Stewarding legacy supporters

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Good stewardship of donors can promote a lifetime of giving and meaningful exchanges between you and individual supporters.

So knowing how to cultivate your legacy prospects as part of your charity’s fundraising journey as a whole is essential.

One way to understand stewardship is to think of legacy fundraisers as ‘pilots’ of our legacy programme ‘planes’, each with a dashboard of targets and pledges to take care of. We all want to land our fundraising plane with as many supporter ‘passengers’ as when we started our journey – and stewardship is the key to keeping those passengers engaged and on board.

In our recent member webinar, Clare Norman from Pancreatic Cancer UK and Laura Summerbell from RNLI joined our Vice-Chair Alex McDowell from The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to talk about stewarding your legacy supporters; sharing their experiences and insights into good practice and examples of successful stewardship.

Top takeaways:

  1. Stewardship begins from the very first contact with your charity

It’s important to remember to promote good stewardship for every supporter at every stage of their journey. Clare reminded us that 60% of those who leave a gift in their Will don’t tell the charity so creating good experiences for all supporters is key, as you never know who might have left a legacy donation.

  1. Ask questions

Be inquisitive and find out about your supporters so you can find out what interests them, send cards for important dates and personalise your communications with them. Both Clare and Laura talked about the value of taking time to send handwritten notes or make those individual calls – which can lead to hearing lovely stories for potential case studies and building great wider relationships, which may lead to further gifts.

  1. Play to your strengths

Every charity is different and there’s always the challenge of automation vs personalisation. But be sure to lean into and use your strengths as an organisation – whether it’s using regional services or events to showcase the difference a legacy can make or getting to know all your pledgers personally.

  1. Be creative

Even with very small budgets it’s possible to create meaningful stewardship events or create memorable moments through engagement tools such as quick personalised video messages. Be sure to include legacy messages and stories in every newsletter, mailing or event - Piggybacking on other charity communications means you can save costs, but also raises internal awareness, helping inspire and encourage colleagues to champion legacies.

  1. More than a thank you

For many people, leaving a legacy is one of the most meaningful ways they can choose to support your charity. Not only is saying thank you a key part of ensuring they feel good about their decision to leave a gift, but seeing how much their pledge means to your charity, and knowing what it will enable you to achieve can help them to develop their special connection with you even further and feel a part of your work moving forwards.

Pancreatic Cancer UK’s perspective on stewardship

As a relatively small and young charity - set up in 2006 with a mission to transform the future for everyone with pancreatic cancer - in the past five years the charity has seen a steady growth in both income and supporters, with an annual average growth of 16% in legacies.

Speaking at our webinar, Clare Norman explained that cultivating these legacy prospects is a key area of their new five-year plan to continue to realise their vision and mission.

Stewardship is placed right at the heart of every stage of the Pancreatic Cancer UK supporter journey, and in doing so, Clare explained that they’ve been able to engage and grow their number of legacy pledgers.

This success has been achieved through a variety of simple, yet effective initiatives: including a series of automated emails to existing donors over six months - offering a Gifts in Will guide and promoting free Will writing services - which are then followed by ‘Gift of Hope’ nudges to encourage enquiries and pledges.

Being relatively small, the charity has also been able to use this to their advantage, and take a  personal approach to cultivating pledgers. Clare sends handwritten cards to the new pledger, often prompting calls where heartwarming stories can be shared and more personal and productive relationships developed.

The team have set up a calendar of regular communications to all legacy supporters, inviting them to key charity events such as concerts, and sharing news and research. Pledgers also receive Christmas cards and other cards marking special anniversaries and moments of personal significance.

RNLI’s perspective on stewardship

With a long heritage over 200 years and more than 238 lifeboat stations and museums across the UK and Ireland, the RNLI faces both unique challenges and opportunities when it comes to embedding stewardship throughout their supporter journey.

As a regional legacy manager in the North of England, Laura Summerbell joined us to explain how the charity aims to provide a bespoke, gold standard stewardship programme to all pledgers and potential pledgers.

Being a large charity with lots of moving parts, the responsibility of legacy engagement is shared between a central enrichment team at the RNLI’s Poole HQ, and regional teams who are responsible for looking after high-level legacy pledgers (£100k+ or 50%+).

RNLI include Gifts in Wills messages in all communications, with Laura recommending piggybacking on other non-legacy events and mailings going out across the organisation in order to help reduce costs, whilst simultaneously helping inform other teams across the charity how important legators are to their work.

Through mailings and communications, events, tours, and even home visits, the RNLI’s aim is to provide a personalised service that makes all pledgers feel special.

Laura also highlighted that the charity is fortunate to have the physical assets and resource to be able to offer pledgers the chance to visit lifeboat stations and museums all around the UK and Ireland, seeing the work they are helping to fund in action.