Interview: Richard Radcliffe talks legacy fundraising

Interview: Richard Radcliffe talks legacy fundraising

Interview: Richard Radcliffe talks legacy fundraising

 Why are larger charities facing a struggle with gifts in wills? According to  legacies expert Richard Radcliffe, the way supporters make legacy decisions  is changing, and charities need to rethink their relationships with prospects


According to the latest figures from Smee & Ford, legacy income is increasing. It has grown significantly in the last three years, from £1.8bn in 2011/12 to over £2.2bn in 2014/15.

This is good news for the sector. However, legacies expert Richard Radcliffe says that despite this increase, recent trends show that the way supporters make their legacy decisions is changing. We asked Richard to tell us more... 


What are the most interesting trends in legacy giving at the moment?


Big charities are coming out of wills, because donors perceive them as too aggressive and too rich. Instead, many older donors are now leaving a legacy to their university, to thank the for making them the person they are – a wealthy baby boomer – and for making their retirement life fun (museums, galleries and performing arts).

Universities – the buildings, the people and the atmosphere – are personally experienced, in much the same way as a hospice (where legacy income also seems to be growing).

The stability of a building in particular gives trust and confidence in a future – especially one personally experienced or on your doorstep.    


What are the implications of these trends for the future of legacy fundraising?


Cynicism and lack of trust, combined with free gifts in mailings (all traits of big charities), are having an incredibly negative effect on donors. Donors are focusing more now on tangibility and need. The trouble is that the sector does not publish truly comparative information from which one can make a true and fair decision. A charity with 90% government funding can easily say that 90 pence in every pound goes to the cause. A charity with no government funding cannot, so decisions are often based on an unfair comparison.

It is interesting to note that so many ‘serious’ donors visit charity websites only to download annual reports from which to make their legacy decision. When the larger charities are typically seen to be giving only 65 pence in the pound directly to the cause, they are going to have to fight harder to maintain their market share.

Smaller or more focused charities will benefit to a far greater extent, because they’re run more cost-effectively. This is already being witnessed in focus groups where donors so often start by saying “well I have taken the big charities out of my will….”     


After the recent shakeup of fundraising practice, is now a good time for charities to focus on promoting legacy giving?


With all the changes in fundraising practice I am hoping that charities will concentrate much less on acquisition, which will hold huge problems, and much more on cultivating and stewarding their current friends and supporters to ensure they complete their journey with a heartfelt legacy.

Thirty-five years ago ,when I became director of fundraising for the Order of St John, we could get a response rate of 11% from an acquisition mailing. Nowadays the average is somewhere around 0.25%. Getting new donors is becoming too expensive, and is often too aggressive.

In every focus group I run, donors are refining their giving, concentrating on the ones closest to their heart (often a personal experience) and getting rid of those they are fed up with. Perhaps the changes will enhance giving values because donors WANT to give.


With trust in charities at an all-time low, how can charities reassure donors that leaving a legacy to them is the right decision?


Donors tell me that charities say please too much, and thank you too much. Charities do not focus on the impact (the outcomes of their work, rather the features of it) donors have made.

Furthermore, donors not only want to know how many pence in the pound goes to the cause, but also honesty and transparency about which areas you’re succeeding in and which you’re failing in. This gives them much more trust and confidence to invest in your charity’s future than if you look like you’re trying to hide something.


What kind of donor should legacy teams be focusing on?


Every stakeholder is a great prospect, but many older donors have no cash but are asset rich, and so a legacy (which is cash-free at the time of entry into a will) is perfect. They are often your most loyal supporters, too.

Lapsed donors can also be great prospects, because while they may not be able to give £10 now, they can leave 10% in their will.

Major donors are fascinating too – they used to hold on to their assets, but things are changing: they do not want to spoil their kids (Warren Buffett syndrome). In recent private school focus groups, it was extraordinary to hear from 6th form students: rich parents were asking their kid to pay for university, whereas middle class families struggling to pay college fees were nonetheless willing to pay for uni too. Perhaps teaching the kids a lesson to work for their fortune is going to result in more charitable legacies.

Finally we must not forget volunteers, who are some of the greatest and closest witnesses to the work of the charity.   


What is the best way a charity can begin to define its legacy strategy?


Donors’ decisions are based on knowledge of need. The act of writing a will is a logical act. The decision to include a charity is based on the charity’s plea for a legacy as a solution to the problem they are trying to solve.

If the need for gifts in wills is unknown, then stakeholders will get a shock if asked for one – and that is not good relationship management. Integrating legacy messaging is therefore crucial before a direct ask is made (by letter, or at an event, or one-to-one).

Once they know they can make a difference, they then need to know that their legacy will be well used. Communicating to your prospects how you obtain and manage your funds, and your ambitions/vision, form the core of a great legacy strategy.

Finally, legacy giving must be considered easy and affordable so that they actually DO IT.


Richard Radcliffe is a consultant and legacy expert with over 30 years’ experience. Together with Smee & Ford, Richard has run a series of live webinars on  a range of legacy topics which are now available to view on demand. Topics include:

For more information, please visit Smee & Ford.

Get the latest fundraising advice and insight

Sign me up