Understanding the donor journey that brings a legacy gift

publication date: Jul 19, 2016
author/source: Lindsay Sievewright

 “Don't let me hear you say life takes you nowhere, angel.” 
David Bowie

Lindsay SievewrightThe recent passing of David Bowie and Alan Rickman is a reminder of how fleeting life is. Gone far too young and to cancer. These men, who gave so much to the world with their artistic creativity and their unique styles, have certainly left a real and lasting legacy that will remain, and be loved, for generations to come.

We all leave a mark

Not all of us will reach the number of people Bowie and Rickman did in their lifetime, but our mark, our legacy, will be remembered by those who know us. That is our final gift. A part of that gift may also be naming a valued charity in our Will to make our legacy a meaningful one to help support the good work done by our chosen organizations.

As planned giving programs become more pro-active, it is more likely that an organization will know of at least a percentage of legacy pledges before fulfilment. By making planned giving a part of a donors’ life cycle conversation (in an appropriate way), planned giving officers can start to look at legacy pledgers in their donor journey cycle.

Identifying planned givers in the donor journey is a useful exercise

A donor journey map looks at the entire arc of an engagement with a donor. For a charitable organization, this could mean focusing on how to move a donor through your organization from advocacy to one-time donor, to monthly donor, and ultimately to a legacy gift.

However, a donor journey map doesn’t have to been as all-encompassing as a lifecycle journey. It could instead concentrate on one event or a small period of time in the relationship between the charitable organization and the donor.

Donor journey mapping looks at a donor experience with an organization. It is impossible to have the kind of conversation needed to get to know your many thousands of donors, so identified donor “types” are examined. These will be unique to your organization but are likely to include information around needs, communication channels, touchpoints, motivation, type of commitment etc. All logical. The next step is to take into consideration the journey from the planned giver’s (or potential planned giver’s) viewpoint. Where were the important connects in that journey? Were there moments when the donor hit a high or a low point? These are the crucial moments - the make or breaks, if you like.

What does a donor journey look like?

Let’s look at this concept in a little more detail. First, you need to identify your supporter. If you have a profile of a typical planned giver for your organization, use that. Next, and most importantly, you have to identify the supporter’s needs. Why do they support your organization and not your competitor? What do you bring to the table? What sets you apart? What is it that initially motivated support? Typically, people support organizations with planned gifts to reciprocate, to be remembered, receive recognition etc.

But do we know specifically what motivated their legacy gift?

Were supporters inspired by a specific campaign or event? Did an emergency situation highlight to them the real and lasting need (and how they can help)? Did meeting staff give your organization a face and person they could relate to? Was a change in legislation precipitate their planned gift or was it a change in personal circumstances?

The catalyst which provided the spark needed to change intention (I am thinking about naming that wonderful organization) to fact (my Will now includes a planned gift) is vital for speaking effectively to your donor. It enables you to continue to communicate with them in a personal manner. Although the donor has now taken the step of naming your organization, there are very possibly other ways to further engage and encourage more participation.

If you understand why the donor committed to your organization and, by looking at their donor journey, were able to identify the "Moment that Matters" (when they went Wow!) as well as moments when they felt frustrated with their participation in your mission, you can approach them with confidence. If a specific campaign moved them to include you in their Will, you can provide them with updates on that project or other similar campaigns. You may also be able to offer the opportunity to participate as a volunteer or attend an event you think they would find interesting.

Knowing your supporters is easier said than done

Unless you are involved in a very small organization (I know a few people who are, and who know all their planned givers or their families), you are going to have to be bold and inventive and get out from behind your desk. Organize planned giving events around the country (if you don’t have the capacity to host all of them, consider recruiting volunteers and carefully plan an event blueprint to follow). Visit supporters to give them a tax receipt. Send personalized cards over the holidays and follow-up with a call to wish them a Happy New Year. Anything you can do to build relationships, increase loyalty and possibly inspire more or bigger gifts. (Even though you are planned giving, be generous, share out the donor pie!)

Planned gifts are the final and lasting mark many wish to leave. But what happens on the journey to that point, is vitally important.

It is, after all, a whole life.

Lindsay Sievewright began working with nonprofits as coordinator of ethical goods and volunteer for an international aid organization. After a number of years in finance and education she took the challenge and became hjc's European consultant, leading legacy projects on three continents. She is joint founder of XIFR, UK-based integrated fundraising experts. Her hobbies include baking, travel and is working her way to black belt in Kickboxing.

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