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How to win big with legacy events

Ashley Rowthorn, legacy fundraising

Events are a brilliant way to deepen engagement with legacy prospects, but how can you really make your legacy event a success? Legacy specialist Ashley Rowthorn shares his best tips

 

Great legacy fundraising isn’t complicated, in fact in principle it’s actually quite simple. Because at the heart of any successful legacy fundraising strategy is one thing – conversation. But as a subject that is wrapped up in taboos (death and money) we can lack the confidence or the necessary tools to be able to talk to our supporters about this topic with conviction.

 

Even a short conversation about legacy giving can be enough to encourage people to actively consider leaving a gift in their will. So how do we go about it?

 

The personal connection

 

One tried and tested way of talking about legacy giving with our supporters is through events. Events allow us to deliver a really rich case for support to our donors in a way that other methods lack. They also allow us to personally connect with our supporters, bring them closer to the cause and give them a positive experience of and association with gifts in wills that should stay with them long after the day.

 

As a legacy fundraiser, I have personally planned, delivered and attended well over 100 legacy events of all shapes and sizes, and for different charity causes. Of course the look and feel will differ from charity to charity, but I believe most charities can hold a legacy event of some kind and integrate it as part of their legacy strategy.

 

So, here’s a practical guide on how to hold a legacy event, and some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way, to help you talk to more of your supporters about legacy giving.

 

Setting your objectives

 

Right at the outset it is important that you think through the objectives of your legacy event. Are you aiming to general raise awareness of legacy giving, as well as other ways to support your charity? Is it aimed at encouraging consideration and action among people you feel are good legacy prospects? Or is it aimed at nurturing the relationships of existing legacy supporters (pledgers)? Start by asking yourself what you are aiming to achieve, because your approach to your legacy event will depend on the answer.

 

For clarity, I will assume we are talking about a prospecting event – one focused on encouraging consideration and action among our best legacy prospects.

 

What does success look like?

 

Again, at the outset, you need to think through what success looks like to you and set some measurable goals that you can evaluate after the event. I suggest using a range of metrics, including:

 

  • Number of attendees
  • Drop-out rate
  • Number of conversations on the day
  • Number of legacy enquiries

 

Who to invite

 

Once you’ve set your objectives, you need to think about the best people to invite. As we’re looking to speak to good legacy prospects, we need to narrow down the type of supporters we would like to invite.

 

We know legacy giving is linked to life stage, so it makes sense to look to invite people who are approaching or into retirement, as they are more likely to be open to a legacy conversation. Also, look for a good level of engagement with your charity, as we want to speak to people already giving and possibly open to extending that support though a gift in their will.

 

As it is a physical event, the location of supporters to the venue will obviously affect who you can invite. From experience, a drive time of 30 minutes is usually the limit people will travel to an event, so you need a concentration of supporters within an area in order to get critical mass and make an event viable.

 

The venue

 

One of the strengths of legacy events is the ability to bring your supporters closer to your cause. So if you are fortunate enough to have facilities or venues owned by the charity, then I recommend you consider using these. We’re not all as lucky as the National Trust, but they have successfully given their supporters access to venues at legacy events that other people aren’t normally able to see. This is a unique offer and will be very attractive to supporters of the charity, and should encourage attendance.

 

The event venue itself can be a real draw – but be careful people are coming for the right reasons. Having an exclusive venue, or an activity after the legacy event can encourage attendance, but make sure they are also coming because they are open-minded about legacy giving and supporting your charity.

 

When choosing a suitable venue you also need to think practically – does it have good parking? Is it within reach of public transport? Is it accessible for people with restricted mobility? Is it cost effective?

 

On the day, make sure you have good, clear signage so people can find you, and a friendly volunteer to welcome people and show them into the room.

 

The invite

 

Once you have settled on a venue and have a list of names to invite, you need to give thought to the best way of inviting them.

 

Write a clear letter, thanking them for their past support and inviting them to a special supporter event to hear about the work of the charity and future plans and ambitions. Make it clear that you will be talking about the future and how people can continue to support the charity, including through gifts in wills. Here, you need to strike a balance between not putting people off through use of the wrong language (see Russell James’ work on the right language), and ensuring that people know why you are inviting them and that you will be talking about legacy giving on the day.

