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6 ways to get the legacy conversation started

Getting staff and supporters to talk openly about legacy giving has never been more important, so here are six ways you can help get the conversation started


By Rob Cope


The biggest challenge for many charities, particularly those new to legacy fundraising, can be how to start a conversation about gifts in wills with potential supporters. But – as we all know – if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And legacies are too important to leave to chance.


If legacies are an important source of income for your charity – or you want them to be – you’ll need to be prepared to talk legacies with your supporters.


Here are my six top tips for getting the legacy conversation started:


1. Recognise any barriers


Far from being a topic that gets people thinking about their death, legacies should be an opportunity to think about what matters to them most and inspire them about how they can make a positive and lasting difference on the world around them after they are gone.


I’ve addressed the many myths for fundraisers around gifts in wills here before and, while legacy conversations aren’t always easy, it’s important to have confidence that people are usually much more receptive to talking about gifts in wills than you might think.


2. Tell a story


When talking legacies, tell a story. Try to paint a picture of a world that could be possible with the power of a gift. Don’t be afraid of using humour where appropriate.


Most importantly, you’ll need to have a clear and strong legacy fundraising case for support and to be able to talk passionately and sensitively about the real difference that supporters make to the organisation. For every charity and fundraiser, that story is likely to be told in a different way and it depends of course on what motivates your supporters too.


The advantage of conversation is that it’s a two-way street. Listen to what really drives your supporters and tell them your story; sharing your passion for the cause with them, explaining the importance of legacies to your charity.


3. Make it the norm to talk legacies


There will be times when you want to make a particular song and dance about legacies, but they need to be part of your everyday conversations too. Supporters need to understand how important legacies are to you; that any gift they leave will be valued, treasured. So, if gifts in wills really are that important, make sure that this comes across your communications, both internally and externally.


Hft  the learning disability charity, began its active legacy marketing programme just eight years ago. Katie Tennyson, the charity’s senior individual giving & legacy manager says:


“We’ve made a lot of changes to try and make it the norm to talk about legacy giving to our supporters, and to engage people with the idea early on. This included educating frontline staff to be legacy ambassadors, and working to help our trustees and board understand the need for legacies and legacy marketing.


“It was initially quite challenging to get everyone within our organisation to understand the importance of legacies and of getting supporters on the legacy journey early on – essentially if you don’t ask them someone else will – but once we got some of our trustees on board it became a lot easier to get others’ buy-in and consequently to get the budget we need.”


Similarly, while the National Trust for Scotland runs bespoke legacy fundraising events, insight manager & legacy officer, Michael Bauld agrees:


“We don’t want to silo discussion about legacies so we try to ensure it runs across everything we do, from member magazines to properties to our special events.”


4. Use digital channels and more


There are so many ways to start a conversation and rapid growth in the use of social media has seen digital become increasingly important for legacies. Around one in four over 65s now use social networking sites and we’ve certainly had some fantastic engagement with this generation during Remember A Charity Week. Rachel Peck, digital marketing manager at Diabetes UK, says:


“People often assume that social media is a place to reach young people. In actual fact, most of our followers on Facebook are over 40, and a good proportion of the most engaged are over 55. If you understand the demographics of your audience, Facebook’s targeting can really help you reach your warmest audience.”  


Digital offers great opportunities for communicating with the older generation. They can get in touch in their own time, from their own homes, and have their questions answered. Charities are now using a broad range of digital channels, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, to get legacy conversations started.


Use a full range of communication channels to get the message across. Think what opportunities your charity might have to engage beyond traditional fundraising methods. Could your volunteers talk legacies in retail shops, for example? And, when it comes to your website, don’t bury legacies at the bottom of the website – give them pride of place on the homepage or as near to it as you can.


5. Don’t go it alone


If your charity is to achieve its potential, everyone in the organisation needs to know how to talk legacies. So, make sure you’re sharing the load and that everyone across the organisation knows what they can do to encourage legacy giving, and that they feel empowered and equipped to have legacy conversations.

This means starting at the top. Gain the support of your CEO and trustees. Their voice and influence will help demonstrate that it’s a priority for the organisation and build recognition internally.


It can also work well to identify a handful of other key individuals who can be your legacy champions. Provide training and guidance for colleagues and any volunteers about having legacy conversations, giving them the confidence they’ll need to raise the subject.


6. Make the most of Remember A Charity Week


Putting Remember A Charity Week into your calendars should be one of your legacy fundraising must- dos. It’s a great conversation starter; you can use the campaign as an opportunity to tell your supporters about why legacies are important to your charity.
To give you a flavour of this year’s campaign, we broadcast throughout the week, toured the country with a national roadshow to showcase the impact of legacies and encouraged the public to have their say on the world they will pass on. We also ran a social media campaign and continued our annual push to the legal sector, to ensure they are making their clients aware of the option of giving to charity.
This year a record number – 190 charities – worked together as part of the consortium – taking us all a step closer to making gifts in wills a social norm.


Rob Cope is director of Remember A Charity  – a consortium of 190 charities working together towards the shared goal of making gifts in wills a social norm.

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