Why Bequest Fundraising And Major Gifts Fundraising Should Be Your Highest Priority

by Jake Thornton

Recently we interviewed Professor Russell James from Texas, USA, to discuss the importance of Bequest Fundraising and Major Gifts Fundraising.

Question: Major gifts and Bequests Fundraising aside, what other areas of fundraising should nonprofits be focussing on at this time and why?

Now remember that Professor Russell James spent over 25 years as a planned giving fundraiser, was an estate planning attorney in the private practice, is a major gifts fundraiser, and is now a university professor at the Texas Tech University to educate his students on researching charitable giving and fundraising.

Here was Russell’s response to this question.

Professor Russell James discusses why Bequest Fundraising and Major Gifts Fundraising should be the highest priority for nonprofits.

So it’s a challenge for me, because if you begin with the statement ‘putting aside major gifts and legacy giving,’ all of a sudden I completely lose interest, and here’s why:

“You’ve heard of the 80/20 rule”

20% of your people generate 80% of your results. Look, fundraising is not an 80/20 world. The latest statistics show it’s somewhere around an 80/2 or maybe an 80/3 world. That’s 2-3 percent of your donors are generating 80 percent of the dollars. That’s with current gifts.

With legacy gifts, it gets even more extreme. For example, in the US:

“One out of a thousand descendants generates the majority of charitable bequest dollars.”

So, yes, getting everyone involved is very important, but it tends to be important as a prospecting process to get to those major gifts. And so it’s a challenge for me because what I’m telling you is where the dollars come from, but what I’m telling you makes your life harder.

Let’s talk about legacy gifts. I’m telling you charitable estate gifts are fluid. That means you’ve got to stay in contact with your donors all the way to the end. It means the score doesn’t count until the clock runs out. That makes your life harder as a fundraiser. It means you got to work with those grumpy old people who maybe have attitudes you don’t agree with, and you’ve got to deal with all of the complexities that come with surrounding family members, and all of those complications. It makes you life harder.

“In the same way, many times fundraisers tend to be attracted to those areas that are the fun stuff, maybe the urgent stuff, but not the important stuff.”

I know that we love to talk about the younger generations, and how do we connect with younger generations, and how do we get more likes on Facebook and all of those fun things. That’s great, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with the real world of the real dollars.

I hate to say that because I know that annoys people because it does make their life harder, but you have to understand, from my perspective, most of what I do at the university is to train those who will be financial advisors.

So from a financial advisor perspective, it’s all about wealth. It’s all about the wealth holders and so it’s a natural tendency to say this is the group that matters when it comes to wealth holding. And many times fundraisers are resistant to that reality.

“They would rather the world be the way that they want it to be rather than the way that it actually is.”

That leads them to do things that are kind of fun and feel sort of urgent, but they’re not the things that are going to be transformational to the organisation.

So you get into these cycles of chasing the small dollar gift, of doing desperation appeals, which are great for the $50 gift and they’re going to destroy your chance at any major investment from a major donor.

So that’s a long way of just completely not answering your question by saying if it’s not major gifts or legacy gifts, actually not that interested because that’s not where the dollars are.

Sorry to be so obnoxious.

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