Why Donors Won’t Put You in Their Wills

Remember when you turned 16? You had finished driver education, perhaps you had logged a lot of hours of supervised driving, and you had a license. Then you asked your parents to use the car. It’s a rare (and wonderfully trusting) parent who hands over the keys with joy that first time.

Now, your parents loved you. How did you know? Maybe they helped you with your homework. Maybe they put up with your loud friends, or paid for your music lessons, or went to your sporting events. They cared for you when you were sick, and they were brave and patient when you needed them to be tough. But still, they really didn’t want to give you the car. Why? One little word: confidence. They weren’t confident that you can keep the car—or yourself—safe.

You have a longThe #1 Reason Donors Won’t Put You in Their Wills list of loyal, faithful, generous donors who have been giving for years. It seems like a no-brainer that they would want to remember your organization in their will, right? But the number one reason donors don’t include a nonprofit in their will is simple. They lack confidence.

They might not have confidence that you will remain true to your mission over the next 20 years. They might not trust that you will use their money well when they’re gone. They might be concerned that you will not do your part to maintain a relationship with them as they get older, when their health and donations decline.

It’s not hard to see why donors can be skeptical about trusting institutions. Look at the recent scandal over college and university admissions. Plenty of alumni are probably shaking their heads, wondering how staff at their alma maters could have been caught up in criminal activity. How can you show that donors can entrust you with the legacy they’ve been building throughout their lives?

A good way to instill that confidence is to develop and communicate a list of promises. Just like a trustworthy new driver needs to promise to drive carefully, to never text while driving, and to drive only to authorized destinations, you need to promise your donors that you’ll do everything in your power to be worthy of their legacy gift.

Promise that you will:

  • keep safeguards in place to keep your institution true to your mission
  • keep safeguards in place to use their money well
  • continue to maintain a close relationship with them

When they are sure that you mean what you say, they can feel comfortable with the decision to leave you an end-of-life gift. Make sure you keep those promises so that they’ll share their experience, and you’ll build confidence in new donors too.