Debunking the top 5 legacy fundraising myths

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Debunking the top 5 legacy fundraising myths

Debunking the top 5 legacy fundraising myths

Ahead of Remember A Charity in your Will Week, Rob Cope busts 5 common myths of legacy fundraising to show that any organisation can do it


Gifts in wills have become increasingly important to the voluntary sector. The latest annual data from Smee and Ford reveals that legacy income for charities in England and Wales has grown by 5% in the last year, and 29% since 2007/8.


Indeed, legacies are now the largest single source of income of the sector, bringing in an estimated £2.5bn across the UK annually. Alongside this, there has been a significant shift in the legacy marketplace, with more and more charities moving into the field.


But, there is still far greater potential. Currently around 6% of people who die leave a gift to charity in their will. Imagine what a difference it could make if making a gift in your will was to become a social norm.


Here at Remember A Charity, we estimate that just a 4% increase in people leaving a legacy would mean an extra £1bn for good causes. That’s why we are working to strengthen the sector’s voice on legacy fundraising, and communicate to the public just how important gifts in wills are to the sector.


For many charities – particularly those that are relatively new to legacies – it can be daunting approaching legacies and potential legacy supporters for the first time. But it’s not as challenging as some may think.


Here, we debunk five of the most common legacy fundraising myths.


1. It’s all about death


Far from being a topic that gets people thinking about their own death, legacies should be an opportunity for people to think about life, and the steps they can take now to help support the things they care about into the future.


Successful messaging will encourage supporters to think about what impact they can have after they are gone, and what a difference their gift will make to future generations. “We have moved from a place where the organisation didn’t really feel comfortable talking about legacies, to a place where everyone in the organisation is much more confident and engaged in the importance of legacy promotion,” says Geoff Sweeney, development director at the Birmingham Royal Ballet.


“For our supporters, a legacy is a natural extension of their relationship with and support for the organisation. They are happy to engage in those legacy conversations when prompted.”


Encourage supporters to use the professional services of a solicitor or will-writer to help them with their will – but try to keep the technical language out of your approach. Do what charities often do best; share your vision of the world you can create together, and explain why each gift matters. Encourage supporters to share their stories, and highlight what legacies have enabled the charity to do before.


2. Legacies aren’t appropriate for our supporters


It is not unusual for fundraisers, charity directors or trustees to have concerns about whether it is right to raise the topic of legacies with supporters. Often they feel it is insensitive given the organisation’s focus, or that their supporters are unlikely to be able to leave a legacy. But having what might have been perceived as awkward conversations can not only help with legacies, but also build deeper relationships going forward.


The Cystic Fibrosis Trust  previously had concerns that it wouldn’t be right to promote legacies because the charity addresses a life-shortening condition. Three years ago, the charity reviewed its position and invested in legacies, to great success, generating more known legacy pledgers than it had done in the previous 48 years of the charity altogether.


It has also enabled them to open up about up conversations with beneficiaries about how the charity can better support them and their families.


And when it comes to affordability, there is no minimum payment for legacies. Whereas ten or 20 years ago, a charitable bequest was largely a philanthropic gesture by wealthier members of society, now it is something that almost anyone who makes a will can do. Supporters can give as little or as much as they want.


3. It’s just for the big boys


The appetite for legacies is growing and people want to make a lasting difference to the world. No longer the domain of traditional Victorian charities, legacy fundraising is a vibrant and growing market, with many charities moving into the field for the first time in recent years.


With a growing number of legators and an average of three charities benefitting from each charitable will, there is room for all organisations to gain. For smaller charities, the potential for legacy fundraising is massive; it could take as little as one gift to make a transformational difference.


In the past few months alone, I've heard from hospices, arts and educational organisations and local community groups moving into the field. Charities like Classics for All and Help 2 Read have recently invested in their legacy programme, becoming consortium members, while the Science Museums Group has taken on its first legacy manager.


We believe that more voices, delivered sensitively, can only help strengthen the message of the importance of legacy giving; the opportunity the sector needs to achieve the tipping point that will see legacy giving become a social norm.


4. We can’t afford it


Legacy fundraising doesn’t have to be expensive. We have seen a real shift in many charities’ marketing programmes in recent years from a reliance on traditional print media to increasing use of social media and digital channels.


Our advice is to integrate legacies into all your fundraising channels, drip-feeding your message through a mix of communications. Don’t be afraid of having fun with your legacy campaign – take a look at some of our recent annual awareness themes to get some ideas for how you can inject a bit of humour into your campaigns.


Simple steps like putting legacy messaging on your homepage, including a legacy case study in your newsletter or email bulletin, and raising legacies at relevant supporter events, in your charity shop or reception area – together with digital and social media – can make a big difference.


“We delivered a digital legacy campaign that blew away the success of our normal activity on social media,” said a spokesperson at Marie Curie. "From four Facebook posts, we organically reached 370,000 people and received 1,600 likes, and our legacy video had 7,500 views on YouTube.” Almost a quarter of people cared for by the charity are now funded by legacies.


5. It’s not for me – only legacy fundraisers talk legacies


For a charity to achieve its potential in legacy fundraising, everyone in the organisation needs to be able to talk legacies. You don’t want to miss a trick when the opportunity arises. Just last week, I heard how a supporter had walked into a charity shop and asked about legacy giving, but walked away because staff told him that they didn’t deal with legacies there. He walked into the next charity shop on the high street and, because British Red Cross staff could help him there, he went on to make a pledge.


Everybody in the organisation has to be able to talk about legacies. Equip your staff and board to have the confidence to talk about the difference a gift in a will could make. Think about what this means for everyone at each level of the organisation; for community fundraisers, the major donor team, trustees, volunteers, receptionists and more. And put it into practice by creating a moment where the organisation focuses on legacies.


Why not get started with this year’s Remember A Charity in your Will Week (12-18 September 2016)? It’s not to late to take part – find out more about joining the legacy campaign here 


Rob Cope @robantonycope is director of Remember A Charity

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