What do you do with a word that is the essence of your whole program, but which does not motivate anyone to take action? Simple, you put it aside and trade it for something much stronger...
I received an obituary notice in my mailbox a while ago for my aunt, the last one on my father’s side.
For those who didn’t know her, there is very little to learn from it. How old she was, where she lived, how big her family was. That’s about it.
But you’d never know that my aunt made half the village more beautiful in her hair salon. That, when they were young, she watched over my father like a big sister. Or that she later had a son who introduced me to David Bowie, turning me into a lifelong fan.
And thus perishes every human life. What we believe in or value: it is too easily lost. Our stories don’t go much further than the wake after the funeral.
We don’t have to look far for the reason: our mortality hangs over us like a shadow, but we look the other way. We chat about the weather, about the latest episode of ‘Days of our Lives’, about a president’s tweet, etc. but hardly ever about death or deceased people. That’s why we even thought of a special day for it, All Saints’ Day. Then the box opens – we look death in the eyes – and it closes quickly.
If you’re still reading this, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re working in my sector. A sector where everything is dedicated to death: fundraising through bequests. How do you deal with that, then, when death seems to be the Grand Finale? Simple: talk about life!
Move your donor with the things that are close to his or her heart. Your brochures, leaflets, mailings, etc. must radiate your donor’s beliefs. This could be a better environment, an education for disadvantaged children, a safe home for stray dogs, a cure for cancer, etc.
The same goes for the subsequent discussion of the will – the document that it’s all ultimately about. Do not present the will with melancholy as the last will and testament. On the contrary, speak of it as the opportunity to show how we want to be remembered. It is our biography, the summary of our life. Why should a will not radiate joy? Mine, for example, shows that I loved living. That my loved ones always come first, and that they probably think it’s okay if I also set something aside for a good cause.
Those who work for legacy fundraising almost never use the word ‘death’. Not because it is taboo, but simply because legacy fundraising is about something completely different.
Put it to the test: write out your own will. Just a draft on an A4 sheet. Whether you’re thirty, sixty, or eighty years old. Whether you’re affluent or have trouble making ends meet.
Want to bet that the word ‘death’ does not appear in it? Your will is primarily a record of what you value and how you want to perpetuate those values in the future. And if you’re not satisfied with the result, you don’t have to panic yet. Because you still have a lifetime to make something better out of it.