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Finding the Golden Egg

Bequests, planned giving, legacies, gift in Will… so many different names but it all means one thing – when a supporter leaves a donation to the cause of their choice in their Will.

Bequests can sometimes mean a lot of money (the average bequest in Australia is about $70,000) and often untied funds that can be used for vital infrastructure growth and essential projects. While for many non profits it is a major source of income, it is also one of the more sensitive and challenging forms of fundraising. A common misconception is that you need a large amount of resources put in this area for it to be successful.

Of course, the more resources you can put in to it, most likely the better the outcomes will be, but does that mean a small non profit should be ignoring bequests altogether? No! There are definitely a few things you can be doing to encourage supporters to consider this type of donation.

To begin it’s important to have clear objectives and a solid strategy. A well devised bequest program really is an essential component of every non profits fundraising platform. And it doesn’t require a whole bequest department! Below are just some ideas you can start doing to kick off your bequests and start planting seeds – bequest seeds.

1.    Simplify it and name it – Make sure you use the one word to talk about bequests, whether you choose bequests or legacies (although legacy is more readily used in the UK). Don’t use the term planned giving because it’s just fundraiser jargon.

2.    Cast your net – Look to your Board, then your major donors, long term volunteers and those who have benefitted from your organisation for who might be possible bequest prospects. If you can promote that your Board members are benefactors it will inspire others to do the same.

3.    Ask your supporters – One way to test the waters without embarking on a direct mail appeal is to send a donor survey and include a question on bequests to determine who are your prospects, confirmed benefactors and those NOT to approach. Make sure you follow up (or not) as indicated!

4.    Drip feed – Updating (or even completing) their Will is not something someone does every day. As such you need to be sure your supporters are regularly, and gently, reminded about leaving a bequest. That’s why drip feeding information about it is key; ensure something is written about a bequest in every newsletter, on each direct mail piece and on your website. Small reminders, often is crucial.

5.    Inspire your supporters – Don’t forget, as with all fundraising, bequests are left by someone who has been inspired and really understands your cause. Touch their heart so they want to leave possibly their largest ever gift to a cause that means a lot to them.

Include a Charity is a fantastic national initiative where over 130 charities have joined together to raise awareness of the importance of bequests, challenge some of the misconceptions (only wealthy people leave bequests) and change the way Australians think about leaving a gift in their will, so that it becomes the norm, not the exception.  (Only about 8% of Australian adults have a charitable bequest in their Will.) Have a look to see what other organisations are doing and whether being involved could be of some benefit to you.

Here is one of the commercials Include a Charity has shown on Australian television.


The days of visiting single elderly ladies in their homes or hosting Wills Days may now be over as charities with fewer resources embrace new ways of approaching bequests.

What are some of the simpler bequest strategies you employ in your organisation? What have you seen work/not work? Love to hear.

See you in the pond,

The Fish Chick


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