The Cousteau Society: Planned Giving


The Cousteau Society had a group of formerly faithful donors who had lapsed.  They had no bequest revenue coming in and they were not generating renewal income from this group. The average donations were too low to warrant face to face fundraising, and telemarketing was cost prohibitive.


We reached out to these donors and let them know that they could leave a bequest. The majority are 45 or older, and this is when people make their wills. This is when you need to let them know. To make this affordable, we sent all donors, regardless of giving level or amount of time they had been lapsed, planned giving postcards. Soliciting for bequests does not require a response, so postcards are ideal. We did not need a carrier envelope for return gifts. We mailed them during tax time, when people do not give donations and when estate planning and tax management is top of mind. We also added language in newsletters, in thank yous, and on BREs for no extra cost. We also established a page on their site to promote planned giving and offer details on leaving a gift to Cousteau.


Multiple donors who gave their first gift in the 1970s – 1990s, and then lapsed in the 2000’s, left significant bequests in their wills to the organization. For example: a donor who had given $1,265 from 1987 to 2007 left a bequest of $104,551, while another who had given $8,305 from 1975 to 2007 gave a bequest of $168,955

Total giving by direct mail for these 5 donors was only $13,944. Total bequest revenue was $382,466. That’s 27 times the amount that they gave by direct mail. Let’s say that a direct mail donor costs $60 to acquire. These 5 donors cost $300 to acquire. They gave 1,275 times that amount in their lifetime of giving.

Cousteau’s file is a relatively small file at ~10,000 active donors. These bequests represent .05% of their file. Do the math on your own file to see what will happen to your revenues if .05% leave an average bequest of $20,00, $75,000, $250,000 or more per year.

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