Charities that fail to embrace legacy fundraising risk falling behind

7 March 2016

Every charity worker must be prepared to ask for funds – that includes discussing gifts in Wills

The recent report, Top 100 Fundraising Charities Spotlight, highlights some of the fastest growing charities over the last five years. Interestingly, it shows how those organisations managed it – showcasing a number of different techniques, and legacies’ performance shines through.

Leonard Cheshire saw a 40% growth in income through legacies and expanding trust support for its international work. And Battersea Dogs and Cats Home saw a 36% increase in income through legacies, regular and major giving and events.

As the voluntary sector manages increased scrutiny of their fundraising practices, how can charity bosses develop strategies that will build future growth?

Confidence is key. If charities don’t continue to embrace fundraising across the organisation, then they risk having to cut back on the services that society needs. And if more charities don’t embrace legacy fundraising, they risk falling further behind.

Legacies are all about “a good chinwag”, as one experienced fundraiser once told me.

My recent conversation with a board of trustees shows the challenge. The board were a passionate group of volunteers who really understood the need for addressing their declining statutory funding.The charity had a small donor base and only two fundraisers. But what the charity hadn’t considered was its staff, all 2,000 of them.

Many charities I talk to face this problem. They have a small, dedicated fundraising team but their wider organisation simply doesn’t champion fundraising. Legacy fundraising is the perfect illustration of this. Legacies are all about “a good chinwag”, as one experienced fundraiser once told me.

Imagine if every charity armed all their staff with the knowledge, tools and confidence to have a conversation about gifts in Wills.

“We had a legacy month and Remember A Charity Week helped us to create a lot of noise,” says Dan Carter, individual giving manager for legacies at Marie Curie.

“Internally, we also promoted the theme, which included a ‘Badge of Legends’ that members of our community fundraising team wore with a handwritten legend of their own choice. This proved a fantastic way to start a conversation with the public.”

A similar approach was adopted by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. “We dedicated a whole month to promoting legacy giving,” explains Michael Clark, legacy and in-memory manager. “We offered a free Will-writing service to our most loyal supporters, involving a direct mail to 6,000 individuals.

“As 50% of our income comes from community fundraising, our community team were trained to promote the campaign.”

It’s rare to see a charity boss or board talking confidently about this fundraising stream. And equally unusual to see legacies put at the heart of a fundraising strategy, which too often focus on short-term goals at the expense of long-term change.

But there are reasons to be confident about the future of legacies. The market makes around £2bn a year for good causes.

Remember A Charity surveys show a disconnect between the 35% who say they’d be happy to leave a charitable gift (once they’ve taken care of loved ones) and the 7% who currently do it. If just a further 4% of the public were encouraged to include a charitable gift, it could generate an additional £1 bn.

Remember A Charity are also seeing a rise in competition within the market. More charities from more sectors are talking about legacies to their donors for the first time: arts, cultural and heritage organisations, hospices, hospitals, and universities. They are suddenly becoming a bit louder about legacies. Successful fundraising charities will be those who give their entire staff the tool, knowledge and confidence to talk about gifts in Wills.

Oxfam said it received a “significant” increase in traffic to its legacy web page after promoting gifts in Wills in all 700 charity shops for the first time as part of Remember A Charity Week campaign last September. The legacy message went out “both to the people who are going into the shop and also to the volunteers who are working in the shop at the same time,” explains fundraising director Tim Hunter.

The top 100 fundraising charities will undoubtedly look different in ten years’ time. The charities that champion legacy giving across the organisation will be those that stand the best opportunity of rising to the top.

Rob Cope, director at Remember A Charity

Article originally published in The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network.