If you haven’t already read the ground-breaking research on planned giving and the brain by Dr. Russell James, you should. This research is already profoundly changing the way the planned giving profession operates. His finding, that emotion (as opposed to information) is the key to deciding to make a charitable legacy, will sooner or later change the way that all of us approach our work and our donors.
This may come as a shock to many of us who have been trained to advise donors about gift planning options and tax savings, but the reality is that most of the technical information we provide prospective donors is unlikely to have much impact on their decision to leave a legacy. In fact, in some cases, it may actually be a detriment to leaving a charitable legacy. Why? Because providing donors with estate planning information is about their own death (not something donors want to think about, much less talk about with a virtual stranger), whereas legacy engagement is about how their values can continue to live on in the world.
If information on how gifts can be made isn’t a motivator, then what does trigger legacy giving? Fortunately, by pinpointing the precise part of the brain that donors use when thinking of charitable legacies, Dr. James was able to help us answer this critical question.
Legacy giving is connected to the autobiographical area of the brain. This tells us that a donor’s meaningful life events, their experiences, their values, and their life stories are critical to the legacy process. If our legacy programs are to be successful we have to find ways to connect to these in a meaningful way.
Knowing this, how can we market and solicit legacy gifts more effectively?Check your program focus.
It’s not how gifts are made, it’s not what you do, or have done … it’s what your mission and vision mean to your donors.
Here’s a good example of how a charity has made an emotional connection with their donors to generate legacy gifts. Take a look at this short video from Union Gospel Mission (UGM). By featuring five people whose lives had been transformed by their organization, this video makes a powerful emotional connection and sets the stage for a legacy ask. Notice however, that it has almost no information about UGM, nor does it say anything about the mechanics of giving.
Union Gospel Mission not only has a good legacy video, they also have an integrated marketing and solicitation system that makes sure the video is used to its maximum potential.
Individual donors are sent an email asking them to watch the video and then fill out a short on-line legacy survey. The survey asks donors about their values, their connection to UGM and its mission and vision, and stories they have about their connection to the work UGM does. In the final part of the survey the donor is asked if they would leave a bequest to UGM.
Donors who fill out the survey and express an interest in legacy giving, or have already left a legacy to UGM, are contacted and sent a legacy case for support. Continuing with the theme of the video, the case has a strong emotional appeal.
With this integrated approach, they’re already achieving results far above average, and that will continue for years to come as they reach out to their entire donor base.
Simon Trevelyan is President of S.T. Legacy Group, an innovator in legacy development and marketing, helping charities to maximize their planned giving potential. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.stlegacygroup.com, or come see the S.T. Legacy booth at the 2014 CAGP Conference in Vancouver – April 9-11th.
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