The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in Special Focus Legacies & In Memory Donor Management & Behaviour, Communications

Why you need to rethink your legacy strategy

It is time for charities to address their legacy strategies and communications as donors are changing their giving patterns faster than fundraisers are changing…

There is a donor revolution happening. Negative charity publicity since July 2015 has encouraged donors to re-think their lifetime and deathtime philanthropic activities. They support fewer charities but give more to the ones they decide to keep. I have witnessed this in every focus group I have run since July 2015 in which I have met about 2,500 donors. But it is not just donor giving patterns that are changing – so are legator profiles.

The changing legator

Back in the early 1990s, when I was running Smee & Ford, its annual legacy trends showed 87% of legacies were from females – now 60% are from women and 40% are from men. Legators have changed from being almost exclusively single females to typical baby boomers.

Single females tended to prefer passionate stories focused on animal charities, their church and personal health circumstances. Baby boomers (today’s legacy generation) are inquisitive and search for not only passion but for great outcomes and great financial management. The market has changed focus from being predominantly passion-led to being logic and passion-led. This logical decision is based on donors’ knowledge of charities’ funding sources and the need that they will help meet. 

For baby boomers, life has changed beyond anyone’s expectations; relationships are less formal and more temporary. In retirement, the trillions of wealth that they are due to pass on will be subsumed by care costs and by children who will need a step up on the property ladder – or it will be given away before death to avoid tax. Yet this generation has a real thirst to let their legacy live on through a gift in their will to the causes they are passionate about. With this in mind, the number of legacy donations are likely to grow but the values are likely to shrink.

According to Smee & Ford, over £2.5 billion annually is being given to charities, growing from £1.7 billion in 2007. And with 1 in 3 charity stakeholders considering or making a charitable gift in their will, we know the market will grow (source: Radcliffe Consulting and Remember a Charity).

A considered gift

A legacy has never been a spontaneous gift – it is thought about sometimes for decades, until an individual decides to write their will. This long period of idle interest is triggering other actions:

1. A visit to the Charity Commission website to interrogate a charity’s financial performance. How much goes to the cause? How much is spent on fundraising? How much is spent on administration (or governance as the SORP accounts now define some administration costs)?

2. The individual then visits the charity’s website to look at the performance of its activities. They are looking for ‘outcome information’; they care less about what the charity does and more about the difference it is making and its future ambitions.

Legacy unaware

Legacies are driven by personal experience, which is often related to the services of a charity: cancer, heart, rescue etc. University and arts organisations have not in the past been considered as a charity in need of a legacy. The mindset of a baby boomer was ‘my university only needs help for a capital appeal’ and support for it was transactional; for example, buying a ticket.

Arts bodies switch off this auto-pilot by informing the individual that tickets sales only generate, say, 60% of the organisation’s income, while the rest comes from voluntary donations and gifts in wills. The inquisitive supporter is now discovering the need to for long-term financial security to ensure the future growth of a service and, in turn, thinking about leaving a legacy.

Legacy communication

Communicating about legacies with soft language is rarely effective. Organisations need to rethink their communication strategy to include cartoons, animations, illustrations and infographics which will resonate for much longer.

Charities must be brave with their legacy messaging to ignite a fire in the belly of prospects. It is time to leave behind the pussycat approach and put on the coat of a tiger. By that I do not mean be aggressive; I mean be strong and express urgent, inspiring ambitions which can be achieved with the help of legators. This will fuel a reaction and encourage a response that makes an individual feel as though they want to be part of this movement. St Gemma’s Hospice in Leeds and The Brain Tumour Charity do this beautifully through infographics and animation.

This kind of communication may even generate a complaint. In my experience as a fundraiser, my best donor experiences started with a complaint. A complaint means the prospect has passion; a mix of love and anger. Most complaints are due to a sense of being engaged. The more forthright and urgent we are, the greater the response.

A stronger approach

It is time to stop with the messaging: ‘A third of our care is from gifts in wills’ and instead use stronger statements, such as: ‘400 people would die lonely and without support if our legacy income came to a grinding halt.’ Charities might even want to say: ‘Without voluntary donations, including gifts in wills, our charity would die. We could not help anyone. Be part of our thriving future through a gift in your will’.

To create a positive deathtime, we must think out of the box before we get in it. This conversation has been exemplified by the Lien Foundation in Singapore, which specialises in ‘radical philanthropy’.

Charities should be challenging future practice by making donors sit upright to encourage a legacy or even complain if they want to.

By Richard Radcliffe FInstF Cert, Founder, Radcliffe Consulting

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