Are You Using the Right Words in Your Bequest Communications?

Are You Using the Right Words in Your Bequest Communications?


Wayne McKenzie, our Senior Fundraising Consultant in New Zealand, shares advice about Bequest Communications, based on recent research findings about Phrasing the Charitable Bequest Inquiry (International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University, February 2015).


For most charitable organisations, the first step to increase their bequest income is to establish a bequest program. But how can you increase your bequest income if you already have a bequest strategy in place? How can you refine your bequest program and improve response rates?


An interesting report examined a variety of phrases in a survey to gauge the relative interest in leaving a bequest gift to charity. They tested 4 things: common terms, social norms, life story and symbolic immortality.

Some of the findings may help you in refining your messages and questions.


Preferred bequest wording: “a gift to charity in your will”

The preferred term to use is “a gift to charity in your will”. Including the terms “a bequest gift” or “leave a legacy” produced a lower response rate from survey participants.


Preferred bequest prompt: “support a charity”

Using the term “continue to support …” had a lower response than simply “support a charity”. This may be a reflection of non-donors responding to the survey, but, even among donors, the difference was negligible. So, if non-donors will receive your material, don’t give them an extra reason to respond negatively.


Do not include references to mortality

Including references to mortality such as “to take effect at my death” decreased the response rate.


Make references to cause and/or values

Making references to causes and or values that were important to donors increased the interest of respondents. Examples are: “they want to support causes that are important in their lives”, or “they care about causes that are important …” These phrases faired better than “… their favourite charity”. It was also noted that women responded more positively to these phrases than men.


Describe bequest as a social norm

Describing a gift in your will as a social norm produced more positive results. Example: “Many people leave a gift in their will”. By adding two more words: “Many people like to leave a gift …” produced an even more positive result.



How you communicate your bequest messages, and the questions you ask will affect the responses you get. What phrases have you found to work better than others? Have you tried testing different phrases? Join the discussion on LinkedIn!



Wayne McKenzie

Wayne McKenzie

Senior Fundraising Consultant at AskRIGHT
Wayne McKenzie is an esteemed and award winning fundraising professional with more than 25 year experience working with charities in New Zealand.

To find out how Wayne can help your organisation, contact
Wayne McKenzie

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