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It Takes More Than Luck: 4 Tips for Receiving Bequests

A couple is preparing to leave a bequest gift to a charitable nonprofit organization.

St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner, and everyone’s eager to get some luck. Pour yourself a glass of Irish beer or whiskey, drop a clover in it, and down the drink in one go. Throw the clover over your left shoulder and give a toast to St. Patrick for your dose of good luck.

Now, don’t you just wish this luck would lead you to a pot of gold that’s teeming with bequests from generous donors? The truth is, receiving bequests seems as rare as finding a four-leaf clover in a patch on your lawn. In fact, bequests account for less than 10% of donations received by nonprofits. In 2020, only $41.91 billion out of the total $471.44 billion of charitable giving came from bequests.


What are charitable bequests?

Charitable bequests are gifts to nonprofit organizations that are made as part of a will or trust. Like other planned gifts, these donations are arranged in advance then allocated at a future date. However, bequests are typically given when the donor passes away.

Donors making the bequest leave specific instructions in their will or in other documents, such as beneficiary designations or revocable living trusts. The bequests can be a designated fixed amount, a fixed percentage of the estate, or a residue portion of the donor’s assets. Often, this amount is the largest donation donors make in their entire lifetime.

While bequests account for the majority of planned giving donations, many people are unaware of how to leave bequests. Nonprofits must actively promote charitable bequests to encourage their donors. Instead of looking for that scarce four-leafed clover, here are four clever tips for receiving bequests.


4 Tips for Receiving Bequests

1.       Build a relationship with your donors.

You don’t just put a rabbit’s foot in your left pocket and ask a random person to leave a bequest for your organization. You need to have a solid relationship with them first. Most bequests are made through consistent relationship building.

Maintain open communication with your donors and regularly update them on the impact they are making. Build trust by being transparent. Establish rapport by encouraging active participation in your projects. Give your donors the recognition they deserve. Acknowledge past gifts and their continued support for your advocacy. Reminding them of how their donations help your organization presents an opportunity to talk about bequests.

2.       Use soft expressions.

Asking donors to consider leaving bequests for your organization requires the use of soft language. Some people find talking about death, wills, and legacy gifts uncomfortable. When you open the topic, make sure your tone is gentle with no trace of urgency. Do not impose deadlines on when they should make their decision. Instead, assure them that they can leave bequests whenever the time feels right for them.

3.       Make it easy for donors to leave bequests.

Avoid using jargon or technical terms when explaining bequests to your donors. As it is, drafting wills and estate planning is already confusing. Instead of asking them to include a charitable bequest for your organization, ask them to consider leaving a “gift in their will.”

Make it easy for your donors to leave bequests by providing them with the right resources. Dedicate a specific page on your website for planned giving. Have consultants ready to give advice on legacy gifts. Create a template that can be used as a guide for leaving bequests in their will or host a free webinar to walk them through it. Do whatever you can to make the process easier for your donors.

4.       Share inspiring stories.

Not many people are aware of legacy giving, including charitable bequests. You need to gently advocate the idea of giving bequests. One way to do this is by sharing inspiring stories about living donors who have given bequests. These stories become social proof that compel others to follow suit. Give these stories a wider reach and more visibility by sharing them on your organization’s social media accounts, website, and newsletters.


Don’t leave bequests to luck

Go ahead and wear green. Look for a lucky clover if you please. Just don’t leave bequests up to luck. Let our tips be your four-leaf clover that brings more charitable bequests to your organization.

For help fostering relationships with your donors or launching a planned giving program, click here.