The Fundraiser - Practical advice and insight for the charity sector

Posted in How To Guides, Ask the Experts, Special Focus Legacies & In Memory

NSPCC: how to effectively measure your legacy activity

“Why can’t you tell me how much return we’ll get from legacy fundraising?” Have you ever asked that question and thought surely, it’s not that hard? After all, there are returns on investments (ROIs) for other fundraising income streams…

Conversely, have you ever been asked that question and thought exasperatedly, “legacies just don’t work like that!” If so, read on! This article seeks to give you tips on how to set metrics to measure your legacy activity and demonstrate your legacy successes.

Like most things, it may help to start at the beginning and remind ourselves what we’re actually trying to do. Presumably that’s to achieve an increase in legacy income for your charity’s beneficiaries. 

Why have metrics for legacy activity?

To increase income requires investment - in time, commitment and money. So how can you determine what level of investment? Easy right? You just look at the return you’ll get over time. £X investment, over Y years will give you £ legacy income.

Only hang on, chances are that many, if not most, of your supporters won’t tell you they’ve included a gift in their Will to your charity - so you won‘t know that. Even if you did, do you know how much they’re going to leave your charity? - most likely not. Even a cash gift (pecuniary legacy) may be subject to inflation or there not being enough funds in the estate to pay it. With a gift of a percentage share of someone’s estate (a residuary legacy), that’s a percentage share of an unknown amount, so you can’t quantify that either. And if that wasn’t enough to make you bang your head against the wall, unless you can predict when people you don’t know will pass away and how long it will take for their affairs to be dealt with - you’ve no idea when the income will be received!

Not only does this make forecasting legacy income tricky (to say the least), it flies in the face of those lovely ROI models that can be so handy for an investment business case. So, my advice: accept that you can’t fit a square legacy income peg in a round fundraising/marketing hole. Legacies are different. Consider instead what you can show to demonstrate the effectiveness of investing in your legacy strategy.

What do you know? What can you measure?

Corporate measures often focus on notifications of new legacies and income received.  Whilst this has its place and is effective in assessing cashflow, it’s not hugely helpful in driving investment decisions in respect of your strategy for future income.

But you can measure:

  • The promotional legacy activity that’s taking place
  • How many fundraising events include a legacy message, whether from a speaker or a pledge card for example
  • Whether every team has a legacy-related objective in their business plan
  • The number of supporters your face-to-face fundraises speak to about legacies
  • How many conversations might be realistic for a fundraiser to have in a year, given the number of supports with whom they interact.

And there you have it, viable metrics for legacy fundraising activity.

You can then measure the number of those conversations that result in a particular outcome. How many people said they want to know more about a gift in their Will or are thinking about leaving a gift or have already pledged a legacy. Another set of metrics.

Whether you measure these conversations and their outcomes through a simple tally or a sophisticated database isn’t the point, what matters is you’re establishing a way of measuring legacy fundraising activity to demonstrate and achieve success.

For mass marketing activity, you can develop measures across the programme. This could include the number of legacy information packs requested, the number of visitors and the depth of engagement with the legacy section of your website, as well as the number of people asking to be referred to your Will writing services (if you have them). If you’re able to include legacy messages across non-legacy communications then you can set measures for this too.

The more you have clear, objective measures in place, the less investing in legacy fundraising seems a leap of faith for those who are unfamiliar with this income stream.

You’ve got measures in place, how can you attribute a value?

Again, there’s a certain acceptance required – the values will never be accurate; there are too many unknowns. You’re not dealing with a direct debit or a current pledge.

Of course, you can look at the legacy income your charity receives and the average value of a legacy gift.  So, can’t you just multiply the average value of a legacy by the number of supporters who you know are interested in leaving a legacy gift? No, if only it were that simple! 

We all know that not everyone who says they’re going to do something actually does it. There may be many reasons why a supporter chooses not to include a gift in their Will to your charity. Crudely put, you can effectively discount the average value of legacies you actually receive to allow for the fact that not every possible gift will materialise. Bear with me...

If you’ve been recording legacy activity for a while, you may be able to look at what proportion of people who expressed an interest in their lifetime actually went on to leave a gift, the type of legacy and how much was received. Even better, you may be able to break this down into categories depending on the supporter’s level of interest during their lifetime (enquirer, intender, pledger, or your equivalent). From this, you or your data & finance teams can do some calculations to work out what proportion of people responding to your activity may actually go on to leave a gift and approximately what the future value could be.

Whether your charity has complex data calculations on this or you adopt a nominal amount, the purpose is to end up with a proxy monetary value to attribute to a legacy lead. Hurrah!

Remember, we’re not talking here about the amount of a legacy received, but attaching a future financial value to a legacy lead that’s been generated – an otherwise unquantifiable unknown. (Your overall legacy income forecasting will have to account for legacies from those people who are unknown to you, this is about those possible legacy supporters your charity is aware of.)

Having a number that you can use to demonstrate a reasonable value of a legacy lead can really help decision making around marketing budget setting and assessing return on marketing activity.

You can also use this to inspire your fundraisers to show them the possible value of a simple conversation. Let’s face it, there aren’t that many conversations which can result in gifts of thousands of pounds, but legacies are one of these. Whilst there’s an understandable natural focus on annual targets, why not include some of these measures in your KPIs and objectives so in talking about gifts in Wills every fundraiser can see the value they’re bringing to future legacy income, and ultimately your charity’s beneficiaries. 

So, if you’ve been pushing for legacy fundraising ROIs hopefully you can see the number of unknowns you’re grappling with, both in terms of values and timings. If you’re being asked to justify investment in your legacy strategy, you should have a selection of measures to help you quantify the pipeline and attach a nominal value to it. 

Roll on successful legacy investment business cases - all important for your charity’s income growth!

Written by Louise Timbrell, Head of Legacy Management & Development, NSPCC

Louise will be taking part in a panel discussion on how to adapt and evolve your legacy strategy at this year’s Legacy Strategy Summit on 13 June 2019, London. To find out more or to book your place, visit https://legacystrategysummit.com/    

Leave a comment

FUNDRAISER NAME