The Planned Giving Blogger

The art and science of planned giving.

Who to market bequests to: Part I

with 3 comments

A topic much-discussed these days is how to identify and select donors who should receive your bequest marketing.  Rebecca Rothey of Catholic Charities in Baltimore recently posted such a query on the PPP “gift-pl” list-serve.

When I first started in planned giving, the simple and intuitive seemed to reign.  You marketed to older donors who had shown loyalty to your organization through repeated annual giving.  And you placed emphasis on some of your oldest, long-time donors in an effort to ensure that the time of the creation of the last will, your organization would be remembered and making sure that donors who go into their “quiet period” were not forgotten.   Things are more complicated now.  Recent research has revealed new factors that influence the likelihood of making a bequest and thus raise questions about optimum audience selection for planned giving marketing.

In March of 2007, Campbell and Company, in conjunction with the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, released “Bequest Donors:  Demographics and Motivations of Potential and Actual Donors.” Then, in July of last year, Legacy Leaders released a study conducted by the University of Georgia entitled “Causes and Correlates of Charitable Giving in Estate Planning.”  And, finally, last September The Stelter Company released a study that scientifically documents the world of bequest givers.  Frankly, I had to create a spreadsheet for myself to understand what the three studies said and how they were consistent and dissimilar.

All three of the studies were consistent in revealing that:

(1)  donors with no children (or grandchildren) are more likely to make a planned gift than donors with children;

(2)  donors with a college education (or post-graduate work) are more likely to make a bequest;

(3)  donors who give above average annual gifts are more likely to become bequest donors;

(4) neither wealth nor income are predictors of bequest likelihood;

(5)  younger donors (age 40-60) are, in some respects, prime bequest prospects.   This is a much younger age than previously thought; and

(6) although the number of donors saying they have made a charitable bequest is small, there is untapped potential in donors who have a will but have made no charitable provision and among donors who have not yet made a will.

Other findings, while not consistent across the three studies (in most cases because it wasn’t part of the questioning) indicate that a donor who also volunteers and donors with long loyalty are also better bequest prospects.

Obviously, there are challenges inherent in following the research.  With limited marketing dollars, most organizations don’t have the budget to mail to across the spectrum of ages including donors as young as 40, especially when the return on investment may be 40-50 years in the future and especially if the investment comes at the expense of stewardship, which can yield a multiple of a typical bequest amount.  And information about who has children and grandchildren or who is college educated isn’t readily available without doing surveys of your donors or using appended demographic data.  Appended data often have limitations, for example, only providing information on presence of children in the home.  Many donors have children but no longer living at home.  And, that still leaves the problem of what to do with the vast majority of donors who have never considered a charitable bequest and perhaps, don’t even have a will.

So, what’s a nonprofit to do? In Part II I’ll try to provide some guidance.


P.S.  In a future post I’ll comment on messaging to donors that reflects the research findings.


3 Responses

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  1. With all of the research and information available on who, why and how individuals make planned gifts, why do so many nonprofits still primarily use marketing (sales) techniques which ignore the obvious. It’s all about relationships and not just return on investments and tax savings. Marketing should focus on relationship building and maintenance and not exclusively on marketing materials which show gift annuity rates or the technical methods of giving. Check out the article “A marketing approach for planned giving” at for a marketing technique which has proven to be successful.

    Norman Olshansky

    July 7, 2009 at 9:21 am

    • I couldn’t agree more but I think it’s both/and rather than either/or. The marketing materials themselves should be about donor aspirations and should not be technical. And the relationship that’s established through the printed piece should be followed through in person.

      Phyllis Freedman

      July 7, 2009 at 9:31 am

  2. […] previously wrote about how to select bequest prospects for planned giving marketing and I’d like to amend my […]

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