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New Strategies for Bequest Solicitations

(July 19, 2004) Charities should not limit their solicitations for bequests (often known as "legacy solicitations") to the traditional group of wealthy donors, a new study advises. Instead, they should extend their reach to nearly all contributors or individuals who have benefited from the charity's work or programs.

"Determinants of U.S. Donor Behavior: The Case of Bequests," sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and Berkeley, Calif.-based Mal Warwick & Associates Inc., was conducted by Adrian Sargeant, professor of nonprofit marketing at Bristol Business School, University of the West of England, and an adjunct professor of Philanthropy at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy in the United States, and Elaine Jay, a consultant with Sargeant Associates Ltd. in Devon, England.

The authors worked with five U.S. nonprofit organizations engaged in the solicitation of legacy gifts. They compared the attitudes of those donors who had been motivated to pledge a legacy gift with those who had been asked but had not yet made a commitment. The purpose of the study was to:

  • Identify factors that prompt an individual to offer a bequest.
  • Identify the environmental triggers that might prompt an individual to offer a bequest (e.g., solicitation by a professional fundraiser, loss of a loved one, etc.).
  • Identify the best prospects for legacy solicitations.
  • Identify how various types of communications (e.g., direct mail, phone call, etc.) are perceived by donors with respect to legacy solicitations.
  • Identify the relationship between stated intentions to pledge and actual bequests made.

According to the study, it may be difficult identifying potential bequest donors from other donors. Although legacy pledgers are more likely to be female, older rather than younger, and less likely to have children than the balance of a charity's contributors, the authors found no key differences or factors that would lead to an appropriate segmentation of the donor base.

However, significant differences did exist between legacy pledgers and other contributors with respect to expectations of and attitudes towards the charity. Pledgers are more concerned with performance, professionalism, responsiveness and communication. They are more likely to be demanding of the charity and need a higher degree of donor care than the typical donor. Recognition was a key factor, as was communicating with the donor how the gift was used and its impact.

The study also found that nearly all individuals included in the study, regardless of category or characteristic, felt that it was appropriate for charities to solicit bequest gifts. Only 0.4 percent of respondents indicated that their future giving would be affected negatively as a result of a legacy solicitation by a charity.

What is the best way to solicit bequests? Mailed solicitations, advertisements in a charity's literature and presentations to groups of supporters were viewed as the most favorable vehicles for solicitations. The telephone, however, was considered very inappropriate. Because most of the respondents overall were older and more likely to respond to traditional modes of communication, it may be appropriate for charities to experiment with other communications vehicles for younger donors.

As a result of these findings, the authors recommend that charities should consider all categories of supporters for legacy solicitations on a regular but infrequent basis. They also note that in their study, 90 percent of individuals who said they had made or were going to make a pledge actually did so.

A complete copy of the study is available in PDF format in the Attachments section below.


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