The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in Special Focus Legacies & In Memory, Multichannel Fundraising Communications

How to grow your legacies programme

Richard Radcliffe - Radcliffe Consulting

Richard Radcliffe sheds light on the arts and culture legacy explosion, how charities working in this sector can make the most of this golden opportunity, and what every organisation can be doing to grow their legacy giving programmes


Why promote legacy giving? It’s quite simple really: if you make every one of your stakeholders know you need legacies, you will get them.


For the arts and culture sectors in particular, legacies are exploding. If you’re a charity working in this sector but you’re not grabbing hold of this unique moment, you are missing a golden opportunity for your organisation to flourish. Indeed, every organisation should be asking itself how it can achieve that ultimate gift of a legacy pledge. There is some really easy stuff you can do which will cost only a peanut or two, so read on to find out more.


Why are legacies to the arts and culture sectors growing?


Imagine for one moment that you have just retired. You wake up in the morning and think, “What shall I do today?”


Work life is left behind and each day you are looking forward to experiencing FUN, and hopefully learning something too. FUN is NOT leaping out of your bed to visit a solicitor. FUN is going out to a great exhibition in a museum, or to a highly reviewed, exhilarating, performance in a theatre, or listening to an amazing concert.


You leave these experiences on a high. You want to say thank you for the experience and hope the place continues to offer FUN, and learning, for future generations. Bingo!


Just to prove legacy giving to the arts and culture sector is exploding, let’s look at Smee & Ford statistics:


2007 - 2,838 legacies

2015 – 3,436 legacies


This is during a period when the number of legacies to medical research charities has not grown at all!


If you’re an arts and culture charity and your legacy income has not grown, there are three reasons why this could be the case:


  • Your oldest members and friends might still be alive
  • You never asked for them
  • Nobody knows you need them because they think their membership, and the box office income, pays for everything you need to grow.


Informing ignorant stakeholders


In my experience, having worked with over 60 arts and culture bodies in recent years, very few of your lovely supporters will understand (or even think about) your funding sources. This means they have a tendency to be short-sighted; they buy their tickets and perhaps a couple of drinks, and they think this pays for everything.


But once you have informed them – through every channel possible – about your sources of funding and what each source typically pays for, then they are more able to take the long view. All they then need is to be aware that gifts in wills can fulfil your long-term vision, and the job is done.


Arts is the perfect legacy cause, because arts organisations are easy to touch and experience, and the supporter journey flourishes at retirement, when a will is likely to be written or updated.


What to do


Every arts organisation has different stakeholder connections: a morning at an exhibition and an evening of dance are not quite the same. The former is a fun social day out, and the latter a serious arts experience – and even that might not be as clear as I have expressed.


The common factor is that the engagement is led by fun, and not focused on “a vision”. It is an act for today, not a donation for instant solutions or for the future.


What you do therefore has to focus on informing stakeholders of the need, without destroying their pleasure. This means that their journey with you has to be fluent and fun – from the booking experience to the front doors, through to the café bar and into the loo, and then into the performance or exhibition area and out again.


So we are really considering posters, ads, pop-ups and various other promotional tools which inform visitors, members and friends of your funding needs in very simple terms.


Once they have changed from presuming that their tickets and café/bar expenditure and sponsorship pay for everything, you can then become more direct. By that I mean communicating legacy-specific articles in newsletters and advertising, and then direct mail.


A soft, step-by-step approach


Their journey must be gentle and logical: from having fun, to thinking “wow, I never thought of this place needing more funds” to “wow, what a vision!”, to “I would love to keep this place growing and benefiting future generations” and finally to “I can afford to do this, and it is so easy to do through a gift in my will”.


This journey will include the website/Facebook journey when booking tickets and running a series of facts on banners such as “Did you know, only X % of our funds come from tickets and the bar? The rest is from voluntary income such as sponsorship, donations and gifts in wills”. Such messages can also appear on all printed communications.


Learnings for all types of charity


There are lessons here for charities working in all sectors, not just those concerned with arts and culture. It all starts with informing your supporters of the need for legacies, and what those gifts will help you achieve.


While not every organisation will have the benefit of multiple touch points of the kind that arts and culture charities do, they will nonetheless have a variety of channels through which they can consistently run legacy messaging (website, social media, newsletters etc). The principle is the same: let stakeholders know you need this type of funding, and you’ll be halfway there.


The drivers of legacy giving


It is worth pointing out that legacies are driven by:

  • Loyalty (so repeat bookers will see the above messages often)
  • Awareness of the need for funds
  • Trust and confidence (which your supporters will be full of if they visit frequently).


The loyalty issue is interesting; longstanding friends are great prospects, but so are performers and other creative employees and retired staff. Ideally their role is to provide a range of ‘legacy voices’, which will serve to evidence the need for gifts in wills.


Top tip: never ask them (or anyone) for a gift in a will. All you are doing is running a campaign which informs them of the need, and they then have the freedom of choice to do it.


If you do not have legacy voices, you do not have a campaign. So please recruit these legacy ambassadors to shout from the rooftops about the amazing dream you have for future generations.     


Richard Radcliffe FinstF Cert is founder of Radcliffe Consulting , which specialises in advising any non-profit on how to get legacies. He has met over 27,000 supporters in legacy focus groups and has worked with every type of arts and culture organisation on the planet.   

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