Remember a Charity: How smaller charities are excelling with legacies

The world of legacies is changing fast, here Rob Cope, director of Remember a Charity, a consortium of 200 charities working together to normalise legacy giving in the UK, explains how smaller charities are making sure they get a piece of the legacy pie too.

The world of legacies is changing fast. Two years of pandemic living has brought end-of-life planning out of the shadows, appetite for legacy giving has hit record levels and more charities are being named in Wills than ever before – reaching almost 34,000 charitable estates in 2020 according to Smee & Ford. But perhaps one of the most striking shifts is the increase of smaller charities receiving bequests, with community-based organisations now accounting for one fifth of charities named in a Will.

While the largest charities have the lion’s share of the market, it’s smaller organisations that are seeing most growth. Digital fundraising is helping to level the playing field, offering new ways of reaching potential legators and opening up legacy conversations. So, where can smaller charities really excel with legacy fundraising?

Great storytelling
Charities all have incredible stories to tell, but small organisations with smaller teams are often closely connected with supporters and beneficiaries in their communities. Those relationships can be deeply personal and that connection can be the key for good storytelling. What was it that inspired a donor to leave a legacy? Why do they care so much about the cause? How did it make them feel? And what about the story from a beneficiary perspective – how have legacy-funded services touched their lives?

These stories don’t have to be costly to make an impact. In fact, real people telling their own narrative simply and honestly in the form of a video, letter, brochure, webpage or social post can be just as powerful and emotive as a high budget production. Take a look at this video the Lord’s Taveners about what legacies mean for their work with disadvantaged children. And this letter from Mary about her husband’s legacy to the British Liver Trust, where she explains how that gift gives her great comfort.

Consider where you can share these legacy stories - across your communication channels, at events and in your premises, not forgetting your homepage. It helps to give legacies a focal point with a burst of promotional activity each year. Be sure to make it easy for people to take the next step, providing information about Will-writing options or connecting them with a professional adviser.

Involving the whole team – volunteers, leaders, service professionals and all
As a small team – the chances are that everybody has to muck in. Fundraising is part of everyone’s job. And with legacies, this is critical. Every conversation with supporters, visitors, event participants and beneficiaries could be a chance to highlight the impact of legacy gifts and answer questions, helping you normalise legacy giving.

Your team, your volunteers and your leaders are your allies. Think what you can do to strengthen their confidence in talking about legacies. This might include running a quick workshop to talk them through your messaging, promotional plans and why they’re so important to the charity. Take this opportunity to bust any myths – explaining that it’s easy to write a legacy into a Will, donations can be any size and they can sit alongside gifts for family and friends.

Involve trustees, your CEO and other leaders, who can all play a key role in making legators feel valued. This can vary, but some charities, such as the Leprosy Mission Scotland, sees the CEO take responsibility for stewarding legacy pledgers.

Building a legacy pipeline

When supporters show interest in leaving a legacy, nurturing them through a legacy pipeline can help you deliver a more tailored and rewarding supporter journey. This might include inviting them to join a donor club, webinars, talks, site visits and other niche events where you can give them a ‘behind the scenes’ look at your work, as well as providing information about legacy giving. Again, none of these initiatives need be costly to succeed in building supporter engagement.

Charlotte Hoare, fundraising manager of HEART UK, says: “Having a legacy pipeline makes all the difference, helping us understand our supporters better and look after them. We’ve only recently introduced a free Wills service and decided to send a dedicated e-newsletter to our supporters about it, and I was flabbergasted by the response. You never know how many people are interested in leaving a gift until you give them the opportunity. Now, we’re working hard to thank all those pledgers and nurture the relationships.”

Inspiring and transformational gifts
While legacies can be any size, a large legacy to a small charity has the potential to be utterly transformational. At a Scottish university, one seven figure bequest from a long-term supporter funded a new enterprise hub. Meanwhile, collective legacy income enabled the British Liver Trust to bring services online during the pandemic and to part-fund a new research programme into a rare form of liver disease. “Legacy giving makes such a massive difference to the charity, helping us allocate funding wherever it’s most needed at the time – and that’s a huge benefit,” says Lauren Robinson, the charity’s digital fundraising officer.

Celebrate the impact of legacy giving, making it clear that a gift of any size is hugely valued. Encourage supporters to consider how their influence will live on long after they are gone. The Ironbridge Gorge Museum offers a great example of this, encouraging supporters to become part of the Ironbridge story and inspire future generations ‘like the pioneers of the Industrial Revolution’.

The community-based organisations that are branching out with legacies now will surely be those who see further growth, strengthening their resilience for the years ahead – whatever they may bring.

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