Get acquainted with bequests

A bequest (also known as a gift in will) is a transfer of personal property—such as cash, securities, or other assets—upon the owner’s death, as specified in their will. More than any other type of giving, a bequest is characterised by long-term time frames. Funds pledged from notified bequests can take many years to come to fruition. However, it is well worth investing in a well-managed bequest program as they are often the largest gift a person will ever make to your organisation and can result in a high return on the investment of your time.

Research from Include a Charity indicates that currently 7.5% Australians leave a gift in their will upon their passing. As the Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement in the coming decades, this figure is set to grow. Similarly, the percentage of couples choosing not to have children is on the rise which offers potential bequests to be gifted to your organisation.


Types of bequests

There are four main types of bequests a donor can leave in their will.

  1. Residual

    Is the remainder of the donor’s estate after first leaving gifts to their loved ones. A residual bequest will keep up with inflation.

  2. Percentage or fractional

    Is a gift expressed as a percentage or fraction of the donor’s estate and are not influenced by inflation. Donors can leave a percentage of either the residue of their estate or a percentage of the entire estate.

  3. Pecuniary or specific

    Is a specified gift which can be money, property, stocks or shares.

  4. Whole estate

    Comprises the donor’s entire estate and is usually left by those without family or other preferred beneficiaries, or those wanting to achieve something very significant with their gift.

Note that a bequest may be given freely or with conditions. If given freely, the recipient organisation can choose to manage the gift as it sees fit within the aims of the organisation. If given with conditions, these must be honoured.


Creating a successful bequest

For organisations to be a beneficiary of a bequest, they need to invest time into creating a bequest information pack and list it on your website. At a minimum this information should use clear language to outline the need for support and how this will be used by the organisation. This ensures that any bequests left by the donor will be legitimate in law. This is a simple exercise that can yield long-term results. To begin your organisation can research how other charities provide bequest information on their website, prepare your documents and have it checked by a solicitor.

Successful bequest programs are based on:

  • Prompting the idea of leaving a bequest to your connected audience on a regular basis;
  • Offering ongoing opportunities for donors to engage with the organisation to understand the impact of a bequest;
  • Having role models and bequest ‘champions’ who assist in promoting the idea. These can be founders, long-term donors, board members or even volunteers; and
  • Transparent and respectful processes including an organisation code of conduct.

Look at it this way…. you are giving people who love what you do the opportunity to leave a legacy that will help you continue your great work.

The most likely people to make a gift under their will are current donors or volunteers who have given to your organisation for at least five years and who wish to continue their support after their lifetime. The desire to be remembered or have one’s family or loved ones honoured by society, now or in the future, is a key motivating factor for a bequest. For this reason, bequests can be well suited to endowment campaigns to insure an organisation’s long-term future.

Once a bequest prospect has pledged to provide a gift under their will they are usually referred to as a ‘bequestor’ or a ‘bequest pledger’.

Relationships with bequestors need to be carefully nurtured. People and their families who advise your organisation that they have made a gift in their will often appreciate recognition during their lifetime through initiatives such as bequest clubs or bequest circles. Acknowledging these groups throughout your organisation is also a simple initiative to promote your bequest program to others.

Successful bequest programs have the additional following characteristics:

  1. How funds will be used, particularly if given freely, is clearly stated.
  2. The requesting organisation and all its members have a good understanding of the legal basics associated with bequests and wills.
  3. The organisation has easy to find wording regarding a bequest that a potential donor, or their solicitor, can access for inclusion in their will.
  4. Bequest opportunities are consistently included in the organisation’s communications as appropriate (with the avoidance of age stereotypes).
  5. The requesting organisation has a bequest acceptance policy approved by the Board.
  6. Personal visits are made to confirm and remain connected to bequest pledgers.

All arts organisations, large and small, based in a metropolitan area or regionally, should have a bequest program. You owe your supporters the opportunity to leave a legacy that will help you continue the work of your organisation and with a little work it can result in significant long-term rewards.