4 Keys to Successful Will-Writing Campaigns in 2020

by Matt Renzoni in November 3rd, 2020

In a year to remember where charities and non-profits have faced unprecedented challenges, many organizations have identified the need to diversify their income by adding more focus to legacy giving programs. Whether this has resulted in the form of building out legacy giving teams or seeking external help from marketing teams and consultants, the need is ever-increasing. 

Here are four important keys to building a successful legacy program, specifically through Will-writing activities:

1. Brand Recognition

A leading reason why donors have not taken action on adding a charity to their Will is because they have trouble deciding which charity to include. This is a real concern in the industry that works in favour of both big and small charities depending on the amount of research a person conducts.

Whether in a national or regional capacity, brand recognition gives unique opportunities to charities and non-profits. While many larger, nationally focused organizations can rely on their names and reach, many smaller charities still gain strong traction due to their recognition in the smaller-scale communities they support. While some lean on their name, such as many charities named after historical figures in Canada, others are known for their iconic events or the unique niche they serve. 

If we set the scenario of a donor who is interested in leaving a charity in their Will for example, there are a couple key decision points that factor into the charity they’ll choose, especially if they don't have a history of lifetime giving to specific charities. In these scenarios, the larger, less niche organizations can rely on their brand recognition to be top of mind in the early stages of the conversations with family and friends. 

On the other hand however, as the tail-end of Gen X and Millennials make their way into the key age categories for Will-writing (between ages 35-50), this portion of the population will likely conduct more extensive research on which organization(s) to include in their Will. With lots of available information published on subjects such as “most ethical charities” or “highest transparency grade”, many smaller charities begin to make their way into conversations due to more focused efforts on problems that prospective donors would like to see change in their world. In addition, supporting local communities is also at the forefront of many decisions when remembering a charity in a Will. 

2. Warm Monetary Donors

One of the most important factors for charities looking to expand legacy giving efforts is knowing and tracking the difference between fringe and loyal donors through quantitative data. Put simply, before you send targeted campaigns to a donor within your donor base, you should first know whether they’ll be the right fit for that type of campaign. To name just a couple attributes, those in this category likely have donated to the charity for years, and are within the age range of creating or updating their Will. 

The best place to start for a charity wanting to increase their focusing on legacy giving is to have a wide base of loyal donors who they have been able to identify in that category due to continued support and feedback. When they can identify who these people are, the points of contact are both thought-provoking and relevant to encourage a larger portion to act. 

From identifying the right prospects in this category, charities can easily start identifying the level of intent they have within their donor base for these types of campaigns. From there, they can start implementing additional tactics to move donors who have expressed intent to leave a gift to actually commit to leaving that gift in their Will. 

In terms of identifying these donors, many charities look to platforms like Raiser’s Edge for their CRM solutions, but will also hire external help to learn more about their donors through Will-writing giving events and conducting surveys on legacy giving. 

3. Loyal Volunteer Base

While this isn’t inclusive of all types of charities, volunteer bases should not be overlooked when it comes to identifying high-quality prospects for gifts in Wills. Charities who rely on both monetary donations and volunteer programs to carry out their organizational activities can easily overlook the impact that a loyal volunteer base can have on legacy giving. While they may not be in the traditional category of “warm donors”, the donation of their time to the charity is arguably an even more substantial investment that increases their affinity to the organization if they have a rewarding experience.

Depending on the mission and scope of the charity, the imprint that volunteering can have on individuals can last a lifetime, and many of these people would end up in the category of “loyal donors” if you equate time to money. Those charities with rich databases of past and present volunteers, if communicated to effectively, can surely add this group to their segments of legacy giving intenders. 

4. Strong Conversion

This last step is often the hardest and most controversial in the space of legacy giving when it pertains to Will-writing, but also the most important. While charities can do everything right leading up to how they manage the relationships with those who they’ve identified as having intent to leave a gift in a Will, closing the gap between intent and actual commitment to that gift is often a process the charity loses sight of. This is of course dependent on how involved the charity wants to be throughout the Will-creation process. 

Once a donor is categorized as having intent to leave a gift in their will (ie. responded to a legacy giving campaign asking for more information), the charity often loses sight of them as they go through the process of creating their Will. While this is an item on many people’s to-do lists, it’s also an item that constantly gets deprioritized, so a donor who may have been identified with intent from a past campaign could still take years to actually create their Will. 

That’s why closing this gap is so important for charities to grow their legacy giving programs. For example, research conducted by the Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) has shown that if leaving a gift in a Will is positioned by a lawyer during the Will-creation process just once, the person is 63% more likely to leave a gift to a charity in their Will. 

While Will-writing campaigns are still very niche and have not been around for a long time, they serve as the lawyer positioning the charity to the person creating the Will. While many charities and non-profits go with the traditional approach, helping facilitate the Will-creation process further than the traditional approach is a key factor in closing the gap between intent and commitment. 

Some of these activities that charities and non-profits have available to them are partnerships for free Will-writing services, Will-writing seminars and webinars, and also building up a network of estate planning lawyers. Instead of driving consideration like marketing activities mentioned in key #2, these are conversion-focused to get tangible results that can propel a charity or non-profit forward through securing future income. 

While keys #1 and #4 stand on their own more than the others, all of these keys work in sync with each other and should not be overlooked when building out a legacy giving program that leans on Will-writing. At the end of the day, if the goal is to secure future income, activities aimed at increasing donors' consideration should be weighed equally with activities that focus on securing those gifts in Wills. 

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