b is for Bequest


The tickly subject of talking about what people want to do with their money when they are gone.

Bequests are when people leave money in their will by either nominating a set amount of money or a percentage of their estate. Many not for profits, from what I understand, are undervaluing the benefits of bequests, because it is not money you will see today or even this year, and perhaps not even next year. But – if you think about the donors you have now and why they have connected with your organisation, cause, art form or staff, you should consider whether they might also like to see your work live on for a lot longer later on.

Some not for profits may of course take the view, that their current staff won’t be there to reap the benefits and take credit for bequests which come in later (after they have gone – either to other work, or to join the company of the bequestors), and that it is better to spend precious fundraising time focussing on results which can be counted and received today – not at some unidentifable point in the future.

It’s also a tricky subject because some people don’t think it is tactful or tasteful to talk about donor’s wishes after they die and don’t want to sound as if they are courting donors only in order to grasp their vast resources (though that is what we are in effect doing when we ask for their money now or later).

There will be a bequests stream at the FIA conference in Melbourne next February and there are occasionally masterclasses on the topic, but there is not a lot of information out there about how to take a philanthropic relationship to the level where a fundraiser feels ready to ask for support through a bequest. Bequests often appear as the pinnacle of the philanthropic pyramid.

thanks to Jessica McGann at jessicamcgann.com

Bequests aren’t at the top of the pyramid to indicate that they are a long way off and you can deal with them later when you have more time and have reached your targets for this year and raised enough money to keep going through the next quarter. They appear at the top of the pyramid because they are important and often because while you might receive fewer of them, they could well be greater in value than the numerous other gifts lower down the scale.

If you think seriously about your philanthropic relationships as relationships involving a two way conversation, it seems natural to me that you would discuss bequests with your major donors, and ongoing donors as these are the people who have already made a decisive commitment towards your organisation – and it is in their interests to see that the work of the organisation continues, so that the results of their current and previous gifts don’t just peter out.

Also, bearing in mind that the most generous donors are usually advanced in age, and have probably been very cluey about planning their own finances, in order to be able to have means with which to support you now, that they would quite possibly consider including your organisation in their will – if only you had asked!

It doesn’t hurt to have contact details on your website for your bequests officer – or if you don’t have one – your development person, and it also doesn’t hurt to have suggested wording for people to consider including in their wills or as codecils, though they should always be advised to seek independent legal advice.

Philanthropy Australia has sample wording as follows which is appropriate for Australia: “I bequeath to (name of charity) of (address of charity) for its general purposes [(the whole) or (a specific amount or gift) or (a percentage) or (the residue)] of my estate free of all duties, and I declare that the receipt of its treasurer or other authorised officer shall be sufficient discharge to my executor.” You will find a very similar version of this on many university websites as well.

I’m sorry I can’t recommend a really simple Australian guide to bequests just now. One book I read cover to cover though which deals extensively with relationship building to enable you to get to the point of feeling confident about bringing up the topic of bequests with donors is The Art of Planned Giving: Understanding Donors and the Culture of Giving (Wiley Nonprofit Law, Finance and Management Series)

How do you and your organisation feel about bequests? Is it too squeamish a topic or perhaps one which makes your board feel anxious? Or are you actively seeking bequests and making it a normal part of your day to day development operations?

If you are a donor, how do you feel about bequests? Would you like to be asked to contribute in this way?

Anticipating your thoughts and comments.

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About ozphilanthropy

ozphilanthropy - bringing together information about philanthropy for fundraisers and donors. Posts by Sharon Nathani in Melbourne. Sharon has worked in the arts, advancement in higher education and has been the Executive Officer of the Inner North Community Foundation since 2011 and recently joined the board of Australian Community Philanthropy, a networking and promotional organisation for community foundations in Australia.
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One Response to b is for Bequest

  1. Sue says:

    At a masterclass presented by Richard Radcliffe recently, he suggested that “bequest” was never a good word to use, and people preferred to be asked to “remember us in your will” or “leave a lasting legacy”. I suspect he’s right. He also said that you need to keep the message going and mention bequests/legacies etc whenever you can in communications because people don’t generally make or change wills often and you need to be on their radar all the time.

    I have worked in a number of nonprofit organisations and I have never found one where the board or senior management were comfortable about promoting the possibility of leaving a bequest (or even broaching the subject) – one board member told me it was “distasteful”. Yet at the AGM of another Nonprofit that I attended earlier this year, $400k of their $800k surplus was generated solely from bequests! It’s certainly worth putting some effort into cultivating them then.

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