Legacy giving: it’s about the donor, not the money!

publication date: Sep 2, 2014
author/source: Fraser Green

Let’s start out this month’s tip by you allowing me to conduct a little experiment – with you as the guinea pig.

I’m about to show you copy from two legacy giving website landing pages. Each of the two belongs to a Christian charity. Each charity’s target audience is people over 60 who attend church regularly and are devout in their faith.

Fraser Green photoI’d like you to take a few minutes to read each of the two samples, and then ask yourself which you prefer (and why).

Ready? Here we go:

Sample 1:

What is Planned Giving?

Planned giving, or gift planning, is the process of designing charitable gifts so that the donor realizes philanthropic objectives while maximizing tax and other financial benefits. Generally, a planned gift is any gift of significant size made with forethought about the benefits to the church and the financial implications to the donor and the donor’s family.

Planned gifts are often equated with deferred gifts such as bequests, life insurance policies, and similar arrangements where the commitment is made now but the funds are not available to the church or charity until some future time.

The majority of planned gifts are deferred, but gift planning also includes outright gifts. A planned gift can be a major gift for current needs, consisting of securities or real estate, and structured and timed to limit any tax on capital gain and obtain full benefit of the tax credit.

Sample 2:

What Will Your Legacy Be?

We all reach a stage in life when we think about what it’s all meant. Why were we here? What was the purpose of this life? What have we left behind?

Most of us want to be remembered for our best qualities. We want to be remembered for our generosity, our integrity and our faith. We also want to be remembered for our loving relationships – with our family, friends and neighbours. Some of us also want to be remembered for extending our love of neighbour to people we’ve never met.

Your legacy is the footprint you will leave on this earth. It is the lives you have touched and the love that carries on when you’re gone. Your legacy will be the memories that others have of you. The ways they follow your example. The ways they live the lessons and values you have taught them.

As a supporter of Catholic Missions In Canada, you have already given witness to our faith. You have demonstrated through your example that you believe in putting God’s message of love and compassion in your life. That you have followed Christ’s call to honour the poor, the lonely, and the suffering.

Now that you’ve read them, which one do you like better? And why?

Now, before I give you my opinion, let me share some superb research findings with you from Russell James at Texas Tech University.

Using brain scans, James has revealed that when people make charitable bequests of almost all types, the part of their brain that is activated is the empathy centre. This means that the donors are imagining they are the one who’s poor, sick, hungry, etc. Yet legacy gifts like bequests are generated from the autobiographical part of the brain. This is the part of the brain where they’ve constructed their own life’s story.

In other words, legacy gifts are made when the gift supports the story the donors have in their minds about who they really are.

Now, to my take on these two samples…

I absolutely prefer Sample 2, for the following reasons.

  1. Sample 2 talks about the meaning of the donor’s life, while Sample 1 talks about money and taxes. In fact, Sample 2 doesn’t mention money at all!
  2. Sample 2 talks about CMIC’s mission and values, while Sample 1 is silent on mission, values and beliefs (all the important existential human stuff).
  3. Even though I’m not a practicing Christian, I find real emotion and passion in Sample 2. Sample 1 sounds to me like I’m back in first year accounting at university… And I never did take to accounting in a big way.
  4. Sample 2 has some poetry to it, at least to my ear, while Sample 1 is as dry as Melba toast and as boring as waiting too long for a bus to come.

Indeed, if you go deeper into the legacy giving sections of these websites, you’ll continue to see dramatic differences. Sample 1 goes into descriptive narrative about the various types of planned giving vehicles (which makes donors’ eyeballs roll back in their heads). Sample 2 tells stories about donors who have made bequests, and the programs and mission that have been accomplished through these donors’ commitments.

So go to your own charity’s website, and ask yourself if it more resembles Sample 1 or Sample 2. If your content sounds like a memo from the Canada Revenue Agency, maybe it’s time to do some work and make it donor-friendly.

Last but not least, this is the Tip of the Month. My tip is this:

Focus the legacy giving pages on your website squarely around the donor and your mission. Do NOT go on about money, taxes and complicated giving vehicles that 90% of your donors won’t even think about.

And here’s your bonus tip. Take the words ‘Planned Giving’ totally out of your website copy. Donors don’t know what it means – and they don’t particularly want to know.

P.S. I LOVE IT when people who read my blogs, rants and tips tell me what they think. Whether you agree or disagree, whether you want to give me bouquets or brickbats, I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at fraser@goodworksco.ca, text me at 613.612.4232 or tap me on the shoulder on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Until next time, remember: It’s ALL about the donor.

Fraser Green is chief strategist at Good Works, a consulting firm that teaches charities how to tell their stories with more passion, emotion and soul. He specializes in donor listening and coaching charities on how to meet their donors' expectations, wants and needs.

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