 

The clearer and more upfront you are in the invite, the more you can talk about the subject on the day without compromise, and the better engagement and consideration you will get.

 

The structure and content

 

On the day, you will have a captive audience, in a room of like-minded people. It is down to you to make the most of that opportunity, and deliver a really compelling reason why they should consider leaving a gift to your cause in their will.

 

I like to think of this in terms of telling a story. Break the content down into different parts. Make sure each element has its own objectives, and that it all works together to get your message across in the most engaging way.

 

Having held many events, and learning along the way what makes for good structure, I have found that around an hour of talking is probably the optimum level. It allows you to deliver depth of content, but without losing interest.

 

I would usually break the talk down into a number of stages:

 

  • The big picture – your vision and key achievements towards this. Make this inspirational and ambitious, and ideally delivered by someone senior like a trustee. Having a trustee or CEO present shows your supporters they are important to you, and that you are taking this seriously.
  • Get local – if you are a national charity, then this is your chance to make it relevant to their local area. Don’t neglect the fact that local is a strong motivation in legacy giving; people want to benefit their communities.
  • Make it interesting – you may have a part of your work that really gets people’s attention. Maybe you invest in medical research and can get a researcher to talk about the latest breakthroughs, or you also work overseas and can get someone recently back from the field to share their experience.
  • Make it personal – the best speakers are often those that directly benefit from the charity themselves. When at a national health charity, I would always make sure we had a beneficiary or close relative sharing their personal stories. This will resonate much more than a member of staff.
  • Make it fun – don’t think that it needs to be too serious. You can get creative and engaging with the subject too. Guide Dogs give their supporters the chance to do a blindfold walk, and RNLI sometimes offer the opportunity to go on a lifeboat. Use your imagination, and think of ways you can bring the event to life.
  • Be varied – don’t just have a speaker for the whole hour, mix it up and keep people engaged. Show some video, demonstrate a project, incorporate a quiz – there are lots of ways to deliver your message.
  • Be inspirational – above all, you want to use this opportunity to engage with your supporters on an emotional level and show them the difference their legacy gift will make.
  • Be direct – and don’t be afraid to ask. I would always finish an event by asking those present to go away in the privacy of their own homes and consider if leaving a gift in their will is right for them. Use your tact and sensitivity, but don’t miss the opportunity to ask people to consider a gift.

 

Whatever your content, just make sure that it is well planned. Make sure your speakers are well briefed and know how and when to incorporate the legacy story. They should all talk about legacy giving, but each bringing a slightly different angle so it all works together to put your message across in the most engaging way.

 

How to maximise attendance

 

One of the biggest challenges to holding a successful legacy event is the drop-out rate. Plans change, the weather gets in the way, people forget – and if you are not careful, all your hard work could go to waste.

 

While some things are beyond your control, there are things you can do to maximise attendance rate on the day. Firstly, allow people to bring a guest – if they have any reservations about attending, it is more comfortable an idea if you know you can bring someone with you.

 

Send a reminder nearer the time, and with a personalised invitation card that can sit on the mantlepiece. And of course, make sure you include detailed directions and give your contact details so they can let you know if plans change.

 

Think about time of year, and the time of day. People are less likely to come if it means travelling in the dark, or through rush hour. And remember, your best prospects are likely to be retired, so a mid-week event starting at around 11am could be a good option.

 

The bigger picture

 

Overall, face-to-face events can be a very successful way of delivering the legacy message and encouraging consideration – but they are best employed as part of a wider strategy. There are challenges with attendance to contend with – some of your best prospects will live too far away, or due to age will have difficulty with mobility and travel to an event, so you will need other ways of ensuring they are engaged.

 

But, for those that are able to attend, events present an unprecedented opportunity to connect personally with your supporters, get them closer to your cause and show them the difference legacy gifts can make.

 

Ashley Rowthorn (@AshleyRowthorn) is a legacy fundraising specialist with over 10 years’ experience in the sector. He is a current member of the Remember a Charity Campaign Council, and is director of the Legacy Group, which includes Legacy Link, a specialist legacy administration consultancy, and Legacy Voice, a legacy marketing consultancy. 

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