Using the phrase 'a gift in your will' gets best results for legacy fundraisers, says report

A paper by Russell James, a Texas Tech University professor, says a term such as this is more effective in creating interest than asking people to make 'bequests' or to 'bequest a gift to charity'

Legacy fundraisers warned not to 'gratuitously' mention death
Legacy fundraisers warned not to 'gratuitously' mention death

Legacy fundraisers would have more success if they referred to a legacy as "a gift in your will" instead of using terms such as "bequest" or ‘‘legacy" or asking people to ‘‘remember your favourite charities’’ according to research

The paper, Phrasing the Charitable Bequest Inquiry by Russell James, a professor at Texas Tech University, says that people were significantly more interested in leaving a legacy when asked if they would "make a gift to charity in your last will and testament" than if they were asked to make a "bequest" or a "bequest gift to charity".

Being asked to "leave a legacy" or to "remember your favourite charities" also significantly reduced interest among the sample of 9,964 US residents who took part in the online surveys that formed the basis of the study. The surveys were carried out between February 2014 and January 2015.

The paper, published earlier this year by Voluntas, the journal of the International Society for Third Sector Research, says that the relatively high levels of interest among respondents who were asked to leave a "gift in your will" could be indicative of the importance of keeping the description of legacies simple.

It says that asking people to "continue to support" or to "support and continue to support" charitable causes had a significantly negative effect on interest in leaving a bequest gift. The paper says this might be partly because the statement could give a "conflicting impression" to those who do not currently support charities.

The phrase "as a lasting statement of support" also had a negative effect on interest.

The paper says that "gratuitously referencing" a person’s death was associated with reduced interest in leaving a legacy and should probably be avoided. This was demonstrated by the significantly negative effect on interest of the phrase "that will take effect at my death".

One the other hand, the phrase "because you care about causes that are important in your life" had a significantly positive effect on charitable bequest intentions, the paper says. It says there is "something relatively influential" about the phrase "causes that are important in your life" and that there appears to be a positive effect on interest overall from referencing causes or values that are important in people’s lives.

The paper says that social norm statements – such as "many people like to leave a gift to charity in their will" – have a positive effect on interest in making a charitable bequest.

"Findings from this study may be useful to practicing fundraisers or those interested in unified campaigns to increase interest in charitable bequest giving," says the paper.

"Although these results do not reveal a single ‘magic phrase’ that generates the highest level of interest in making bequest gifts, several practical principles do emerge. When considering common descriptions, the use of some variation of ‘gift in your will’ seems most appropriate. Alternative terms such as bequest, legacy or ‘remember your favourite charities’ appear less effective.

"Other terms could be used if desired, but appeared to have only modest effects. For example, using ‘last will & testament’ in place of ‘will’ was acceptable, but the effect was not strong."

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