Creating a lasting legacy
As the baby boomer generation begins to pass from this world, vast amounts of money will potentially become available through legacies. If charities want to take advantage of this, though, they need to get on the ball now, says Peter Davy
By any realistic measure, the future for legacy fundraising is bright. Already the single biggest source of unrestricted gifts, accounting for 12 per cent of the sector’s voluntary income, the importance of legacies is set to grow significantly.

The reason, of course, is the baby boomers, the generation born in the decade after the Second World War that stands out for its wealth and its numbers. As its members die in coming decades, their wills are expected to swell charities’ coffers. The Legacy Foresight research programme estimates that by the middle of this century legacy income in real terms will be worth £5.3bn, against £1.6bn today.

“That’s a huge opportunity,” remarks the programme’s project manager, Meg Abdy.

However, these figures assume charities make use of that opportunity and disguise the challenge many will face in future – because the gains may not come across the board. As Abdy points out, the baby boomers tend to be significantly more demanding than the previous generation of legators and also support different causes. That means some charities that have traditionally been favourites for those making wills could struggle to retain market share, while others will find new opportunities.

“There’s going to be a lot to play for,” she says. Unfortunately, the evidence is that many charities are far from ready for the challenge.

Take the findings of advertising agency bluefrog’s recent survey of charities’ online legacy promotion. Despite the fact that the over-55s are becoming the largest age group online, its review of 93 of the biggest charities found poor practice to be widespread. Legacy pages were often buried away three clicks or more from the home page; less than 20 per cent had a large text option; and 80 per cent didn’t offer legacy information to download. Most worryingly, when the charities were asked for further details by post, 41 per cent failed to deliver it within three weeks.

“If I was asking for information about leaving a legacy to a charity, I’d want that PDQ, not three weeks or more down the line,” says the agency’s Hugh Stockhill.

Excuses, excuses

It should be said that there are some good reasons why charities don’t seem to be performing in this area.

For a start, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that the return on investment from legacy fundraising is hard to measure. Richard Radcliffe at legacy specialist Smee & Ford reckons this is the principal explanation for levels of investment in legacy fundraising that he labels “pathetic”.

Furthermore, charities still have time on their hands to get to grips with the new generation of legators. Although some are already dying, the core group of baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1957, will only really start having an impact on legacy income in 2012, before picking up in 2020 and peaking in 2040.

“We’re looking quite a long way ahead,” notes Abdy. For the next 10 to 15 years traditional legacy donors are likely to remain the primary source of income.

And charities might argue that a policy of benign neglect with this group has served them pretty well to date. Since the 1990s the number of wills with legacies has increased by 29 per cent, and the return on investment is impressive. A recent survey by think tank nfpSynergy of 54 charities with an average legacy income of £14 million showed three quarters of them spending £200,000 a year or less on legacy marketing. The average income per pound spent of the charities participating in the Institute of Fundraising’s FundRatios consortium, meanwhile, is £35.9.

However, even today the evidence that charities are significantly underperforming when it comes to legacies is compelling. As Paul Farthing, director of legacy fundraising at Cancer Research UK, points out, just one in seven actually leave a gift to charity in their will, yet one in three say they’d consider it. “That’s huge headroom that we’re somehow not converting,” he argues.

David Burrows at direct marketing specialist TDA agrees. “Legacy giving is still very much a minority sport,” he says. His company’s research last year showed 55 per cent of over 50s who described themselves as “frequent givers” to charity saying they had never seriously considered leaving money to a charity in their will. Almost half agreed that doing so wasn’t “for people like me”.

“It’s easy to be a bit complacent and think that everyone must know about legacies by now, but the reality is there’s a long way to go,” says Burrows. “I think fundraisers don’t appreciate how cold people are to the message. They just don’t see it as relevant to them.”


The personal touch

However, this could be about to change. Stephen George, development director for legacy fundraising at NSPCC and chair of Remember a Charity, says that across the sector, charities are beginning to look again at their legacy fundraising.

“People are starting to wake up and realise that their donors’ needs and demands are changing,” he says.

This can be seen in the renewed drive on free wills through the National Free Will Network launching this year; in charities, such as Cancer Research UK and George’s own appointing legacy directors; and in the reciprocal arrangements some are beginning to offer, such as the RSPCA’s Home for Life scheme, which commits the charity to finding a new home for a legator’s pet after they die. Perhaps the most interesting moves, though, are those that are attempting to take a more personal approach to legacy fundraising.

There is good evidence that such an approach works best. At the Alzheimer’s Society, for instance, as soon as someone has expressed an interest in giving through their will, all further communication with them is handled by a local legacy fundraiser – a policy the charity says results in significantly higher gifts. In fact, it reckons personal contact almost doubles the value of legacies left.

Furthermore, analysing its figures, it found a low density of legators in those areas that were hardest to reach for its regional legacy fundraisers, and it is therefore expanding its team to cover the country more thoroughly. This personal approach has been key to the charity’s success, which has seen legacy income grow by 15 per cent for each of the last four years.

“It’s the face to face contact and the personal relationship that develops that’s important,” explains the charity’s head of legacy fundraising Justine Cole.

Cancer Research and NSPCC, however, have taken this further, and want to take legacy conversation outside the fundraising department. The former, for instance, has introduced a legacy fundraising “toolkit” for all staff to help them promote legacies. It includes a DVD, booklet and invitation to volunteer at legacy fundraising events.

The idea, says Farthing, is to get legacies to come up in the conversations staff already have with supporters on a daily basis. “We’re trying to turn all of our staff in a small way into legacy fundraisers,” he explains. “After all, they talk to a lot more supporters than we do.”

Meanwhile, the charity’s free wills service is also being promoted through the charity’s shops and legacies are featuring more heavily at its events.

The whole focus, says Farthing is to move legacy fundraising away from its origins in the direct marketing department and spread it across the organisation. “We want to get people to see that it’s something any member of staff can get involved in.”

NSPCC is doing something similar. “We’re trying to take legacy fundraising out of the cupboard it’s been tucked away in,” says George. The charity has been developing a simplified language to talk about legacies so all staff can discuss them. “We want everyone, our staff, our community fundraisers, our people out in the field, to feel comfortable having a conversation about them without getting lost in the jargon,” he says.

These charities are large, but such an approach is not impossible for smaller groups. In fact, it’s probably easier. Farleigh Hospice in mid Essex, for instance, is another following this line: it’s even trying to encourage its volunteers to promote legacies. As the hospice’s head of fundraising Gary Hawkes, explains, it’s not about a hard sell: “It’s just about making it simple and easy for them to drop into a conversation.”

Of course, this won’t make people rush out and change their will, but that’s not the point. Instead, by ensuring such conversations are taking place regularly – and backing this up with continuous communication through marketing and PR – it makes it all the more likely that when supporters do come to change their will for another reason, they’ll remember to include the charity as well. And that, after all, is what legacy fundraising is all about.


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