The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

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Legacy giving or gifts in Wills - what’s in a name?

For decades, there has been no general consensus in terms of the name given to those responsible for activity related to post-death gifts within the charity sector…

A quick glance at the delegate list of a recent sector level conference which lists, amongst others, Legacy Marketing Manager; Legacy and In-Memory Giving Officer; Development Officer; Gifts in Wills Officer and Philanthropy Manager confirms this.

Although I appreciate such conventions are often a result of internal politics, or in marketing terms a desire to make this way of giving more accessible and appealing to the general public, I would argue that such choices have a fundamental impact on an organisation’s potential to optimise such gifts.

Legacy giving versus gifts in Wills

“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet - II, ii, 1-2).  Or would it?  To lay my cards on the table, I’m a strong advocate for the use of legacy over gifts in Wills when it comes to naming conventions.This is because - even if only in name - I believe to reduce the purpose of our profession to the sole act of encouraging Will writing is to miss the point, both for our organisations and for donors. Legacy giving is about so much more.

Will writing is a tactic; to help legacy giving flourish we need more than this. Spending too much time on the detail rather than the big picture, on the mechanics rather than the inspiration; on the process rather than the people, on promoting Will writing rather than legacy giving will limit potential. But how can we avoid this?

1) Don’t forget the strategy

It’s all too easy to jump straight to tactics when it comes to legacy giving. It’s important however to lay strong foundations to ensure your activity achieves its greatest potential. Do you understand the internal landscape of your organisation and the barriers and opportunities you might face? Do you have a good understanding of the external marketplace; donor attitudes and competitor activity? Have you set a clear vision and mission for your programme? Do you know what success looks like and what you need to measure to show when you’ve got there? Do you know who your key audiences are and understand the reasons why they support your organisation? Have you created a compelling proposition based upon that insight to inspire and engage your supporters? Do you have clear donor journeys in place to optimise conversion and enhance stewardship? Have you considered how you will manage gifts once you’ve received them and how you will communicate success and celebrate the contribution of legacy gifts to your organisation? Before you think about what you’re going to undertake (tactics) to promote legacy giving, you need to think about why you’re doing it (vision) and how you are going to achieve it (strategy).

2) Don’t forget to put your donors, and their needs, first

Legacy giving is personal. Legacy giving may be ‘death activated’ but it is very much a reflection of life, an expression of the values an individual holds and the way in which they see the world. Of the people and causes close to their heart and how they want others to remember them. Given the very personal considerations which lie at the heart of legacy giving we need to ensure that our approach is as sensitive and personal as it can be. Such an approach is also most likely to provide the greatest financial benefit for charitable causes.

How do we build the best programmes and propositions based upon insight and understanding of our donors and their motivations? How can we create a two-way dialogue with supporters to better respond to and steward them in relation to legacy giving? How can we best highlight and promote the potential emotional benefits of legacy giving, rather than just focusing on the functional benefits of Will writing?

How do we set aside historic internal divisions to create unified pre and post death supporter journeys more mindful of the view our supporters have of our organisation and their giving? How do we provide donors with the opportunity to share their stories, providing both emotional benefit to them whilst at the same time inspiring future generations of potential legacy supporters?

3) Don’t try to do it alone

The most successful organisations are those who have built a strong internal culture in relation to legacy giving. As the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. This is just as important when it comes to successful legacy giving. It’s important therefore to build an approach capable of surviving individuals to ensure sustained activity. Senior stakeholder engagement; an understanding of the long-term and volatile nature of legacy activity; collaboration, shared responsibility and the provision of appropriate knowledge and skills to build confidence in support of this are all vital.

Our legacy

Our sector stands at a crossroads. Faced with the once in a lifetime opportunity presented by the transfer of wealth from the baby boomer generation, it’s our responsibility as legacy fundraisers to optimise the value of the legacy gifts they will leave to the causes we represent.

This will be best achieved, not by encouraging them to write their Wills, but by inspiring them with the future they could help to create; helping them to experience the positive benefits of legacy giving and by providing them with the opportunity for their values to live on through the work of our organisations.

So, what’s in a name? As Shakespeare would have it, little. It’s the worth of the individual that counts. With that in mind, let us commit to spending more time on the big picture; putting more effort into understanding and inspiring supporters and to promoting the personal and social benefits of legacy giving. Whatever our name, let us aspire to smell as sweet as we can.

Written by Chris Millward, Founder, Legacy Giving Expert

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