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Legacies are the big opportunity for fundraisers right now. But the truth is simple. What got us to this point won’t get us where we need to go. We need a better way.

Across much of the world, the opportunity for donors to live on through their legacy and a gift in their Will is being explored, both by donors and by charities. For years, legacy income has been a mainstay for non-profits, but the real potential is still being missed. Having just delivered a breakthrough legacy campaign for a partner, we have explored, discovered, curated and finally created what we believe, is a better way. A way that is a true journey. A legacy journey.

According to Giving USA, total giving through bequests was $35.7 Billion in 2017 – up just 2.3% from the previous year with 45% of charities reported receiving a charitable bequest gift in the last year. In the UK, while still a low percentage of overall giving, there is a steady and long-term increase in not only the number of charitable Wills in recent years, but the proportion of Wills that include a charitable gift (from 12.2% in 2007 to 15.8% in 2017), showing that the donor market is on the rise too. The UK campaign of 200 charities seeking to grow the legacy market, Remember a Charity, has found in their latest poll that 40% of people now say they would be happy to leave a gift to charity in their Will, up from 35% and that there has been a 22% legacy income growth between 2012 and 2017.

In the next 30 years, we are going to see the biggest transfer of wealth from one generation to another. This unprecedented opportunity is driven by a powerful combination. More people are living longer and there are many more of them, increased wealth, technology making it easier to reach and engage people, our understanding of behaviour and how to influence giving, and progress in moving gifts in Wills to a normal, understood and accepted way to give. The signs are positive, but we believe there are 3 major challenges that, together, we need to address if we are to truly move forward.

1. The majority of donors still do not leave a gift in their Will.

The wider public and donors, despite evidence that it’s becoming more of a normal act, still have either not thought about it, or if they have, have not taken action. In Canada, approximately 7% of Canadians have a charity in their Will and, in the US, approximately 10% of Americans do the same. It takes a lot of nudging and the right type of engaging to move this to a better place.

2. The way we engage donors doesn’t match many donors’ experience, understanding or behaviour.

We have developed a way to ‘market’ that is often at odds with understood behaviours and preferences. Donors don’t like our demands to “tell us” that we are in the Will. Our methods of measurement satisfy internal and old-fashioned views rather than reflect the reality of how a donor feels and behaves. Our own stats tell us this time and time again – so many of our realized legacy gifts continue to come from people we did not have on our donor base or people who gave but were not noted as hand raisers – up to 85% can fall into these two categories for some organizations. In the recent survey done by Giving USA, only 34% of gifts in the Will were expected or known. We also know from research that making a donor sign a form can change the experience of inspirational giving to a transactional process in one swift motion. Quite simply, this type of giving can take a long time to think about it, understand and then act on it. And donors are often reluctant to tell us when they do.

3. Charity leadership can’t see cause and effect in legacies, so they won’t invest.

The largely held view that legacies happen without intervention and ‘just come in’, the lack of understanding of legacy fundraising and the emphasis on short term, mean that boards and charity leadership are often unable to secure investment and resource the opportunity appropriately. A better way would be to be honest, move actions to where the donors are and how they want to be engaged and honestly measure that to build future value, not short term fixes. In the latest survey by Giving USA, 71% of all of the charitable organizations surveyed don’t even have marketing materials solely devoted to bequest giving.

In response to these challenges, we need to do these key things to move legacies forward:

  1. We need to reach and inspire a wider audience to grow.
  2. We need to connect in a way that is in tune with donors’ behaviour and their circumstances.
  3. We need a better method for the sector that reflects this and is driven by conversations, not forms.
  4. We need new metrics to create investment into legacy and KPI’s that are meaningful.
  5. We need the charity sector to lead change and seize the opportunity before us.
  6. We need to do a better job engaging and stewarding our existing supporters to create amazing donor experiences that, ultimately, drive legacy giving.

So, what can we do? Well, we know what we are going to do. We are going to embrace a better way to engage people in legacies.

We will break free from old ways of legacy fundraising and open up a better way, a way that is in tune with the donor and their needs and behaviour. We will respect and understand privacy and work with it. We believe that if a donor reveals a legacy intent, we should take that at face value and celebrate but, equally, we believe that for many, they won’t ever tell. We will embrace that. We understand that financial planning is important but that is not the way in for many. We will navigate that. We know that charities need to show a return, but we will find different ways to show impact and long-term future value. We will champion that. We recognise that charities don’t see cause and effect – that being proactive in legacies can really make a difference. We will challenge that view and work to show a wider perspective.

We will use our fundraising and marketing skills and experience to influence a wider audience to grow legacies for our clients. Going deep with supporters, building community and belonging, and using the opportunity to build integrated public campaigns to reach those who are harder to reach.

We believe in legacies and the power of a gift in a Will. By delivering a better way of building and measuring future value by placing donors’ needs at the centre of everything we do, we will build a better legacy journey together. We look forward to the ride.

Want to learn more about our approach and the 7 ways we can help you take your legacy program to the next level? Click here to find out: Let’s Have a Better Legacy Conversation