Bequest Marketing, Tracking, and Administration: Survey Results

This past summer, PG Calc launched a survey to inform our thinking around bequest marketing, tracking, and administration. The 475 responses provide rich insight into the challenges respondents face in their bequest programs.

Organization Size and Bequest Program Activity

The audience for this survey consisted of PG Calc clients and prospects. Due to the nature of our business - supporting planned giving programs - most respondents come from organizations that are fairly large and have active bequest programs as a foundation of their life income gift programs. To give you a sense of organization size, almost 40% of respondents raise between $1 and $10 million each year from individuals and one-third raise more than $25 million annually from individuals.

To enable readers of the results to benchmark their organization’s performance against those that participated in the survey, we’ve included data about bequest activity in the graph below. Almost half of the respondents indicated that they learn of up to ten bequest intentions in a typical year and over half realize up to ten bequests in a typical year.

Bequest ActivityMarketing

One in three respondents noted marketing as one of their top challenges. Issues cited included creating and maintaining awareness, lack of overall strategy, finding new prospects, and educating constituents.

Very few respondents identified dissatisfaction with their Web presence or other marketing materials as a top challenge specifically. And even fewer noted measuring effectiveness as a top challenge. Our best guess? If planned giving marketers are concerned about building and maintaining a strategy, they are rightfully focused on that. Once they are comfortable with their strategy, issues such as effectiveness and metrics (and therefore adjusting and testing) will become higher priorities.

Outside Vendors

When we constructed our survey, we were very curious to learn what aspects of marketing were considered most challenging. Our question regarding use of outside vendors identified where planned giving marketers really struggle, as these are the areas where respondents use (or would like to use) resources that specialize in planned giving marketing to complement their existing staff.

Planned Giving Marketing Vendors resized 600

Building, maintaining, and publishing vehicles such as newsletters, brochures, and websites are the areas in which our respondents look outside their organizations for help.


Given the exceptional timeframe of bequest gifts, some taking over 20 years from intention to realization, tracking bequests is indeed a challenge. To tackle this challenge, four out of five respondents use their CRM or donor database to record bequest information.

Tracking Bequests Among the most commonly identified challenges were:

  • creating workarounds to collect bequest data in systems unfit for capturing this type of information or producing useful reports
  • tracking bequest intentions
  • tracking revenue associated with bequest gifts

The challenge of tracking bequest gifts is made more complicated by facts of organizational life such as staff turnover. About 15% of respondents identified staff turnover as a significant issue that leads to inconsistent record keeping and lost data, especially regarding bequest expectancies. Also, donors tend to assume continuity of staff, and staff-donor relationships are the backbone of effective cultivation and stewardship.


Over 40% of respondents cited some aspect of bequest administration as a top challenge, again finding existing database software less than adequate to accommodate the specific data capture and reporting needed to administer a bequest program effectively.

Cobbling information together from different sources appears to be the norm, and that presents many challenges, including:

• projecting the value of bequest expectancies

• working with attorneys, family members, and other stakeholders

• forecasting likely revenue from estates in probate

• managing the probate process, including tracking all activities associated with the process

Other Challenges

Most respondents reported that access to sufficient staff, budget, and time were major impediments to building and managing a first rate bequest program. Lack of training, focus on other priorities, inadequate administrative support, and inability to visit prospects and donors were all repeated many times as major obstacles to a smooth bequest program.

Further, 43% of respondents noted that lack of awareness about bequest intentions represented a collective barrier to effective stewardship, planning, and ability to measure marketing effectiveness. Additionally, over one-third found acquiring written documentation to support verbal bequest intentions to be a persistent challenge.

Anticipated BequestsWhile it didn’t make the “Top 3 Challenges,” working with other departments was a commonly noted theme expressed by respondents. Whether it’s working with individuals in the marketing department who are territorial when it comes to tools or expertise, or lack of access to the Board, or building effective relationships with Major Gifts or Annual fund colleagues, many gift planners find they constantly need to prove the value of bequest gifts (and therefore the priority of the program) to departments outside the development department. Some encounter this same challenge even within their development department.

Overall Satisfaction

Every program has its challenges, but overall, respondents are somewhat satisfied or satisfied with most aspects of their program. Few are very satisfied, however, and in many cases about as many are unsatisfied as are satisfied. Respondents appear to be least satisfied with their ability to secure new bequest intentions and legacy society members and most satisfied with their ability to manage bequests in probate.

Bequest Program Satisfaction

Based on the responses summarized above, there are opportunities for improvement in every category for this audience to feel “very satisfied.”