Are you finding your charity’s future funders?
How can we better embrace legacy giving in all our fundraising activity, despite the prevalence of short-term thinking?
I started working as a fundraiser at almost exactly the same time that the UK slipped into its deepest recession since the 1980s. Like many of us, my instincts and abilities have been sharpened by the country’s economic woes, whether counteracting the impact of reductions in statutory funds, to working through increased competition for grants and donations.
I think one of the main influences this financial situation has engendered in our work as fundraisers is short-term thinking. Our annual targets are high, resources are scarce and our need is more than ever. Post-Brexit, and in our new regulatory environment, it’s likely to be an even more challenging landscape to continue to work and succeed in.
Fundraising with the highest ROI should therefore be the order of the day. Figures from Fundratios from 2014 show the ROI on legacy fundraising at £35.98 per £1 invested, up from £33.30 the previous year.
But are we as fundraisers doing enough right now to encourage our supporters to think about remembering our causes with gifts in their wills?
Sometimes charities steer away from active legacy fundraising, because the fundraisers themselves, or more likely their leadership structures, are uncomfortable with making the ask. With 35% of people happy to leave a gift in their will to charity once friends and family have been provided for, this reluctance is misplaced.
Instead, I think the greater threat to good legacy fundraising is our current mode of short-term thinking.
How often have you heard “But we need results in this financial year”. Or, “Sure, legacy giving has a great ROI, but it takes years to come through. How can you justify time and money on a fundraising activity with no discernible immediate income?” And I bet you’ve even thought: “Isn’t the legacy market going to disappear, with baby boomers assets having to keep supporting the next generation’s mortgages and education?”
I’ve seen two responses to these pressures. The first is to give up because it’s too difficult. The big boys have got all the legacy donors thanks to their major marketing budgets and plethora of staff. We won’t do anything and will just hope to, in Ken Burnett’s words, “collect bequests like manna from heaven” – just sitting back and waiting for legacy gifts to arrive.
The second response is to do very little. To put up a webpage, to maybe print a leaflet. There, box ticked, now let’s get back to bringing in the income we need right now. You know as well as I do that the fundraisers in this category will still be relying on Burnett’s proverbial bread.
I think there’s a third way to approach legacy fundraising, that is neither all, nor nothing. I know this because I too am that fundraiser with a tiny team, not-so-tiny targets and very little time to do everything.
The fundamental change we made was to build conversations about legacy fundraising into as many aspects of our individual donor work as possible. When joining my charity as a member, you’re asked if you’d like information on leaving a gift in your will. A recent donor stewardship event for a capital project was themed around the difference two legacies had made to the project. And whenever the opportunity presents itself, we talk to our supporters face-to-face about how important gifts in wills are to the charity and our cause.
And we’re starting to see successes, with an increase in the number of known legacy pledgers up 35%, as well as significant bequests from supporters we know have received literature or attended events like those above.
The best legacy marketing works as a drip-feed. You don’t know when your supporters are going to make that appointment with their solicitor to set out their last wishes. You do know that you want your supporters to be aware of, and more importantly proud to remember your charity in their will.
Short-term issues or not, we as fundraisers owe it to our donors to do our best to help celebrate and further a cause that was important to them in their lifetime. There’s no better way than to build it into your daily fundraising activities.
Kirsty Connell-Skinner MInstF, Fundraising Manager, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
Kirsty leads a small team focusing on individual, trust, lottery and legacy giving. Since 2014 she’s led a revamp of RBGE’s giving in wills programme, growing known legacy pledges from supporters by 35%. Hear her talk in more detail about building a legacy programme to secure your charity’s future funders, at the Scottish Fundraising Conference 2016.