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— by Karl Tischler – 8 min read

As I write this, the weekend that’s just passed has been one where the many restrictions we’ve been living with for the past six weeks have eased.

And it felt like there was a communal sigh of relief as people went out, socialised with friends and returned to doing what they ‘normally’ did.

However, is this too soon and will it be short lived?

To say that the past six weeks have been a bit of a blur would be a gross understatement. In many of the conversations I’ve had, I find myself biting my tongue and feeling a little foolish when I exclaim, “I mean, I’ve never seen a time like this… ‘

Karl, no-one has. 

Given the time we’re in, the guys here asked if I’d share some thoughts about what this means in reference to Gifts in Wills/Bequest fundraising. I’ve always had a very keen interest in GIW/ bequest fundraising and over the years, I’ve worked on loads of programmes. 

Anyone working in this space would surely be aware of some impressive figures about increases of new GIW enquires in both the UK and US. What I wanted to do was some basic research—find out amongst our clients and others in the sector whether what is happening overseas, is reflected here.

Firstly… recognise that this is an incredibly unique period.

As you can imagine—with wall-to-wall news coverage of impending death, doom and disintegration of our social systems—there seems to be near constant reminders of our mortality. 

For many of our clients, and much of our sector, the agility and pivoting of their appeals and campaigns has been inspiring. Their ability and willingness to pivot, change, be agile and adjust has been excellent. Yet, this is mostly driven by a need to react to what’s in front of them right now.

This is quite a contrast when it comes to GIW/ bequest fundraising which demands much longer term thinking, and these uncertain times we’re living in reduce our longer term vision at the worst possible time. 

An hour feels like a day, a day feels like a week, and a week feels like a year. We watch change happen at exponential rates and our perception of time itself gets warped. It is incredibly hard to ignore the constantly changing news-cycle—but we must, else we exhaust ourselves.

If you are feeling even just a little overwhelmed (and pretty much everyone who I spoke to is) just imagine how your supporters are feeling?

The irony of this time is that the long-term thinking we need is most powerful when everything is falling apart. This is especially so for GIW/ Bequests. It is also a truism, that the majority of those long-term results, are determined by the kinds of decisions made in the minority of times. 

This is one of those times.

I think this is why the time is so adrenalin-fuelled; there’s a collective realisation that this is historic and we all feel the gravity of decisions we make. I feel it—and I’ve certainly noticed it amongst the many clients and organisations that I work with.

Your GIW programme: is what’s happening here, comparable to the elsewhere?

If you’re immersed in the GIW space, you would surely be aware of the news that in the UK (and to a lesser extent, the US) GIW/ bequest enquiries are going through the roof; some of the articles and research I’ve read is that this is by a factor of 30-40%. 

This is pretty amazing… but it should not be unexpected. 

With blanket media coverage, the closeness of death and reminders of our mortality clearly are prompts for people to ‘get their affairs in order’. Tragically, in the UK (and the US), the immediacy and presence of death are much less abstract and such mortality reminders are going to be felt more acutely where many more people have either died or been directly affected by COVID-19. 

I’ve contacted several clients and people in this sector to ask about their GIW/ bequest programmes and whether they’ve seen a similar spike here; the short answer is no… not really. 

The massive increases in GIW enquiries seems to be unique to the UK and is also a function of the free Wills kits that are either sent out or available on-line. There’s also a much more proactive approach by Will writing companies and charities in the UK than compared to here. 

Generally, there has been an increase in enquiries here, just not to the same extent and the increase we’re seeing isn’t as significant.

This modest increase appears to be borne from a combination of people having more time on their hands, reminders of other campaigns that are running at this time or is the prompt that makes people who were already considering a Gift in their Will to just get on and do it.

Many of the clients I contacted reported that they had postponed or scaled back their active GIW efforts, and focussed more on stewardship and donor care calls. This is absolutely the right and appropriate thing to do.

Yet, the fundraiser in me wants to be much more active and present at this time where mortality and death reminders have increased our audience’s willingness to think about the legacy that they will leave. I think that this is certainly a time for any GIW programme to be present, but what matters is how you make that presence felt.

In crude metrics, the consensus also appears to be to prepare and expect for decreases in GIW/ bequest income in the current year of around 9%, and then next year around 15%. This is due in part to lower estate values, admin (ie. clogged legal system) and postponing the sales of houses/ property.

