How the RNIB unleashed legacies into their organisation

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How the RNIB unleashed legacies into their organisation

Eifron Hopper describes how RNIB has built a legacy culture which extends throughout the organisation


When Bill Clinton first ran for the US presidency, one of the buzz phrases of the campaign was ‘It's the economy, stupid’. It was intended to remind Clinton, and his aides, what their core message should be.
Here at RNIB, you might say that our mantra is ‘It's the legacies, stupid’, because integrating legacies throughout the organisational lifecycle is at the core of our strategy.

We have defined our legacy culture as a situation in which everybody:
• Knows the importance of legacies to the organisation;
• Understands that everyone has a part to play; and
• Is willing to do their bit and engage in legacy generation.

This is a tough ask and these ends are not achieved without hard work, but the potential rewards are enormous.


Why bother?

Effective legacy marketing helps us avoid missed opportunities and create new avenues in. For example, we have recently followed up several leads that have turned into legacy pledges. This is a result of our awareness campaign, which meant that the receptionist in our Edinburgh office knew who to pass callers to when they rang in about leaving a legacy.

When promoting our work in this area, we also refer to the Carlsberg effect. Legacy promotion is about getting appropriate messages out to the right markets as much as possible. Others in the organisation can help us reach the parts we couldn’t reach on our own.

The fact that our membership team gives us space for an article about legacies in its magazine means that we can get messages to our members (who would otherwise be out of reach to the legacy team) in a publication that they already know and trust.

Finally, legacy marketing is cheap. You don't need large resources – smaller charities can do it too. Creativity shouldn’t come at too high a cost.



Top-level support

Before getting our legacy strategy underway, we needed leadership buy-in. If legacies are, (or have the potential to be) important to you, it will be a rare set of trustees and senior managers who don’t understand the idea. Nevertheless, it is important to gain and demonstrate their support.

To a certain extent, I was pushing at an open door during my initial discussions on legacy integration with the trustees and senior managers. Legacies represent around a third of RNIB’s income. Nevertheless, gaining their support has been very important.

I have been known to challenge trustees to leave a legacy so that we can use this in our internal and external marketing. It doesn't have to be a large amount – people will not ask for specifics as the gesture is enough in itself. Fortunately our chairman has left us a legacy and is very willing for me to refer to it in talks and articles, which encourages others to do the same.

If you can't get this level of buy-in, try to get your board or CEO to endorse what you are doing by fronting your memos – for example, providing a quote.

It is good to have a legacy champion among the trustees and we have many at RNIB, including the chairman. When I worked at The Children's Society, Ian Clarke (who is now active in the legacy world himself) was such a champion. As a practitioner it was useful to have someone who could speak (peer-to-peer) to trustees to gain support for what we were doing and correct some of the inevitable misunderstandings.


Building a buzz

It is important to make some noise about legacies and to take every opportunity to get your message across. This is likely to be a long-term process rather that a one-off act and it may involve getting into the very un-British habit of blowing your own trumpet.

We use emails, staff magazines and our intranet to get the message out. It is important not to bore people with bald facts and figures so we use quizzes and other competitions to get people's attention.

Most importantly, we share stories about interesting or unusual legacies. It doesn't feel appropriate to have whistles and bells celebrations such as those when other fundraising campaigns succeed, but we do celebrate the generosity of our legators and, where we can, provide information about the background to their gift.

One of the first legacies I dealt with at RNIB was from a scientist turned lawyer from Newcastle. He was blinded in an accident and he left us a substantial sum, including a request that we set up a bursary to support blind students. I included this story in an email and for some months, everywhere I went in the organisation, I was asked about it. People remember stories and it keeps legacies in their thoughts.

Service delivery and support teams often have no idea (why should they?) how much the work of the organisation depends upon legacies. As part of our drive to create a legacy culture, we seek out every opportunity to speak to teams in other parts of the organisation about the importance of legacies and why everyone has a role to play in our strategy.


Sharing the glory

As much as you want your team’s hard work in marketing legacies to be recognised, it is likely to be far more effective if the stories you tell also contain thanks to all the people out there who have worked so hard to impress this generous legator.

It’s so much better if we can be ore specific in recognising the team or service that influenced the legacy. If someone has mentioned a particular service that they are grateful for, we will highlight it. The service in question gets to puff its chest out a bit and others see that what they do on a daily basis can have a positive effect on legacies.

At The Children's Society we received a legacy from someone who was visited twice a year by our local representative, who picked up the contents of her home collection box (no more than a few pounds) and told her about the work we were doing. This so impressed the donor in the years up to her death that she left us £250,000.


Out and about

It is tempting for us legacy people to be so bogged down with mailings, forecasts and administration that we don't surface much during the hours of daylight. Meeting colleagues in formal and informal settings doesn't just raise your profile; it also raises the profile of your campaign.

At RNIB we encourage the legacy team to be as visible as possible. This means taking part in cross-departmental work, volunteering to support our campaigning team and speaking up at meetings, as well as going along to staff leaving parties and celebrations.

Above all, we know that we mustn't ask too much of people. Our colleagues have their day-jobs to do and it would be counter productive to overburden them.

For several years we have held legacy awareness weeks. These have given an annual focus to our ongoing internal PR campaign, and generated a great deal of interest throughout the organisation. In turn, this has created opportunities to work with colleagues to get legacy messages out to their stakeholder groups.


Has it worked?

Ultimately, the true measure will be the legacies we receive in the future. In the meantime, we have devised simple methods to measure awareness levels, particularly before and after a legacy awareness week.

The best measure is the number of opportunities that are presented to us for reaching more people with our legacy message. I can think of no better example than our colleagues at RNIB’s National Library Service. They responded to our request and began helping to promote legacies. This relationship has snowballed and they are now coming to us with suggestions of how we might get appropriate legacy messages out to their readers.

Legacies don't just grow on trees; they have to be worked for and legacy marketing is far too important to be left to fundraisers alone. We haven't yet done everything we would like to, but the work we have completed to date has already opened new doors and helped us to reach a much wider audience with our legacy promotion.

Eifron Hopper is head of legacies at RNIB.

This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 6, June 2011


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