The Foundation of Your Planned Giving Program: Bequests IV

Sections of this topic

    Unlocking Bequests for Planned Giving Success

    In June I shared ideas on what to do with your direct mail letter. See the Planned Giving Series.

    This month we’re taking a hiatus from promotion to look at why bequests are basic to your Planned Giving program.

    You should expect 75 to 80 percent of your planned gifts to be bequests. They are the foundation of any Planned Giving program, irrespective of mission. Because of time and money constraints, you may start and stop your program with bequests and you will have a very respectable—and appropriately scaled—program.

    There is no shame in a small shop limiting its PG program to the promotion and marketing of charitable bequests. That organization can do quite well, with 100% of its planned gifts as bequests.

    Why Are Bequests So Popular?

    Because wills are popular. Every adult should have one, though the reports I see say about half don’t. That still leaves half the adult population as charitable bequest prospects.

    Easy. People understand how will work. Your prospects don’t need fancy calculations or detailed projections, though they do need an attorney’s help to write their wills.

    Quiet. Donors don’t have to tell you they’ve put you in their will. You hope they do, and you give them opportunities to share their secret, but they can make you wait until after they’re gone. And most bequest donors do.

    Undoable. You can change your will anytime you like. If you get angry at a relative, you can cut them out. If a donor gets angry at your office, they can cut you out. Donors find this reassuring.

    Easy on the wallet. Bequests cost nothing in life. Gifts are paid out of your donors’ estates after they die. That makes them . . .

    So perfect for donors of modest means. For lots of people, their will remains the only way they can make their ultimate gift to your work. They’d like to give you more during life, but they’re doing what they can.

    Time is on their side. I don’t know if there’s research to back this up, but it feels like bequest donors have longevity working in their favor. They live longer than the non-charitably inclined. Is there a secret among the Boomers that I haven’t been let in on?

    For all these reasons bequests will make up the vast majority of any Planned Giving program. (Extra points if you recognize that I spelled out BEQUEST with the first letter of each heading.)

    In August, I’ll go deeper into the “quiet” above. Why is it that a mere one in three to one in eight bequest donors reveals their intention while they’re living?

    Tony Martignetti, Esq. is the host of Tony Martignetti Nonprofit Radio. He’s a Planned Giving consultant, speaker, author, blogger, and stand-up comic. You’ll find him at
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