Your audience: what do they need at this time?

I believe that regardless of their circumstances and the time we live in, people will always seek meaning. 

Never is that more true than now.

One of the things I love most about the GIW space is the depth and profundity of the ultimate gesture one can make. What we offer to people is the means to align their values with those of the causes they believe in and that they want to see continue. We help them to craft their own identity and give them meaning and purpose. I think this is as much a gift to them, as their bequest is to us. 

This all relates to their higher personal needs; including those of self-actualisation.

There is also the issue of your audience’s emotional wellbeing. In an article I recently read, Dr Jen Shang discussed the sense of personal ‘wellbeing’ that our audiences have and how this influences their inclination towards their GIW choices. 

She defined ‘wellbeing’ by three factors; a sense of control; the degree of connectedness they felt; and the sense of competence conveyed in communications surrounding their estate planning, causes and values that they believe in. 

She said, ‘People want to have a sense of wellbeing. The more autonomy, connectedness, and competency they feel, the better they will feel. Generally, people will seek to engage in behaviors that enhance their sense of wellbeing. Furthermore, they will appreciate individuals and organizations that help them obtain greater wellbeing.’

Of all these three factors, perhaps ‘the sense of control’ is the most relevant in these times. 

We know that in incredibly uncertain times, what people seek is a semblance of personal self-efficacy—that amidst all the crazy-ness, there is ‘something that I can control…’. Clearly, this is very powerful—and is the prime reason we should not become ‘ghouls’ or ‘ambulance chasers’ at this time. 

What your audience needs at this time is what they’ve always needed; a sense of true meaning that aligns with your cause, control over their choice (especially at this time) and a sense of a quality connection.

The more we can genuinely, and authentically, attune to the emotional wellbeing of our supporters, the easier our GIW messaging will be understood and appreciated.

‘There will be a spike…’

In reference to the relaxation of restrictions, I began by asking , ‘…is this too soon and will it be short lived?’

No-one knows what’s coming. However, we can plan for different scenarios. Given there’s no current vaccine, that we’re heading into winter, that there’s been such huge social disruption and dislocation—it is not entirely unreasonable to suggest that the next 12-18 months are going to be turbulent. 

And it won’t really take much for our societal systems to be faced with more COVID-19 crises. 

In a way, this also means that if the markers of our mortality are going to remain, then we need to prepare and ensure that our GIW programmes can respond and give our audiences something that they can believe in, and identify with.

I think it is a time to be bold… and a time to be present.

The causes that you’ve spent years convincing your supporters to care about, still demand that care. How you behave, and what your supporters will remember of you, has a direct relation to how your supporters see themselves, how reassured they are and the value they place on you and your cause.

If you shrink away, your supporters will question whether they’ve been duped; if you recognise the time, where your donors are at and invite them into your world—they will love and reward you with their loyalty.

One client I chatted with spoke about the need for their GIW materials to reflect a bolder, more assertive tone—that the old ‘tired and default options’ are not going to resonate—especially so with the Boomers coming through. 

So what does this mean? 

Well, ask yourself; does your current GIW programme sufficiently reflect the uniqueness of your cause? Does it also meet the needs of your supporters? Does it satisfy their unique ‘loves’, including;

– their love of a legacy that they can leave

– their love of a value or concept that they prize in life

– their love of a time honoured-promise

– their love of themselves

– their love of absolution

– their love of thankfulness and gratitude

– their love of a life well-lived, and 

– their love of a tribute to a person or memory

I truly enjoy the GIW space; it is one of the very few areas in fundraising where the strengths of the relationships we seek, and the way that they are nurtured, matter. If you’d like to discuss more about these ‘loves’, I urge you to contact me direct and I’d be very happy to share more.

Finally, I’d like to share a quote from Voltaire, ‘History never repeats itself; man always does.’

Much of the above is predicated on the one constant we face; change. Yet what we all seek—especially as we get older—is the constancy and reassurance of calm. 

The contrast between the gorgeous weather we see outside and our imploding social systems couldn’t be starker. But what is insane is to think that things will return to some kind of normality; some kind of calm.

They won’t—and perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. 

This is indeed an historical time, yet when it comes to human behaviour, it is ourselves that change least, and change last. 


Take care, and stay sane.