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5 top tips for developing an organisation-wide legacy strategy

Ashgate Hospicecare is a legacy success story, nearly trebling its legacy income in just four years. Esther Preston, Ashgate’s Director of Fundraising and Marketing, explains how charities can build their strategy to reach their full potential…

For many charities, legacies present one of the biggest opportunities and challenges in their fundraising strategies. Using Smee & Ford’s legacy spotlight tool, charities can gauge their current ‘market share’ of legacy income and refer to national statistics regarding the percentage of people who write a Will. After working in two organisations where legacy income is a large proportion of fundraising income, I’ve found that the opportunities for growth are huge!

However, unlike other income streams, the influence charities have on their annual legacy income is weak, especially for charities whose legacy income is predominantly made up of high value gifts. Even the donor has no control over when the charity will receive their gift!

The challenge I have faced in gaining support for marketing legacies is the long-term nature and tenuous link between promotion and gift. Promoting an event, especially with online marketing, is so easy to measure, we know the cost per acquisition. With legacy marketing, even if we measure enquiries and pledges, it isn’t always possible to link marketing to actual gifts.

Legacy responsibility

When I started in my current role at Ashgate Hospicecare, I was aware that legacy marketing had started a few years ago following a visit from Richard Radcliffe, but there was no member of the team with clear responsibility for it. One of the first things I did was restructure the fundraising team and create a role specifically to focus on legacy and in memoriam donations. The purpose of this role was not just to raise awareness of legacies to supporters but also to staff and volunteers. 

Previously legacy income had been very sporadic and fluctuated between £300,000 and £800,000 a year. In the last four years we have seen a steady increase to almost £2 million this year. More importantly, the number of legacy gifts has grown and the average gift has dropped to £13,000, giving us more confidence in future years income as we become less reliant on a few big gifts.

After the first year of achieving over £1 million in legacy income, I presented to our Board of Trustees the opportunity to grow this income stream. Remember a Charity was doing a great job of highlighting the value of charities working together to normalise legacy giving and we took part in a couple of pilots with other local hospices to promote legacy giving. However, to make a step change in our legacy income, I advocated an organisation-wide approach to legacy marketing. If every member of staff and volunteer was comfortable explaining the benefits of a legacy donation, it could be remarkable!

Team training

So in 2017 we invited Richard Radcliffe to come back and initially run a training day with the fundraising team and senior leadership team. This was very well received and I added ‘number of legacy conversations had’ to my teams monthly KPIs. Next Richard ran a series of seminars at the Hospice and all staff and volunteers were invited to attend, with the final session of the day being for our Board of Trustees.  Our staff now felt comfortable talking to people about legacies – a big change!

Our strategy is very focused on word of mouth and we are now seeing legacies come in that we can track back to conversations those supporters had with a member of staff or volunteer. This year we are recruiting an additional legacy fundraiser. We have two event fundraisers, so why not two legacy fundraisers?

Building relationships

The other area we have focused on is building relationships with local solicitors. We run a ‘Make A Will Month’ where solicitors give supporters the opportunity to have their Will written in exchange for a donation. The number of participating solicitors has grown each year and it gives us a reason to talk to them about what they think we could be doing to promote gifts in Wills. Our common purpose is raising awareness of the importance of having a Will and we continue to look at new ways of working with our local solicitors to achieve this.

Our future strategy is to continue raising awareness of why making a Will is important and how a gift of even 1% in your Will makes a difference to your local hospice. We will maintain an awareness of legacy gifts across the organisation and link how legacy gifts enable us to deliver front line services and continue to measure legacy conversations.

And finally, here are my top five tips for developing your legacy strategy:

  • Be intentional about getting everyone involved in the strategy, from trustees to shop managers to volunteers, everyone has a role to play and should understand their part
  • Choose a meaningful legacy strapline that can be used on all your marketing materials, ours is ‘one in five patients are cared for thanks to gifts in Wills’
  • If staff and volunteers are nervous or feel uncomfortable talking about legacies, arrange some training, share case studies and feed back when you receive a legacy from someone who had a connection with your charity
  • If you are setting a budget for marketing legacies think about how you will measure results. That could be measuring a combination of enquiries, legacy packs requested, website visits to your legacy page and pledges
  • Manage expectations! It can take years of work before you see a return so make sure you have examples of charities similar to yours and what they have achieved over what time frame. If everyone understands from the beginning that they won’t see instant results it will be easier to keep your strategy on track and maintain the investment of time and money.

Esther Preston is Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Ashgate Hospicecare

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