That legacy tick box on your giving form ~ good thing?

Here’s what I love about conferences: you got a bunch of well-connected experts milling around … so, if there’s a pop-up question, a great answer can come f a s t .

This happened in Ottawa, on May 9.

Within minutes.

John Lepp (sometimes known as “the handsomest man in fundraising”; 4-way tie), co-founder of Canada’s Agents of Good … John was on my left.

David Kravinchuk, co-founder of Common Good Fundraising, was on stage in front of us, presenting with the ever-fab Lynne Boardman, on the HUGELY lucrative topic of “Legacy Marketing for the rest of us….”

David was talking candidly about the time he’d vastly screwed up, as a young fundraiser.

Ready for this? He’d inadvertently cost his university employer tens of millions of dollars in potential gifts.

(And they forgave him, even so! So, how’s your boss?)

Of course, David K. wasn’t trying to screw up. He longed to be exceptionally helpful.

But he’d guessed wrong. He’d trusted his lavishly un-informed instincts. (Lesson learned: instincts sans training are predictably dangerous.)

David Kravinchuk’s rookie mistake?

As the manager of annual giving, David, in an attempt to de-clutter a form, decided unilaterally to > DELETE < the usual tick box about legacy giving. He erased something like the following off the reply device.

“Would you like more information about leaving a gift in your Will to the University? Check this box. We’ll be in touch.”

David Kravinchuk deleted that long-standing statement from the annual appeal reply form.


So, time passes.

One fine day, months and months later, David K. happens to run into the university’s downcast head of planned giving.

This sad sack asks, “Did you folks by any chance do something different this year?”

David: “What do you mean?”

Head of planned giving: “Well, every year in the past we’d get a couple of dozen people asking for more information about gifts in Wills … and this year we got nothing. I just don’t know what happened.”

David Kravinchuk knew what had happened.

He’d de-cluttered the form. Unilaterally, without asking around, he’d removed the check box.

So, for a year, no one who might have left a gift in their Will, had an easy way to get in touch and seek more information … because David K. had removed that convenience. Because checkboxes were distracting. Because they took up valuable space. Because they weren’t cool.

This isn’t David’s problem. This is my problem. I could have EASILY made the same mistake. The human race, by nature, is overconfident. It’s a well-documented heuristic.


Unintended consequences

Presumptions are NOT your friends. It’s unikely you have the right answer at your fingertips. You gotta investigate relentlessly.

Later David K., being a painfully responsible and modest professional, ran the math on his error.


What DID his mistake ultimately cost his employer? All those lost inquiries vs. the average bequest gift?

The potential lost revenue totaled over $50 million. (Wow: that really was a bad decision!)

I draw four big lessons from David’s mammoth (though well-intentioned) utterly extreme clueless over-confident f***-up:

1. OH, MY! ~ Charitable bequests are worth a fortune.
2. DAMN! ~ You’re wrong as much as right. Keep reading daily. Keep updating your information … daily.
3. SH*T! ~ I probably thought what David believed … until 5 seconds ago. Assume everything you learned yesterday could be wrong tomorrow. Keep checking.
4. BE WARY … of everything! ~ Observe the Pirate Code: “it’s guidelines, not actually rules”


That day in Ottawa

John Lepp blasted out an email right away, while we listened to David K. speak.

Hey gang.

Tom and i are sitting next to each other in a legacy presentation.

these folks have said that adding a tick box that says i want more information about leaving a gift in my will  – is worth doing since you get folks in through the legacy door…

ive not tested the impact it might have – or maybe not have – on the actual cash gift ask… in other words – the additional tick box might depreciate the response rate… or maybe it doesn’t impact it at all…

so – have y’all tested it?

good to have? not good to have? probably makes no difference…


Bluefrog (UK) responded right away

It’s something that works and is definitely worth doing.

We often suggest this to clients and none have reported any negative effect on response rates or value of donations.

What they do report is that it will always generate enquiries.

The question is where you put the tick box. The YMCA (and also for ActionAid) used a tick box underneath the flap of the BRE successfully.

You need to mix it up.


Sean Triner/Moceanic sed

Hi [from Australia]

A good survey gets at least 70%, maybe 90% of the legacy leads you’ll ever get. Everything else is a minor player.

But picking up another 10 to 30% is bloody good. So if a survey is in place (if it isn’t that is the highest priority) things like check boxes on appeals are probably good.

You can do a thought experiment in lieu of a full test.

How many ticks will you get?

Say 5% of people who donate.

Say 15% of them eventually leave a legacy.

Just 7 people would tick to get one legacy.

At $35000 that’s a lot. (Obviously there’s a lot of work in between).

Now work out what suppression of response rate would be required to negate that gain.

It’s a lot.

On 300 donations @ $50, suppressing them all would still not be as much as the legacy you’d gain in theory

Conclusion. Likely no harm, only potential benefit.

Any suppression would be sacrificing a tiny bit of money now for a lot of money in the future.

(We did test it in the olden days, not consistent enough, not big enough data, inconclusive- which is kind of conclusive in that it didn’t change things much so fine).

Still, there are more important things to worry about or do to get leads. Tick boxes are a distraction and people who do them often think they have a bequest program.


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