On Encouraging Bequests - Tips from a Professor

Because people think differently when making decisions about bequests than they do about short-term gifts, we should use different language to make bequest appeals. This is according to Adrian Sargeant, professor of Fund Raising at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University.

When donors make annual gifts, they tend to respond to appeals that use concrete results (what will this gift do). When considering bequests, however, donors tend to think in more abstract terms – like providing for future generations, the relief of suffering, passing on values...

So when speaking to bequest donors, they are listening for the big picture. They are tuning in to how our organization’s mission is important. Rather than focusing on what each dollar will do, the messaging on bequests should center on how the gift will benefit future generations or a greater community.

As charitable bequests are often provoked by major changes in life, such as ill health, the birth of a child, or a death in the family, professor Sargeant noted that charities need to be making a “drip-feed ask” for bequests — steadily reminding and informing donors about bequest giving to increase the likelihood they will remember the organization when they make a will.

He also urged fund raisers to make bequest appeals to all donors. Fund raisers’ tendency to concentrate their efforts on major donors gives others the impression that they don’t have enough assets to make a difference. “We need to celebrate not only large bequests but smaller bequests from folks who have a passion for the organization,” he said.

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