16 July 2015
Having come from a leading animal charity as a legacy fundraiser to join the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, I am often asked why animal charities generally receive such a high proportion of their income from legacies.
There are a few answers here. Firstly, in my view, animal charities more often than not help people as well as animals, that is, their owners. Not only in providing information and advice on pet well-being, but the pets never brought themselves into the hospitals. The owners did. We were serving those low income owners and providing them with a service – therefore helping people and animals.
Understanding our donors
I have met in my career so many people in need, who through their generosity want to discuss leaving a gift in their will to their favourite charity. I’ve travelled the country doing this, meeting people from all walks of life. I’ve visited people in their own homes and learnt firsthand about them; their background, their life story and what motivates them. Often when we say we ‘understand our donors’, what we actually mean is ‘we know what they respond to’ and ‘how they choose to support us’ – but these are two different things.
Legacy departments which offer relationship building with supporters, whether through regional staff or through ensuring a strategy of engagement with colleagues, understand donors best.
Support through a lonely time
Consider the fact that when a donor passes away, their last will was written around five years before on average. As a nation we are living longer, but with what degree of health, and with what family and friend structure? So many fantastic supporters I spoke to and spent time with told me that ‘growing old’ wasn’t a lot of fun. It was lonely and isolating, and that their cat or dog was what kept them going. It was a being that needed them, relied on them, and gave back love and affection. It’s only natural therefore that so many choose to support animal causes with a gift in their will.
I have attended supporter funerals before, as a mark of respect and thanks for their gift. I have at times been one of only two mourners, the other being perhaps a neighbour, distant relative or care home worker. But by listening to life stories, you realise these people weren’t on their own because of a lack of popularity, but because of perhaps difficult family situations, them being the last one still remaining in the family. The little old man who lives down the street with only his cat for company may well have been married with children and a close community of friends, all of whom have predeceased him.
Working hard for our beneficiaries
I am pleased to work in a sector which provides breath taking work across so many issues and conditions in society – whether it be ageing, health care, animals, or problems in our society and beyond. As individual organisations, we can only strive to work harder for the beneficiaries we serve, and promote gifts in wills as a remarkable way of allowing us to continue our work.
Find a charity you care about to leave a legacy to.
Michael Clark, legacy and in-memory manager at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust