Coronavirus and legacies: When legacy donor stewardship goes digital

Coronavirus and legacies: When legacy donor stewardship goes digital

Guest Bloggers | 4 May 2020

Dr Claire Routley looks at how to make legacy stewardship work in a digital world. This blog forms part of a series curated by Remember A Charity, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s long-term campaign to grow legacy giving.

It may seem like an age away now, but little over six months ago, I presented a session on stewarding legacy supporters digitally at the IoF’s Legacy Fundraising Conference. My psychic powers may well have been at work as the topic now seems remarkably relevant to legacy fundraisers who are having to think carefully how best to care for their supporters – many of whom are living at risk of the coronavirus – without being able to meet face-to-face, run events, or even, in some cases, send mail easily.

Digital stewardship can be a hugely valuable part of any supporter care programme. People often imagine that our predominantly older supporters aren’t online very much. But that’s not the case. Today’s legacy audience are increasingly web savvy and digitally literate.

According to ONS, the large majority (83%) of 65-74 year-olds are recent internet users. Baby boomers now spend more time online than watching TV and more than eight in ten are regular internet users with at least one social media account. In fact, they typically spend more time online than people aged 16-34.

Many, if not most of our legacy supporters are therefore likely to be both online regularly, and for relatively long periods, making digital channels a natural place to steward them.

When thinking about any sort of legacy stewardship activity, it’s also helpful to consider some core principles around why people give, and build programmes accordingly. Research tells us that legacy donors are likely to want to both make an impact individually, and to feel like part of a community. It’s these two principles that help us to cope with our knowledge of our own mortality – and with a serious illness reminding us all of our mortality on a daily, if not hourly, basis – helping people cope can only be positive for the supporters we serve.

In terms of showing impact digitally, UK-focused charities might be able to learn from International charities who’ve long had to grapple with communicating donors’ impact remotely. Tearfund, for example, have created a digital recreation of a village in Uganda, where supporters can ‘walk through’ the village, seeing the impact of one of their projects.

Other international development charities have been able to create ‘raw’ videos, shot by people in the field on a mobile phone, giving a real sense of a situation as it unfolds, and helping supporters to see the inside track on their work.

Charities can also seek to create a sense of community amongst their legacy donors – particularly important at a time when many people are feeling isolated from others. Many charities will already have digital communities through channels such as Facebook. However, there may be value in seeking to create communities specifically for legacy supporters through existing social media, or even by developing a bespoke platform.

We might be able to learn from the commercial world here – Lego, for example, is renowned for its ability to build community amongst its fans. They recently created the Lego Ideas platform, where people can submit ideas for new sets, get ideas for builds and discuss building with other fans. In order to create the platform, Lego pointed out the importance of continuously talking to stakeholders to get a sense of what they want and need, and building your offering accordingly: good principles for us all to abide by.

The final principle of digital stewardship would be to think about the processes, procedures and internal culture that need to be in place for it to happen effectively. With the urgency around the coronavirus it would be easy to jump into a programme without these key building blocks in place, but it’s important to consider:

- Analytics: one of the joys of digital is the ability to easily measure. Amongst other things, we could use our analytics to assess how many people are engaging with content, and what particularly they are engaging with, then take action based on the results.

- Consistent internal IT: in order to gather the above analytics and facilitate digital stewardship more generally, necessary IT systems would have to be in place

- Accessing information from the field: in a situation where we’re far less likely to serendipitously bump into service colleagues and find out about interesting stories, we have to put in place processes to capture them as they occur

- Internal culture: although difficult to affect in the short-term, ideally digital stewardship would be supported by an internal culture of supporter care, collaboration and continuous improvement.

With a largely digitally-literate group of legacy supporters, therefore, charities can use digital channels to show supporters the amazing impact that they make on our work, and bolster their sense of being part of a community. This could help to strengthen bonds with our charities and, most importantly, help supporters to feel more positive at a challenging time.

Dr Claire Routley, fundraiser, researcher and consultant, founder of Legacy Fundraising
Remember A Charity

Remember A Charity run the Institute of Fundraising’s long-term campaign to grow legacy giving. Find out more about the campaign here.

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