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How to evoke nostalgia in your legacy campaign

Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, explores why a stroll down memory lane can be so powerful for legacy fundraising and how to embed sentimental memories in your campaigns…

In a fast-paced, rapidly changing world, with huge emphasis on the need to innovate, it can seem counterintuitive to look to the past. Yet charities – along with leading international brands from Coca Cola to Adidas – often do exactly that, taking a stroll down memory lane to connect with audiences and inspire them to take action.

Now, in the COVID era, it seems the appetite for nostalgia is greater than ever. But, why is it that sentimental memory is so powerful at drawing people in?

Nostalgia is an emotion found to lift our moods, helping us to not only feel connected to our past, but also to our goals and principles. Research from Southampton University finds that it encourages ‘approach orientation’, making people feel more optimistic, driven and creative, promotes prosocial behaviour and inspires generosity, including charitable giving. And that’s undoubtedly one of the reasons that it can be so effective for legacy fundraising.

What’s more, a study from Texas Tech University indicates that these autobiographical memories can be a powerful motivating force in inspiring people to leave a gift in their Will; the final chapter in their story.

So, how can charities embed nostalgia within their own legacy campaigns?


Build relevance and resonance


More than simply drawing from the past, a nostalgic campaign will feel relevant for and resonate with the audience. When you look at Unicef’s Timeline campaign, enabling supporters to create their own video featuring key events in their lifetime linked to the charity’s work, it’s hard not to be struck by how relevant the charity and its work is to our own lives.

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Similarly, the Brooke’s postcard campaign, featuring an old black and white image of Dorothy Brooke pushing a child and dog in a wheelbarrow, and written by her granddaughter, inspires a sense of fondness for ‘the way things were’. It reminds us that the charity was started by someone relatable, with the commitment and dedication to reach out and change the world for the better, encouraging supporters to do the same.

Evoke the power (and comfort) of the past

In a world full of change and uncertainty – particularly during a global pandemic – the urge to look back and strive for a simpler, better existence is something we can all relate to. While the future is intriguing, dynamic and exciting, the past offers the draw of familiarity, security and comfort.  

Nostalgic memories will often involve interactions with family and friends, framed within our own personal context. More than simple reflections on the past, it creates an autobiographical journey, transporting us back to treasured times, encouraging us to think sentimentally about the most important things in our lives; the people, places and other fond memories we hold.   

Take the Royal Opera House’s recent legacy campaign, which asked people to think who their ‘Aurora’ might be. This pulled on people’s familiar childhood memories of Princess Aurora – also known as Sleeping Beauty, the lead character in the recent operatic production. Or there’s Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity that reminds people to think back to his most infamous characters, challenging them to write their own story endings by making a gift in their Will.

Appeal to the baby boomer generation

When appealing for gifts in Wills, it’s often the Baby Boomer generation that charities are looking to reach. One of the advantages of nostalgic marketing is that it enables charities to target their communications at a specific generation of potential supporters, all of whom lived through the same memorable era.

Inevitably, what makes one person feel nostalgic will differ from another, depending on how connected they feel to that era and what else was going on in their lives at that time. So, theming campaigns around a particular era, trend, TV show, book, toy or character can be a great way to establish common ground with your target audience, helping to drive up response.

But creative and sensitive handling is important to ensure that any appeal that draws on the past will not be mistaken for one that is outdated. It’s an opportunity to think innovatively; connecting past, present and future. This might include integrating older imagery or video footage with digital channels or virtual reality, or simply inspiring supporters to do something that builds on a past memory.

When developing sector-wide campaigns to promote the concept of legacy giving during Remember A Charity Week, we too  set out to evoke the same sense of nostalgia.  This included bringing DJ Emperor Rosko back aboard a replica Radio Caroline to broadcast a 60s playlist and interview ‘stars’ from that era, and developing a ‘Points of You’ parody TV show.

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And, this September, we’ll be bringing back The Wombles;  creating a unique short film starring Great Uncle Bulgaria and his family of burrow-dwellers to shine a light on legacy giving. We’re doing this not only to reach new audiences, but to build engagement and, of course, to inspire people to consider leaving a gift in their Will to their favourite charity.

Nostalgia is more than a warm and fuzzy feeling or a clever marketing ploy. It’s one of the many ways that charities can connect with potential legators, offering them the opportunity to do something remarkable, to be remembered and to change the future for the better.

Rob Cope is Director of Remember A Charity, a consortium of 200 charities working together to normalise legacy giving across the UK. Find out more or take part in this year’s Remember A Charity Week (7-13 September 2020).

Thinking about how to adapt your Legacy Strategy?

This year's Legacy Strategy Summit will look at how to build and grow legacy strategies, as well as how to approach legacy fundraising in a post-COVID era.

Register your interest for the Legacy Strategy Summit 2020 here.

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