible into five distinct groups: Confirmed, Planning, Interested, Not Interested Right Now, and Not Interested Ever.

Quality not quantity

After the first six months of campaign testing, and completion of all the in-house supporter follow-ups, 30% of people identified as interested during the initial test phone calls, either weren’t interested anymore or never had been. The quality of the leads generated by the initial calls, rather than the quantity, then became the primary focus.

After a switch in telefundraising agency to Apple Marketing Group, more intensive face-to-face coaching of the telemarketers by Anderson and his team, and thrashing out a series of new and improved scripts, the campaign was rolled-out in earnest in February 2014.

Scripts that nudge, normalise, and plant a seed

As a director of the ‘Include a Charity’ campaign, Anderson knew that research shows more people write a charity into their will if they’re asked using social norming and nudge theory techniques, so both were incorporated into the Stroke Foundation’s phone scripts.

Essentially the idea is directing people towards a decision through normalising it and reinforcing the fact that including favourite charities in your will is an easy, logical and popular step – breaking down the barriers of people thinking it is too hard, expensive, or something ‘people like them’ don’t do.

Interestingly, it also reversed the traditional approach of couching these conversations in quite reverential terms, when the supporter is praised for being unique and special. Instead, says Anderson, “You need to describe including charities in wills as something that anyone can do and use messages like: ‘Lots of people just like you are doing it, it’s an easy thing to do, please get on board.’ ”

To underscore that message, “During the initial exploratory phone calls, the telefundraisers have given clear examples of ordinary Australians who have decided to make modest bequest gifts,” Anderson adds. “They have also mentioned the fact that Dr Erin Lalor, the Stroke Foundation’s CEO, has included a gift in her own will. Erin has a powerful and inspiring story that resonates well with our supporters.”

As for incorporating nudging techniques, “It is not about ‘Please go and do this right now,’ ” Anderson explains. “People are not likely to go update their will to make one change; they’re more likely to update a whole lot of things at the same time.”

“It’s better for us to recognise that reality and ask that, whenever they’re sitting with their solicitor the next time they’re updating or revising their will, would they please consider including gifts to their favourite charities? By providing great donor care and building meaningful relationships with our supporters, we truly hope when that time comes, they count the Stroke Foundation amongst their chosen charities.”

Training helped overcome the barriers

A key challenge the campaign needed to overcome was supporters expecting to be asked for an immediate or regular gift – which is the aim of most charity calls. Another was how to engage them in a gentle, genuine meaningful conversation about gifts in wills in the space of ten minutes, without alienating them or jeopardising their future loyal support.

These challenges were tackled by two-way feedback between the telefundraisers and the Stroke Foundation, and the continuous refinement of the scripts and the use of nudges and social norming to be more specific and effective, along with ongoing training and mentoring.

“The real success was in the information and insights from the Stroke Foundation,” says Joe McKenna, who is Apple Marketing Group’s Account Manager of Gifts in Wills, Raffle, Donor and Regular Giving Programs. “Ross and his team spent the time in coaching and developing the telefundraisers to have conversations of a similar standard as their own Gifts in Wills Officers.” This involved building their understanding of Stroke Foundation, the topic of gifts in wills, and how they wanted these important people to be spoken to.

5,064 conversations, $10 million in potential future income

So far Apple Marketing telefundraisers have had 5,064 conversations with Stroke Foundation supporters in a rolling campaign consisting of five ‘waves’ of phone calls over the past 14 months – the most recent of which was completed in March 2015.

Over 500 supporters responded positively to the calls and all received a comprehensive information pack. Relationships with them are now being managed by the Stroke Foundation’s Gifts in Wills officers, thanking them, providing ongoing donor stewardship, and inspiring them to take action in future.

From the initial call through to the in-house contact, 51 supporters have confirmed a gift to the Stroke Foundation has been written into their wills (a potential $2.2 million in future income), with a further 45 people still planning to include a gift soon (a potential income of $1 million if only half actually do leave a gift). The charity has also identified 416 existing supporters who say they are open to the idea in the future (a potential income of $7.4 million if only half go onto leave a gift).

Importantly the retention rate keeps rising, with close monitoring of calls, supporter classification and ongoing telefundraiser coaching by the Stroke Foundation. “The proportion of our supporters who are maintaining the same high level of interest and commitment they indicated in the original calls with the telefundraisers has increased with each subsequent wave of calling within the campaign,” says Anderson. “For example, over 85% of the supporters identified as being interested in the calls made last October are still expressing the same high level of interest over six months later.”

“We’re delighted with these results and the work we’re doing with the team at Apple,” he adds. “It forms an integral part of our overall gifts in wills program and complements our other lead-generating and acquisition activities.”

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