FOCUS GROUPS | Will You Marry Me?

publication date: Oct 12, 2023
author/source: Richard Radcliffe, FCIoF Cert

Imagine you are in a bar. You see a person who you really fancy.

You approach the one you feel is the most gorgeous person in the world and ask, “Will you marry me?”

Are you off your head? Of course, you are!

Do you know what he/she likes? Do you know what triggers his/her interest? Do you know if this gorgeous person is already married or terminally ill?

Do you know how they might want to progress their journey with you? No.

It’s the same when planning your legacy strategy.

Insight. Insight. Insight. You will fail without it.

And that is why I do focus groups. The word focus comes from the Latin meaning “hearth” – a chat around the fireplace, except focus group conversations have a structure.

And before you ask, I am not going to give all my secrets away (only when I retire).

But, conversations with 35,000 supporters have resulted in their intrigue, and then interest, in legacy giving (which is why so many end up as pledgers).


Because we expressed an interest in each of them. They are now engaged. This is not selling; it’s listening to find out about their lifestyle and philanthropic life.

Let’s stop for a moment.

Would you test words/phrases to use in an early conversation with a possible future partner? For instance: “To get you to like me should I say one of the following.” Absolutely NOT. Because the proposition (such as a legacy vision) might be goodish, bad or awful. So they choose the least bad one!

Never, ever, test legacy collateral in legacy focus groups – it leads to disaster.

You need to understand the life of EACH supporter before making any form of proposition.

Even after 30+ years of meeting prospects, I continue to be fascinated by them. Especially as we experience a cost-of-living crisis, and more fragmented families—which (sadly in a way) is increasing legacy giving due to having “no cost now.”

Right now, is the best opportunity for legacy giving that I have ever seen. But, the types of communication that supporters want, and the channels they use to engage, are all changing.

In the last two weeks I have met 55 donors for four different causes.

What do they have in common? Little.

The only common outcome was the approval of communicating the 1% legacy message – everyone with a family said “clever,” “interesting,” and “I like it.” Why? Because they have family (those without family don’t like it). But they only liked “Did you know you can leave 1%, so your family inherit the remaining 99% of the estate? You can leave more if you want to.” Such a message is NOT an ask. It is opening up the legacy landscape to everyone with a family (now 40% of legators). It’s an opening pitch which led to 80% interest and engagement.

What else had a common thread? ONLY the usual: “Can you tell me what the impact of MY legacy will be?”

Well, that is not quite true – every single donor said “treat me personally.” But some want a personal letter, some want a website link, and some want an invitation to an event. A one-to-one meeting is highly disliked by many introverts (too in-your-face and many introverts are alone or without family) and please do not advance on them at an event and begin asking questions. Extroverts, on the other hand, love to be asked questions (they tend to have egos).

What do your prospects look like and how do they respond when being cultivated? It’s no different to developing a relationship that might lead to marriage. You don’t have a clue until you find out what they want.

And, like all marriages, or long-term partnership, say one wrong thing and the bell tolls for the end of the relationship. A bad phone call. A scandal. Perceived high costs to engage them. A bog-standard legacy letter. A high salary of a CEO or COO.

There is one other very important point.

Are you more likely to leave a legacy, or get married, to a person/entity you have never met? NO.

A simple question: How long have you been in post? Do prospects know who you are? If the answer is “for ages, and yes I know loads of prospects” your legacy income will rocket.

We give to people we know and trust.

So, my final message is simple: stay where you are. You will be the trusted loved one. You will be my “legacy partner.” Change the contact, and confidence to engage, plummets. As a prospect I want to know who I can talk to.

Marriage and partnerships rely on two-way confidence and trust.

That is what we find out in my focus groups.

Richard Radcliffe FCIoF Cert. Founder, Radcliffe Consulting.

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