One of the mild curiosities of working in the charity sector is the comparative neglect of legacies. Despite their enormous value to charities, the promotion of legacies frequently seems the forgotten area of fundraising.
The value is indisputable. Legacy Foresight’s report, Legacy Giving 2016, shows that charitable legacy giving is worth £2.24bn. Around 20% of all giving from individuals comes from the roughly . And unlike every other area of fundraising, there is good reason to think that this income will rise. Legacy Foresight expect total legacy income to grow by 20% – or 11% after stripping out inflation. The number of legacies is projected to grow by 6%, while residual legacy values will rise by 12%.
Legacy donors are not only highly valuable, with the average (mean) value of a legacy gift being over £25,000, their donations are largely that most coveted of all donated income, unrestricted funds.
But compared to pretty much every other type of fundraising, legacies get very little attention in the great majority of charities. Large charities might have whole departments devoted to the marketing and administration of legacies but below the top 100, it is rare to see charities who have a well developed strategy for promoting gifts in wills or who give the activity much priority.
And yet we know that the return on investment on legacy marketing activity thrashes pretty much every other form of fundraising.
So why when fundraising is so hard do we get many more requests from charities wanting to develop a new fundraising event, build a major giving programme or develop digital giving?
Of course death makes us all uncomfortable. The idea of talking to people about what happens when they die can be daunting. Asking for a gift under such circumstances can seem in very bad taste.
I think that’s definitely part of the problem. The other part is the lag between promoting legacies and seeing a return. For obvious reasons, there’s a lag between promoting legacies and seeing a return on that activity. A period of several years is normal , although it’s not uncommon to receive some legacies sooner that that. With average fundraiser tenure in some roles as low as 18 months, it’s not hard to see how an area where the results of any investment won’t be seen for years can be neglected.
The pity of all of this is that promoting legacy giving is not difficult. At all. Actually this is one of the simplest and easiest to implement areas of fundraising.
An effective legacy programme can be constructed in five simple steps
- Make it a (organisational) priority
The most important thing you can do to promote legacy giving in your organisation is to give it priority. Developing legacies should be a primary goal in the fundraising strategy. Where there’s ever a tension between promoting legacies and other fundraising objectives, the choice should be to choose the legacy activity.
- Normalise legacies
A gift in a will is just another way of making a donation to a charity. It really isn’t that scary. The best way to promote legacy giving is just to include it as a normal way donors can support the charity. Tell supporters why legacies are important and make it easy for them to give in that way. Showcase people who have given in that way and the impact their gifts have had. Make legacies mainstream in the organisation. Everyone in the charity should be able and comfortable to have a conversation with supporters about legacies, as they should about other key methods of giving. And the charity’s leaders, trustees and executive, ought to be showing the way by making gifts in their wills, the size doesn’t matter it’s the principle that’s important.
- Develop great content
Legacies aren’t complicated and a charity doesn’t need a lot of technical information about them. If people want to talk about the technicalities, refer them to a solicitor. The charity’s job is show people why they should support your cause with a gift in their will. So inspire them with great content that tells them why they should give and why this way in particular.
- Integrate legacies into everything
The best legacy fundraising is good fundraising that simply mentions, appropriately, legacies. Make sure you that you have excellent and inspiring content on the difference legacies make and include legacy as a method of giving in all your communications. Every activity should be viewed as having legacy potential. The people most likely to leave legacies are people who are closest to the organisation, this isn’t only donors but volunteers, beneficiaries and families of beneficiaries. So make sure that you talk to all these people about legacies but within conversations about their relationship with the charity as a whole.
- Do targeted legacy marketing
Specific legacy marketing activities have a place, but it’s a subsidiary one. 90% of legacy income for UK charities comes from people who hadn’t told the charity they left money to that they were included in their will. Charities who think that legacy promotion is only about contacting donors and encouraging them to pledge a legacy are therefore missing the biggest piece of the legacy opportunity. Legacy mailings or telephone campaigns might encourage some people to leave legacies who wouldn’t otherwise although it’s very hard to prove. It’s useful to know who has left the charity in their will to inform appropriate donor stewardship (not though to put into a “legacy programme” aka a “death club” just treat them as a really, really good donors). And there are a range of ways to encourage and promote legacies such as free wills campaigns, that, at the margins may be well doing.
But overall, legacies are simply another way that the people closest to the charity or the cause will choose to give. The best way to get more legacies is to do great fundraising. And make sure that supporters understand that legacies are a normal and easy way that they give to the cause.