Sad puppy or happy puppy: which one will get you more legacies?

There are lots of different types of fundraising. Those who invest in bequest fundraising have to avoid at least 1 big trap. Because your goal and target audience are different from other types of fundraising, adapting both visual and written communication is critical. A few guidelines will get you far…

Direct Mail fundraising and legacy fundraising are related, naturally. While the similarities are obvious, their character is completely different.

Your starting point is the same: raising as much money as possible for your non-profit or social profit company. The way you do that, however, is often different in both form and content.

To start, your approach will be different:

In DM fundraising your aim is to get an immediate reaction from your donor. There’s an urgent problem for which you need money as quickly as possible:

  • hunger in South Sudan;
  • a hospital that needs to continue their cancer research;
  • a shelter for the homeless that needs heating during the winter.

To address this problem, you need to tell a compelling story that immediately cuts to the core of the issue. As a DM fundraiser you target the donor’s gut feeling.  

Your angle is completely different in bequest fundraising.

Of course there’s the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore: our mortality. Nobody really enjoys thinking about his/her impending death. We will discuss how you deal with this as a fundraiser in a next blog.

But first and foremost: bequest fundraising isn’t about action-reaction. No one puts your company in his/her will on a whim. They thoroughly think about it.

This is a major difference that should be reflected in your communication. This asks for a different choice of words and images.

A typical DM fundraising letter cuts straight to the point. Alarming pictures support this cry for help. You see bombarded hospitals, emaciated dogs, blind children, …

Those harsh images aren’t to bait donors, because they reflect reality. “We have a major issue… but YOU can solve it today!”

In bequest fundraising urgent problems are not the focal point. You want to eradicate hunger, put an end to women dying of breast cancer, etc. You don’t want to save one person, but a whole generation. You portray a vision. A dream of what’s possible.

Because your goal is different, your communication will also look different. A legacy prospect usually isn’t tempted to put you in his/her will by seeing horrible pictures. They’ll want to see the positive outcome of their legacy, so that’s what you should present them: a child going to college, a scale model of the new hospital, a healthy tiger in his natural habitat, etc.

A summary of the differences:

DM fundraising Bequest fundraising
Urgent problem Future-proof solution: show them your dream!
To the point text Comprehensive discourse
Alarming images

Hopeful images

Try to get an immediate reaction - emotion  Get people to understand the importance of their legacy


Of course, this isn’t black and white, because you shouldn’t only use sad pictures in classic DM  fundraising and you should also have enough emotion in your legacy fundraising communication. The most important part is the story! So maybe you can have an amazing legacy campaign with a sad puppy… If you did, don’t hesitate to let me know!

I would love to hear your feedback.

Author: Luk Luk