The final outcome of charitable bequest gift intentions: Findings and implications for legacy fundraising

Roewen Wishart, Russell N. James

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Charitable bequest gifts are important to charities but evaluating legacy fundraising activities is problematic. These activities may not generate bequest income until many years later. Thus, many charities focus on generating reports of current plans or intentions for bequest gifts. Such approaches depend on the link between these reports and ultimate bequest transfers. However, this link is not well documented. This study presents the first multi-organisational results linking ultimate estate distributions with lifetime legacy giving plans or intentions reported to charities. Ten Australian charities provided data from those dying in 2014–2017. Among 700 decedents who had confirmed the presence of a planned bequest gift to the charity, 35% generated no estate gift. This lost gift rate varied from 17 to 60% across different organisations. The average loss rate was 24% when the charity had at least one communication with the decedent within 2 years of death, and 48% otherwise. Among 264 people reporting to the charity that they were “intending” or “considering” an estate gift but not confirming it, 89% left no gift at death. Among 507 people only requesting information about making a bequest gift, 95% left no gift at death. These results suggest the importance of moving donors to the point of planned gift confirmation and then maintaining relationships until the end of life. However, marketing remains challenging given that 58% of the 2,682 total bequest gifts received by these organisations came from decedents who were not donors during life.

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