It’s time to focus on donor impact not will writing

Ashley Rowthorn Comment and opinion

What are the main challenges facing legacy giving in 2019? This was the question put to a panel at the IoF Legacy & In Memory meeting in London yesterday.

No doubt there are significant external challenges – the economy, regulatory changes, proposed rise to probate fees to name a few. Charities need to be aware of the impact these factors could have on legacy giving, which Rob Cope covers well in his recent blog for the Institute of Fundraising. Brexit is already causing a slow down in the housing market which is impacting the value of donor’s gifts and taking longer for them to be realised. Legacy Foresight have written extensively on the impact Brexit may have, especially in a “No-Deal” scenario.

But I believe there are 3 core challenges facing challenges that charities need to address:

  1. Wills. Fundraising needs to move away from ‘make a will messaging’ and instead show the difference a gift will make.
  2. People.  As a sector we need more skilled people to steward the growing generosity of legacy donors, both in their lifetime and after death.
  3. Competition. Charities need to focus on identifying and engaging their ‘tribe’ and giving them a compelling reason to believe. Generic ‘leave a legacy/gift in your will’ messaging will no longer cut it.

And I believe the biggest threat comes from the increasing promotion of will writing.

We need to stop talking about Wills and start talking about Impact.

There is common held belief that most people don’t have wills, therefore if we can only encourage more people to write a will, we will raise more money for charities in the process. The problem is this is based on a false premise. In fact, the vast majority of charity supporters die with a will.

Another belief is that we need to make legacy giving easy, and normal. So we talk about making a will and maybe a small gift to charity in the process. The problem here is we are stripping the value out of legacy giving, both for the donor and the causes they care about. We are anchoring legacy giving to a lowest common denominator, whereas we should be showing the difference their gift can make to a cause that has been a significant part of their lives.

Legacy gifts from “Make a will” incentives are proven to be a fraction of the value of gifts that come from emotionally driven fundraising.

Donors are not looking for a legal solution, they are looking for something to believe in.

Charities spend so much time talking about wills that they have become one of the biggest advertisers of will writing in the country.

But legacy fundraising must first and foremost be a mission of inspiring and engaging people about a shared vision of the future.

We need to engage people on the emotional level, focusing on our supporter’s life experiences values and beliefs. Our fundraising should be focused on showing our supporters that we share these too. Story telling is key – from donors telling their stories and why a gift in their will matters to them, and of the impact of these gifts both now and in the future.

This approach has the potential not only to grow the number of donors but to transform the value of gifts. We have strong evidence that donor centred, story driven fundraising increases legacy gifts by up to 5 times.

Then, and only then, should we talk to a donor how they can make such a gift.

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