The One Question that Gets to the Heart of Legacy Giving

Posted by Steve Caton on May 2, 2018 1:00:29 PM

Silhouette of Man Holding Boy at Sunset

Asset-based legacy giving is an essential part of fully funding your mission. The foundation for a fundraising strategy that cultivates transformational gifts is telling stories that communicate the purpose of your organization in a manner that is compelling and stirring to your donors.

Of course, there are lots of moving parts to a proper fundraising strategy for your ministry or organization. But like any well-built house, the foundation is always basic. In fact, cultivating legacy giving for your nonprofit or church begins with one simple question – why.

Begin with Your WHY

I absolutely loved the best-selling book by Simon Sinek Start with WHY, which breaks down the secret sauce to world-changing organizations in the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. He claims that the magic formula that makes customers buy into a product, company, or mission is this:

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.

The most successful organizations understand clearly what their purpose is. They also have found a way to consistently convey that compelling purpose to their audience, employees, and stakeholders.

All organizations start with WHY, but only the great ones keep their WHY clear year after year.

The most successful businesses know at a profound level that they exist for a purpose greater than making a profit. In the same way, nonprofit organizations like yours have to know deeply that you exist for more than not making a profit.

Well-funded ministries and organizations have something in common. (Hint – it’s not the size of their marketing budget.) Well-funded ministries and organizations have something in common. (Hint – it’s not the size of their marketing budget.) Successful organizations have a purpose and a language that ignites their donor base.

Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?

The Language of Stories

The most effective language you could use to articulate your why is the language of stories. Stories are the language of the soul. They stir the emotions of our hearts. That is where your message has to go to motivate giving in donors.

Seem too poetic or mystical? Consider the science. Research shows that the language of stories is hard-wired into us! Leo Widrich, co-founder of Buffer, recently shared in a LifeHacker article what happens when people listen to a story. “When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.”

Stories engage all the parts of our brain that we would have used if we were experiencing the same situation as the story is telling us. This means that stories come alive to us in a way that facts and figures do not.

There’s simply no better way to make your purpose “come alive” to your donors than to tell stories that illustrate, explain, and advocate for your organization’s great WHY.

Two Kinds of Stories You Should Tell

First, you must begin with the WHY of your organization, ministry, or church. You must understand at the deepest most emotional level why you exist and why anyone should care that you exist.

From there, you have two major categories of stories you can tell about your organization’s purpose.

  • The opportunity: The first category is the positive category where you tell stories that illustrate why you are here. These are stories that have happy endings of impact, results, and testimonies. They may start with a problem, but they end with your solution.
  • The challenge: The second category is the negative side where you tell stories showing your donor what would happen if you did not exist.

These stories answer the question, “What would our community be like for women/children/families/animals/politics/education if we closed our doors tomorrow?”

Both positive and negative stories are powerful ways to show rather than tell your donor base why your mission is critical and worthy of funding – especially funding through Gifts of Assets like real estate or planned gifts.

Your Donor’s WHY

To use storytelling effectively to cultivate transformational gifts for your organization, you must also understand your donor’s WHY.

  • Why do they give? What kind of change do they want to see in the world? What about the current state of things makes them angry, fearful, guilty, or sad?
  • What does your donor believe in? Why do they get up in the morning and do what they do every day? How does the purpose of your organization match up with their great WHY?

By thinking through the big WHY motivating your donor, you’ll make them the hero of every story you tell. That’s exactly what they are. Your organization or ministry is a dream broker – you turn donor dreams into reality.

You’re the bridge between your donor and the impact that they so long for in this world. You’re the vehicle that can make the change they desire happen. That change can only come when they act as the hero of the story with a gift.

So in your storytelling, make sure your donor is always the hero of the story.

Storytelling in Legacy

Every transformational gift, whether it is a gift of assets or in an estate gift, is a story the donor is trying to tell the world about their purpose in life. This is seen most clearly when a donor leaves a bequest. This last gift is a story the donor is telling the world about their values – about their legacy.

Ask yourself. Are your stories compelling, inspiring, and relevant to your donor and her purpose? Do the stories you tell portray values and emotions that resonate with the story your donor wants to tell the world through their giving?

Start today and make sure that every marketing message, fundraising appeal, or content piece you create contains a story conveying the reason why you exist and why your donor should care.

The Giving Crowd loves helping great organizations cultivate asset-based and estate gifts by telling their unique story. Find them here.

Steve Caton

About the Author

Steve Caton

Steve is the President of The Giving Crowd and has over 25 years of experience building teams and growing innovative, rapidly growing organizations. In addition to successfully expanding a variety of companies, Steve has authored hundreds of articles and eBooks about effective leadership and organizational health. Before joining forces with Greg and Richard, Steve was part of the leadership team at one of the top church technology firms where he provided the catalyst for an 8-year period of double-digit growth. While living at the intersection of faith and technology is what Steve does on a daily basis, releasing resources to fund great causes is what matters to him…as well as enjoying the brilliant blue skies and deep powder of Colorado with his wife and two sons!