Sally Denbigh

Jul 5, 2018, 10:41 AM

Legacy fundraising: don’t leave it to luck!

Within a few charities I’ve worked - although not, I hasten to add, within their fundraising and marketing departments! – I have occasionally heard legacies described as being ‘lucky’. Based no doubt on many such bequests seeming to have come from nowhere, generously left to a charity by a donor (also known as a legator) hitherto unbeknown to them. An occurrence that is in fact surprisingly commonplace.  While a large number of charitable bequests are left by past donors, supporters, members, pledgers (that is, people who had earlier notified the charity they were including them in their Wills) and so on – committed donors who a charity already had an existing relationship with - a staggering 50% or so are donated ‘out of the blue’ by people previously unknown.  Astonishing, isn’t it?

Remarkable yes, but that doesn’t mean those legacies were ‘lucky’.

Certainly, the charities themselves were ‘lucky’ to have been left the bequests. There can be few things more gratifying – or indeed humbling – than having been remembered in a person’s Will. Knowing that supporting their cause was one of the last gestures a legator chose to make is an immensely positive endorsement (not to mention immense responsibility) for a charity.  Yet rarely will the actual acquisition of that legacy have been ‘lucky’. No, luck and good fortune seldom comes into it. A charity will have worked very hard for that bequest. Whether directly, as part of a formal legacy fundraising strategy - the ideal for many charities - or indirectly, through the organisation having been ‘out there’ (talking with people, running PR and advertising initiatives, tin-rattling, and so on); essentially doing a really good job and helping their beneficiaries. Aka, successfully fulfilling their charitable objectives!

Legacy fundraising, and of course the legacies themselves, can be incredibly important to a charity, with charitable bequests currently totalling more than £2bn per year in the UK. Legacy fundraising also has an extremely high return on investment, with an ROI of around 23:1. Having a proper legacy fundraising strategy in place is therefore the pinnacle for many charities. Generally speaking it is better suited to longer-established organisations, those who have had time to develop a supporter base and become more widely known, and of course trusted. Given which, legacy fundraising is often incorporated into existing individual giving and/or major donor programmes, particularly when it comes to the cultivation and stewardship of donors. Although many medium-sized and larger charities – particularly those for whom bequests constitute a large chunk of their income - choose to have dedicated stand-alone legacy departments, which may also incorporate legacy administrators and legal specialists.

Legacy fundraising – that is, good and effective legacy fundraising – requires appropriate, targeted and long-term planning.  (Unless a charity is very ‘lucky’ (that word again!), the lead-in time will be far longer than for any other type of fundraising). Not to mention decent investment. (Legacy fundraising can involve running events; meeting and/or talking with potential and existing pledgers individually; designing and printing leaflets; placing advertisements; and in some instances, even offering free Will-writing services; to name just a few activities).  Given the nature of it, legacy fundraising also requires skill and sensitivity, needing to be managed both professionally and benevolently. Yes, charitable bequests can be a significant source of income, but fundraisers (indeed everyone in their entire charity) must never, ever forget that it is an income stream based on someone’s passing. Compassion is inscribed into the job description. Bereaving friends and relatives are also sometimes surprised by - occasionally even extremely unhappy about - their loved ones having left money to a charity, so they too may need understanding and of course sympathetic ‘management’. Just as they should be handled with care, so too should a good legacy fundraising plan. Legacy fundraising is not something that should be undertaken lightly!

Nevertheless, given that charitable bequests can be so valuable – the average residual gift is worth around £46,000 -  developing a legacy fundraising strategy is something that should be seriously considered by all charities looking to increase and diversify their incomes.  Even if in the first instance, to look at incorporating legacy-giving into existing individual giving or major donor fundraising programmes, thereby laying the foundation for future legacy growth. Certain charitable sectors – health in particular, as well as animals – do tend to receive the lion’s share (no pun intended!) of gifts-in-Wills, but that does not of course rule out other worthwhile causes. Each one could and should be considered on merit; different causes appeal to different people for a number of different reasons. Who knows what might just ‘tick the box’ of and inspire a prospective legator? Remember that statistic of more than 50% of legacies being left to charities by seemingly unknown donors... One of those charities could well be yours. So, don’t just cross your fingers and leave it to luck!

If you would like to discuss the potential for your charity to develop a bespoke legacy fundraising strategy – whether stand-alone, or as part of a wider individual giving plan - then ACTION PLANNING would love to help you. Our extensive team of Consultants has expertise in all types of charitable fundraising - including legacy fundraising, as well as individual giving, major donor and event fundraising (to name but a few), as well as specialist legal knowhow – and would very much like to talk with you.  

Don’t leave your legacy fundraising to luck: Get in touch with Action Planning to help develop a tailor-made legacy fundraising plan that will work for your charity, by clicking the link below.

David Saint

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