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Guide to running a telephone legacy fundraising campaign

Bethan Holloway provides the lowdown on how to run a successful legacy campaign over the telephone


With donor attrition at an all-time high, the word on every fundraiser’s lips is still ‘loyalty’. And what greater expression of loyalty than leaving a gift in one’s will?

But how can a fundraiser expect to capture people’s hearts long enough for them to pledge a gift beyond their lifetime? Surely there are no buzzwords or strap-lines for such a big ask. Arguably, there can’t even be a single ask. Building a campaign must, therefore, begin and end with a conversation – and a long one at that.

These conversations open up a dialogue with people who may have never considered legacies – or even writing a will – and provide food for thought to discuss with family and partners. The telephone can be used to keep the idea in the front of their mind from the initial introduction to when they talk to their solicitor.

It may take years to get results, but there is a process. Until recently the majority of UK charities used direct mail to recruit new legacy prospects, with response rates hovering at 3 per cent. Increasingly, charities are turning to the telephone to complement these direct mail campaigns, and combining these channels can lift legacy enquirer rates from three per cent to 15 per cent.


Planning and timescales

The phone can be used in three different stages of legacy marketing: recruiting (pricking people’s interests and identifying genuine legacy prospects who can be offered more information); developing (converting supporters by identifying barriers and overcoming these); and nurturing prospects (maintaining the relationship over time).

Ideally any such campaign will be integrated with direct mail, email or other media. The key is to determine the journey that the supporter will be taken on from the outset. If the supporter shows interest in the first call, decide what the next communication with them will be, when they should receive that communication, and how soon it can be reasonably expected for them to want to amend their will.

Of course, donor journeys cannot be completely pre-determined. Preferences and behaviour must be taken into account. Where possible, further communications should be tailored to include any specific requests the supporter may have made, whether they’ve asked for more detailed advice or have special conditions attached to their legacy.

A process of defining and reporting on success should be developed to ensure results can be consistently measured over time. Using very clear and simple classifications of supporter status will help. How far a supporter has moved on in their status can be the yardstick on which success is measured. For instance, if interested parties are contacted six to nine months after an initial call, are they now an ‘enquirer’ (asking for more information or a visit from a legacy specialist), an ‘intender’ (who will be updating their will to include the charity), or a ‘pledger’, (having amended their will)?


Determining an audience

Today, cold calling is largely defunct. Targeting warm prospects is especially important for the sensitive topic of legacy giving. Research compiled by expert Professors Jen Shang and Adrian Sargeant from the University of Indiana found that only eight per cent of supporters have named a charity in their will, but as many as 30-40 per cent would be willing. The aim is to track down these hidden willing legacy pledgers among existing one-off and regular givers.

A well-kept database is crucial for the selection process. While charities will have their own data on propensity to give, most also include profiling based on age, postcode and length on file. Will-making increases steadily with age, so if you need a short-term boost in legacy fundraising, you may place greater emphasis on older prospects. However, making approaches to younger age groups about legacies can reap benefits in the long term.

Maintaining your database also involves regularly cleaning the enquirer file so that those who are no longer interested in leaving a legacy are not continually communicated with about it.


The art of conversation

It is vital to train fundraisers so they can talk confidently, yet sensitively, about legacies throughout this journey and are comfortable with the subject. Scripts need to be jargon free, and structured to reach one of the previously defined call outcomes. Most importantly, the script must inspire the person on the other end of the telephone to want to give and make a difference, all the while underpinning the importance of legacy income to the charity.

The language used should be centred around the supporter. Once the question “have you thought about leaving a gift in your will?” has been asked, you should allow the conversation to be led by their thoughts and feelings about legacy giving. Their objections and barriers need to be overcome in a diplomatic and sensitive way. For example, many supporters’ immediate reaction to legacies is that they want to ensure their families are looked after first and foremost in their will. In this instance you could talk about residual giving, whereby the family will always receive a percentage value of the estate, with the remainder going to the charity. Sending out documents with further information allows supporters to digest information and options in their own time.

If someone is clearly not interested, this should be respected and acknowledged. If there are concerns these can be discussed and, where possible, resolved. Those who show interest should be encouraged and nurtured through positive reinforcement. Thank intenders and pledgers and reiterate the positive impact their gift will have.

Overall, the approach is soft. The fundraiser should say that they do not expect the person to make such an important decision over the phone. Instead, they should offer to send further information in the post and say that they will be in touch in the near future to see if the supporter has any further thoughts or questions. The fact that they are even considering leaving such a gift should be praised, and the difference it could make made clear.


Measuring impact

A legacy marketing campaign is not about fundraising targets; it is to identify the quality of the lead and genuine interest in legacies so that the charity doesn’t invest in programmes for those that are not interested.

But there are ways of measuring success – for example, accounting for the number of approaches, and the enquirer and pledger rates deduced from this. Whether in-house or outsourced, the cost per enquirer should be taken into account when conducting the campaign. One might also look at how many people have moved from being interested to becoming a pledger, as well as those who may have lost interest over a specific time period.


One step at a time

To run an effective telephone campaign, a charity must tread a careful pathway. Preparation and proper training are essential and these take time, and once your campaign is underway, it may be several years before you see results in the form of hard cash. But with patience, sensitivity and close monitoring, charities of all types and sizes can develop a solid legacy giving programme that can be a valuable part of their fundraising strategy going forward.


Making the phone work: an example

ActionAid UK recently ran a three-stage legacy recruitment campaign involving two phone calls in-between a direct mail pack. The first call – to 2,500 people – was to flag up that an important letter would come to them in order to encourage them to open the letter. The letter itself, which contained soft messaging on the importance of legacies, went to 10,000 people. A follow-up phone call was then made to 2,000 people.

Peter de Vena Franks, direct marketing manager for ActionAid UK, says: “Unlike an upgrade call it was not really an ask or a sell; it was very much a conversation with the aim of raising awareness of this type of giving and to flag its importance. There was the opportunity to ask whether it was something they were interested in acting upon and they were encouraged to get in touch with the charity for further information.”

The charity found that using the initial call to say thank you to existing supporters was a good way to break the ice. The direct mail addition to the conversation proved useful too: “The long letter approach works well because it fits the type of ask. It is something supporters are going to consider; not something you necessarily want to push for an immediate response for”, says de Vena Franks.

The campaign received an 8.2 per cent positive response rate and a 2.3 per cent pledge rate, drawn from a relatively youthful contacts file.


Bethan Holloway is client service director at telephone fundraising agency Pell & Bales


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 23, November 2012


6 ways to promote legacies over the phone

1. Be prepared.

Have a legacies webpage, define the strategy and have information packs ready to send before calling. Decide how the campaign will be integrated with other media such as direct mail and email.

2. Determine the journey that the supporter will be taken on from the outset.

Work out how long it will take them to turn from an enquirer to an intender, for example. Make sure, however, that you take into account individual donor preferences and behaviour.

3. Call the best prospects first and keep an ordered and detailed contacts database to profile them. 

4. Make sure the call inspires the supporter by demonstrating the benefits of legacy giving.

Overcome potential barriers, such as concerns about providing for family in the will, and offer further information or facilitate a conversation with a legacy officer.

5. Allow the conversation to be led by the supporter and make sure their thoughts and feelings are taken on board. Deal with concerns sensitively and do not expect them to make decisions there and then but leave room to follow-up.

6. Remember: a legacy campaign is not about meeting fundraising targets.

The quality of the conversation is the most important aspect and its success can be gauged through enquirer and pledger rates.

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