The future of legacies

The future of legacies

The future of legacies

“We live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of humankind.” So said Robert Kennedy in 1966. If Kennedy had been a UK fundraiser, he would surely have been referring to the legacy sector in 2019…

Having spent years as the quiet guys of the charity sector, studiously working away in the shadows, legacy fundraisers suddenly find themselves portrayed as the unlikely heroes of our sector. Many are realising that gifts in Wills might just be the only thing standing between many charities and the combined onslaught of GDPR, public sponsorship fatigue and falling levels of business and consumer confidence, which are currently wiping out millions of charities’ budgeted incomes.

The rise and rise of legacy income

The reasons for this rise to hero status are well-documented. The ‘Baby Boomer’ generation, which is the foundation on which many charities are built, is now an ageing group and legacies in their Wills are maturing with increasing frequency. The collective wealth of this generation, driven by booms in property prices, coupled with their passion for charity, will see the legacy market grow from an impressive £2.9 billion today to over £4 billion in 2026  (Legacy Foresight).

The savvier charities have long known about this and have been increasingly deploying resources into their legacy programmes over recent years. The effects are clear to see. In months gone by you would have been hard-pressed to see a legacy advert on your TV, yet in September 2018 no fewer than 10 charities were running campaigns throughout daytime schedules.

Taking your legacy strategy to the next level

At a time where many other traditional sources of income are drying up, gifts in Wills might just be the thing that keeps charities going through some turbulent times. The question for charities is no longer ‘should we be investing in legacies’ but rather how much and where?

With the average lag between last Will and death being around seven years, time is ticking away. If your charity is not already aboard the legacy ship, then you need to get your ticket now or risk missing the boat entirely.

With most legacy gifts coming from ‘invisible pledgers’ - supporters who have put a charity in their Will but haven’t told that charity - there is a strong case for above the line campaigns that target particular segments at a mass scale. An increasing blind-spot within fundraising is the misperception that someone must be on your database to be classed as a supporter. In legacies this assumption isn’t just wrong but dangerous. But above the line campaigns can be expensive and difficult to measure. A safer alternative is to target your known and most loyal supporters through existing communication and face-to-face channels, such as newsletters or events.

An increasingly popular option is to seek to facilitate the Will writing process by offering discounted or free Will writing schemes through partnerships with Will-writing professionals. These can be highly effective but require careful partnership management and, of course, due diligence to ensure your supporters get a high-quality experience.

As part of our strategy at Macmillan we’re doing all of the above and have quadrupled the number of pledgers along the way. We see all approaches as complimentary, helping to maintain a good level of awareness of Will writing and how vital it is for us to help everyone with cancer live life as fully as they can.

A marathon, not a sprint

A common challenge for legacy teams is to remind senior stakeholders and Trustees that investment in legacies is a marathon not a sprint. This can be a hard pill to swallow by those used to the fast-pace and immediate returns of direct response campaigns.

In-year metrics and KPIs are, therefore, crucial to maintaining levels of confidence and support in those who are ultimately responsible for the charity’s finances.

In my opinion, anyone who says you can’t measure any aspect of legacy marketing is plain wrong. Yes, it’s difficult, but it is not impossible. Income forecasting is increasingly becoming a science, driven by complex data-led models - although I’ve yet to find one that can predict the arrival of those random one-off million-pound gifts.

Trends and models are helpful and necessary, but for the foreseeable future, at least, we will have to accept that periods of volatility are inevitable, particularly given the B-word, Brexit. Persuading senior stakeholders at any organisation to hold their nerve during these periods and remember the long-term gains, will require resilience and some great influencing skills.  

Looking to the future

If this isn’t challenging enough for you, then hold on to your hats, as the future of legacies promises more disruption and more opportunity. The Will writing sector is experiencing a mid-life crisis driven by the arrival of tech-driven start-ups such as Farewill and Beyond which offer low-cost simple Wills that can be written and updated from your mobile or tablet in minutes.

Just three years since it burst onto the scene Farewill says it is the number one Will writer in the UK. But this might just be the start. A Law Commission Consultation on the future of Will writing is due to make recommendations this year and is expected to recommend an overhaul to many of the Victorian laws that still govern the writing of Wills in this country. This is likely to see a loosening of many of the current rules to give greater effect to people’s last wishes.

Who knows what this might mean, but video Wills, last wishes sent on a Whatsapp message or even scribbled words on a post-it note might just become the new normal. Such innovations are frequently met by cries of derision or horror by the more conservative elements of our sector concerned about a tidal wave of badly written and unclear Wills ripe for challenge and litigation.

What they fail to realise, however, is that these changes are consumer led, demanded by consumers who now expect to run their lives on the go and demand that services fit around their lifestyle and time commitments.

Working together

With these challenges and opportunities in mind, the future of our industry depends on a collective approach. We should be working with providers, professional bodies and governments to drive up standards and promote best practice. It’s refreshing to see bodies such as Remember a Charity, the Institute of Legacy Managers and STEP already taking positive steps in these areas. The spirit of collaboration is alive and well in the legacies sector.

These are indeed interesting times for legacies. But for those who are brave and ambitious enough to see the opportunities, the rewards will be transformational.

Written by Craig Fordham, Director of Legacies, Macmillan Cancer Support

Craig will be taking part in a panel discussion on the future of legacies at this year's Legacy Strategy Summit on 13 June 2019, London. To find out more and to book your place, visit 

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