Christian charities may have certain idiosyncratic advantages in attracting legacies, but the underlying principles are universal and can work just as well for secular causes, says Howard Barker
Challenges and opportunities are faced by all charities. For UK Christian charities, many of these are exactly the same as in any other charity; however there are some attributes that are unique to Christian charities. This is particularly the case when it comes to gifts in wills.
There are, for example, passages in the Bible that directly support the concept of being a cheerful giver and encouraging people to be wise stewards who give routinely. When combined with the Christian principle of loving your neighbour Christianity is, by its very nature, delivering a strong legacy message to followers; one that sticks with them throughout their lives.
Idiosyncratic this may be, yet I believe that there is much that other, secular types of charities can learn from the principles that underpin Christian legacy giving, and perhaps from the way Christian charities interact with their supporters.
Making the legacy message stick
Many Christian charities are old and have been talking to their supporters about legacies for well over 200 years, many generations hearing the legacy message woven into fundraising communications. The message is repeated again and again, over many years, becoming firmly embedded in the hearts and minds of supporters.
While most other kinds of charity might not have the benefit of centuries of message reinforcement, the value of message repetition is not to be underestimated. Those charities who regularly talk to supporters about legacies, and who weave their legacy message throughout all of their communications, will do much better at making the legacy message stick than those who shy away from this.
Talking about death
Speaking of shying away from legacy conversations, this is something many charities do as they feel uncomfortable talking about death, and presume their supporters do too. One of the key pillars of Christianity and many other faith groups is the belief in life after death; that death is not the end and not something that is shrouded in despair. This means that conversations about death among are often more palatable among believers than among non-believers.
While non-religious charity supporters may not necessarily hold the same belief about life after death, there is something about the symbolic immortality that legacies confer – the idea that people can continue to have an impact after their death, to pass on their values and continue making a difference to people’s lives – and legacy giving is an amazing opportunity in this regard.
Furthermore, Christian faith gives hope and Christian charities use hope prominently in their messaging, but other charities can also stress the importance of hope of a better tomorrow.
These concepts makes conversations about death more positive and much less morbid – so focus your legacy conversations around them.
Reflecting supporter values
One of the biggest pluses of being a Christian charity is our innate direct appeal to our supporters’ core values. However, the same underlying principle of appealing to your donor’s sense of identity, life goals and values can work well in any charity.
Gaining a proper understanding of what drives your supporters – not just when it comes to giving, but actually to living – will help you develop messaging that will appeal to their core values.
Don’t compete – collaborate
Christian charities ‘compete’ for legacy income with a wide range of charities; not just other Christian charities and churches but also secular charities dealing with, for example, common health complaints like cancer.
That said, the issue of competition in legacy fundraising is a slightly unusual one in that several charities are commonly included in each will, so charities are a) not in competition in quite the same way, and b) defining the issue of who is a competitor becomes difficult.
Bible Society is one of several Christian charities who collaborate within ‘Christian Legacy’ which is a consortium of Christian charities that try to promote the idea of legacy giving to all Christians. Collaborating in this way has the benefit of a wider reach and appealing to a wider audience. The consortium also has a greater freedom to make a noise about gifts in wills, and promote them in a manner that might not fit the character of individual Christian charities.
Working in a consortium is not always easy, but I believe that other causally similar charities could collaborate in the same way for mutual benefit. Would a unified legacy message be stronger for charities with similar aims, or local charities joining together for a national legacy campaign?
Avoiding legacy disputes
A final observation; when our wonderful supporters go to be with their Saviour, their families do not appear to begrudge the legacy left to Bible Society. Many of the family members are not Christian, but they are aware of how important the Christian faith was to their loved one.
So I hear comments like: “Mum supported you for years and loved hearing about the work you do giving Bibles to people around the world”. Consequently disputes concerning legacies are, thankfully, very rare.
To avoid post-legacy disputes, other types of charities could encourage their supporters to talk to their friends and families about the charity they support, about the difference that charity makes to the world, and also the difference it makes to them personally – why it makes them happy to support that charity/cause and why this is an important part of their identity. If friends and family can gain a better understanding of exactly how important a cause is to their loved one, they will surely be less likely to begrudge a legacy left to that cause.
Howard Barker is head of legacy giving at Bible Society