Charities to Reinvent Bequest Programs to Spark Engagement with their Donors

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By Chantelle Georgy, Special Counsel

Charities are needed now more than ever and by a larger section of the community. This spike in demand for charitable services, along with the plummet in revenue and critical resources, are driving charities to more strategically engage with their donors.

This article outlines the ways in which charities can utilise the increased motivation of people to get their Wills done as an opportunity to promote the value of bequests.

It’s a good time to talk about Wills

We have observed two key factors currently motivating people to prioritise their Wills:

  1. A real sense of vulnerability and uncertainty about the future; and
  2. Plenty of extra time spent with loved ones.

Normally a topic that is desperately avoided, it is an unusual phenomenon to see widespread motivation of this kind.

You could say that it took a pandemic to change people’s perspectives and prioritise what’s important in life (and death). Core values have been brought to the forefront of decision-making and allocation of resources. Whereas once upon a time giving to charity may have originated from a place of privilege or disposable wealth, now it may come from the very real experience of fragility and a greater appreciation of the work of charities that is relied on by so many.

There is a smaller gap to bridge between donors and recipients, and this is a very powerful tool for charities.

The value of bequests

The value of bequests does not require much explanation to charities that have long reaped the rewards from gifts left in people’s Wills.

In a 2016 survey conducted by Giving Australia, 49.8% of the 6,201 adult Australian respondents claimed to have a Will, but of these, only 7.4% had included a charitable bequest in their Will.[1] When you consider that in 2017 $9.9 billion of Australian charities’ revenue was sourced from donations and bequests,[2] a clear opportunity exists to grow the revenue line by deriving from gifts in Wills.

Despite untied funding from bequests being integral to raising funds for charitable programs and projects, the unpredictable nature of such gifts leaves most charities perplexed as to how best to engage with their donors to forecast this revenue with some precision.

Some of the challenges

Wills are, after all, a difficult topic to broach. Apart from a general disinterest to address the topic, there are other factors at play, including:

  • Balancing the need to adequately provide for family members in a Will and to avoid a claim on the estate;
  • The estate planning topic can be emotional and is often put into the too hard basket;
  • There aren’t many lawyers with knowledge about charitable giving structures in Wills;
  • The Will-making process is strictly confidential, which means it can be difficult for charities to obtain critical data;
  • There are formal requirements of the Will-making process, which can deem a Will to be invalid if unmet; and
  • It can be too hard to prepare a Will once a person has lost testamentary capacity

Whilst the value of bequests might be well understood by charities, often that value isn’t clearly articulated to the general population and particularly to critical donors.

A targeted approach

Approaching the topic of bequests necessarily involves directing the audience’s mind to their Wills. This presents as a challenge given that we have already established that most people do not wish to have their minds turned in that direction.

Charities will more effectively engage their cohort of supporters on this topic by sensitively tailoring the appeal for bequests to be both:

  • Personal; and
  • Conducive to the entire process of putting a Will together.

It is perfect time for charities to nurture personal relationships with their individual donors given the topic of Wills is already being discussed in many households.

In addition to straddling conversations about Wills already being had, charities should establish bequest programs with a view to facilitating the overall estate planning needs of their donors. Most people have already come face-to-face with the tricky topic of Wills. In many cases, the conversation about philanthropic giving is just not being had in the estate planning process. Including a philanthropic structure in the Will-making process could be the key needed to bring positive emotions to the experience.

Bequest Programs

A bequest program should be viewed as an educational session exclusively offered to charity donors for the purpose of assisting them with their overall estate planning.

In order to effectively capture the desire of a donor to include their philanthropic intentions in their Will, the following points must come together in the bequest program:

  • Inviting individuals to a bequest program should be personal and targeted;
  • Start by focusing on existing donors and pitching the bequest program as an exclusive value add;
  • Charities should partner with a law firm with expertise and knowledge in structured and fixed giving in Wills who can thus ‘speak’ the language;
  • The different ways people can give to charities in their Wills should be clearly explained and articulated to donors, including information about leaving a legacy through structures such as Private Charitable Trusts, Private Ancillary Funds, and Public Ancillary Funds;
  • Charities should develop meaningful partnerships with lawyers preparing the Wills for the donors, as there may be opportunities to track valuable financial data through this affiliation; and
  • Presentations should include real life examples of the impact of giving in Wills.


It is during times of crisis that people’s generosity and giving is mostly seen. There is no time like the present to pave the pathway for people to give life to their philanthropic intentions, and make a real and meaning full impact, through their Wills.


Chantelle Georgy, Special Counsel was the former national manager of Estate Planning at Perpetual Limited. She frequently works with NFP organisations, philanthropists and foundations to tailor charitable gifts in Wills and conduct bequest programs.

[1] Giving Australia 2016 Factsheet.

[2] Australian Charities Report 2017.

For further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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