Nudges in Legacies – Status Quo Bias

Continuing on a series of blog posts addressing how Nudges impact legacy giving (see the last post on

Continuing on a series of blog posts addressing how Nudges impact legacy giving (see the last post on Anchoring), today we are going to address the topic of Status Quo Bias.

The … what now?!

Coined by William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser, Status Quo Bias refers to our tendency to revert to what is comfortable, known, habitual so as to maintain – you guessed it – the status quo. Samuelson & Zeckhauser indicate that individuals can remain in that same status quo even if it is no longer convenient, appropriate or beneficial. Some may even stay there even if it can get us into a lot of trouble.

You’ve probably experienced it, especially when you were a student. Were you the kind of person that always sat in the same seat, week after week? I sure did. To a certain extent, most of us can relate to Sheldon Cooper!

One of the causes of status quo bias is a lack of attention – basically our attitude is “yeah, ok I’ll deal with that tomorrow”. For most, tomorrow becomes the next day, and the next day, and so on. Like that magazine subscription that you never read but continue to subscribe to (I have a couple of those, how about you?!).

What does that have to do with legacies?

Anyone that has been working in planned giving / gifts in wills / bequests for a while knows that a donor can notify us that they are considering or intending to leave a gift in their will and then remain at that stage of the pipeline for months, even years.

Many reasons can be attributed to that inaction and status quo bias definitely plays a major role. Mortality salience is another. However, when major events or something of significant importance jolts us out of our inaction, we take action. It is no surprise that so many are currently contacting their legal advisors to write or update their wills.

For Willful, a service that allows Canadians to create their own legal documents online, sales since March 16 have been 160% higher than they were the first two weeks of the month. Traffic to the website went up 80% over the same time.

Another online will writing service based in Boston called Gentreo has seen an exponential increase in users. At the end of March, it saw a 143% week-over-week increase in people filling out wills. 

It’s important to note that these figures are not limited to North America. There are similar reports coming from Europe and Australia.

How can we explain this phenomenon? The current global pandemic and the 24-hour news cycle is gravely impacting people’s psyche. More and more people are coming to terms with their mortality, they are realizing how fragile they are, and how quickly their situation can change.

It is delicate. It is uncomfortable. It’s scary.

What can you do about it?

Make sure you have all the necessary information on your website.

Be there for your donors.

Check in on them.

Remind them why they care about your organization.

Show empathy.

Listen to them.

Ask them how you can serve them.

If you have a close relationship with them and the moment is right, ask them if they’ve taken care of their affairs, then provide value by offering them a will writing workbook, sample will language or a list of local legal advisors.

At the end of day, people may not remember what you said or did,

but they will remember how you made them feel

Go on, call your donors. They need it and they’ll remember how you made them feel once this situation passes. I am sure of it.

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