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A bequest programme could boost your income by 50%

Peter Laubscher, executive director of the Leprosy Mission in South Africa, believes that having a bequest programme is an essential part of the fundraising mix. Here he explains why . . .
 
“I’m glad you’re driving a small car.” Mr. Drummond welcomed me into his thatched cottage, in the Natal midlands. He’s been a generous supporter of the work of the Leprosy Mission for many years.

I’ve called on him to thank him for his generosity. It’s also an opportunity for me to gauge his willingness to leave a bequest to the Leprosy Mission.

His life unfolds over a cup of coffee – his recovery from cancer, his volunteer work with a local school, his engineering career where trust and integrity were at the centre of multi-million Rand contracts, and the church where he and his wife worship.

Within minutes, two things are clear: he has a high regard for the Leprosy Mission and values like honesty and frugality are the glue that have held his life together for the past 75 years.

Issues like thrift are no surprise. During my visits to people who support the work of the Leprosy Mission, this is an overriding theme: people share daily newspapers with their neighbours, they recycle everything and waste nothing. Our supporters may have done well for themselves, but many have memories of tough childhoods and thriftiness is a key value for them. They see frugality as a way of enabling them to give more to their Church and charities.

Substantial assets

Their prudent lifestyles mean that they have often accumulated substantial estates and they are thinking about those assets and how to use them to further the causes that are close to their hearts. This means that they are thinking about charitable bequests. Your task as a fundraiser is to get them thinking about your cause.

When I stepped out of my modest car onto Mr. Drummond’s lawn, he immediately sensed that his values were in harmony with those of the Leprosy Mission. He doesn’t want to support an organisation that wastes money on flashy trappings. “Even if someone gave you an expensive car and you chose to keep it, I’d be put off,” he confides in me.

If your organisation does not yet have a bequest programme, you are missing out on a great deal of income. Let me give you an idea of what bequest income has meant to the Leprosy Mission in recent years, as a percentage of our general income: 2010 – 30%; 2011 – 8%; 2012 – 30%; 2013 – 55%; 2014 – 15%; 2015 – 40%.

Some years ago, we received a bequest equal to three years income.

There’s no need to be daunted by the idea of speaking to your supporters about bequests. They support your work because they identify with your values.

In the case of the Leprosy Mission, I’ve already alluded to values like frugality and generosity. I believe that these values are common to people who support a wide range of work – certainly in the case of the Leprosy Mission, I know that people who support our cause often support as many as 10 other organisations.

We’re a Christian mission, so Biblical values play a big role with many of our supporters, as do issues of compassion. You’ll need to know what values are distinctive to your organisation – what makes you different and what it is that has your supporters reaching for their cheque books?

It’s important to speak to that heartfelt issue when you speak to them about bequests. For example, in some countries, societies that provide homes for pets consistently receive large bequests. Why is that? In those societies, as people grow older, their closest companions are their dogs and cats – they want those companions to be well-cared for when they die – a bequest to a home for dogs is seen as a way of paying back for the devotion that they’ve enjoyed from their furry friends.

Start small

A bequest programme can start small. If you aren’t already doing so, pick up the phone and start talking to your largest supporters. Thank them for what they are doing and then listen to them. You will speedily be able to gauge whether they are interested in deepening their association with your organisation.

Many will welcome a visit from you. You’ll quickly know whether the person is in a position to leave a bequest and whether they will be considering your organisation when they do so. Remember to keep detailed records of these conversations.

In the case of Mr. Drummond, I’d be surprised if he left a bequest to the Leprosy Mission. It seemed clear from the tone of his conversation that he will do all he can to help us during his lifetime, but that he plans to leave his estate to his daughter and grandchild. That’s fine. I’ll keep in touch with him and visit him when I’m able as he clearly welcomes visits and enjoys hearing about what the Leprosy Mission is doing.

Circumstances change – who knows where our friendship will lead? Later that day, I visited Mr. van Tonder on the South Coast. I’ve got to know him well over the years and his interest in the Leprosy Mission has been growing. He’s been a generous supporter for over a decade. During this visit he said to me “I’ve decided to double my annual donation to the Leprosy Mission – and by the way, I’ve left you a bequest.”

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