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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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