How brave are you about legacies?

This is a guest blog from Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, a consortium of 150 member charities which work together to encourage people to consider making gifts in wills. In this post, Rob asks some probing questions to help you find out whether you’re getting the most out of legacy fundraising.

Rob Cope“Our legacy team sits in the corner of the office. Most colleagues think that we just shuffle papers all day. They don’t understand how we fundraise. They think that legacies just fall out of the sky.”

This was the rather frank admission by one senior legacy fundraiser as I headed to their office for the first time. The visit was one of almost 100 I’ve made to charities across the country since I first started as director of Remember A Charity last year.

I wanted to better understand why only 7% of the UK left a charitable gift in their Will. Odd, when you consider that three-quarters of us support a good cause in our lifetime.

Legacy income is currently worth almost £2 billion a year, which is equivalent to more than 20 Comic Relief Appeals or almost 6% of the voluntary sector’s total income. But all too often gifts in Wills aren’t given the priority that they deserve. Most of my visits to charities – big or small – have revealed similar themes. There are some very talented people at the legacy helm. They cross the divide between fundraising and marketing. But, time and again, they are too low on the priority pecking order to really get the cut-through they need.

Short termism

“One of the biggest challenges is that legacies are long-term,” confessed one senior director of a large charity. “Most fundraising directors are more concerned with the short-to medium-term.”

This revelation is perhaps not that surprising, given the current funding environment.
We are all concerned about meeting our budgets for this year, let alone a last Will written today that may not result in a legacy for another five years or so. Legacy fundraising is also notoriously hard to measure and predict. But it is exactly because of these funding pressures that we should think about the long-term. Chief executives and trustees need to put legacies higher up the fundraising agenda. Without this long-term view, many of our favourite causes may struggle to survive.

Internal priorities

Here’s a test… Where is your legacy message on your website? Does it sit proudly on your homepage, within easy reach of passing traffic? Or does it sit cowering in the corner of your virtual shop window?

Most charities that I’ve met that understand the importance of legacy fundraising, proudly position their legacy call to action on their home page. Perhaps not all year round. But they do it.

Too many charities – big and small – fail to prominently promote legacies. This isn’t usually the legacy fundraiser’s fault. But instead often lays at the door or other gatekeepers. The next time your web manager says no to a legacy tab on your homepage, take the time to explain the difference one legacy could make to your charity.

Info-tainment

Your website is one place to proudly shout about legacies. But there are many other channels that I believe should be better exploited.

I met a small charity with a large volunteer network last year that admitted they couldn’t promote legacies in their supporter newsletter because “it wasn’t appropriate”. Their volunteers were predominantly ABC1 over-55s. Do I need to say more?

Most charity shops are also a fantastic channel to market. Cash is king on the high street, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be used to promote longer-term fundraising. This year’s Remember A Charity Week, 12-18 September, will double its retail activity, promoting gifts in Wills through a network of more than 3,000 charity shops. Charities such as Barnardo’s and the RSPCA will promote legacies in their shop windows and give personalised legacy bookmarks to customers.

And when was the last time your charity included a legacy message in a press release? Or your spokesperson mentioned on the radio how important gifts in Wills are to your charity’s survival? Most charities don’t do this. And that’s part of the problem. Imagine if you stopped asking for money in other parts of your fundraising activity. A lot of your supporters will probably want to support you with a charitable bequest, but they simply haven’t considered it as an option. But if you frame the ‘ask’ in the right way, putting charity after friends and family, then our research shows that 35% of the total population are ‘happy to give a small amount to charity in their Will’.

Professional advisors

Solicitors and Will-writers play a critical role in legacy giving. The proportion of Wills with charitable bequests is affected by the frequency of prompting clients regarding such bequests, according to a report published last month by Remember A Charity.

Unfortunately, the same report also shows that only 25% of solicitors and Will-writers always prompt their clients about a charitable gift Charities spend too much time and resource promoting their own cause to professional advisors, with little return. Is this a good use of budget? Probably not.

The sector would be better focusing its time on encouraging advisors to make a prompt. And that’s it. Not undue influence. But merely asking them to mention it as part of a conversation. If we all did this, we could make a big difference.

Bravery

Policy and campaigns. Community fundraising. Corporate partnerships. These are traditionally some of the areas that grab the headlines. But why not legacies?

The biggest barrier to legacies is a lack of salience. Most of us, understandably, don’t like talking about death or money. And nor do the media. Legacies aren’t the easiest subject for the press to talk about. But it can be done.

Remember A Charity successfully grabbed the media spotlight this summer with a 64-year-old British stuntman called Rocky Taylor. Rocky Taylor knows better than most the importance of making a Will. After all, for the past 50 years he’s made a living out of risking his life as stuntman.

So who better to persuade the nation to get writing theirs – and to consider leaving a charitable gift at the same time? Rocky helped us raise awareness in the only way he knows how – by doing stunts. Last month, watched by thousands of people, he caught the media’s attention by recreating a similar stunt that went wrong 26 years ago. This time he had a Will. And this time the stunt went right…

Coverage went global, reaching 40 million people in the UK and spreading the legacy message to millions of people around the world, reaching as far as China and Vietnam.
Rocky’s first live stunt was shown live on Sky News and several times throughout the day on ITV London News, as well as BBC Radio 2, BBC World Service and the Sunday Times, among others. Thankfully, most of us don’t have to be as brave as Rocky to promote legacies. But if you don’t make legacies your priority, then you’re just waiting for a legacy to fall out of the sky…


Rob Cope is director of Remember A Charity, a consortium of 150 member charities which work together to encourage people to consider making gifts in wills. To learn more about Remember A Charity Week, 12-18 September, visit http://www.rememberacharity.org.uk/pages/2011.html. You can watch Rocky’s final death-defying stunt live during Remember A Charity Week at www.facebook.com/rememberacharity.
Rob will be hosting a bitesize lecture at NCVO’s Sustainable Funding Conference on 24 November 2011. Book your place here.

Follow Rob Cope on Twitter @robantonycope

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