Michael Wilkinson

Product Director

Legacy Fundraising: How Charities Can Build Relationships with Donors

12 mins read

Legacy fundraising is changing, with the amount of money given through wills set to double in the UK and triple in Australia, which presents an opportunity for charities to generate more support in the future. However, we need to be ready for things we can't yet predict and look for long-term trends.

What is legacy fundraising?

Legacy fundraising is a great way for nonprofits to secure long-term financial support by encouraging people to leave a gift to the organisation in their will. This type of donation is often referred to as a "legacy gift" or "bequest."

It is often a crucial type of fundraising for nonprofits because it provides a steady stream of income that can help sustain the organisation's work well into the future. Unlike other forms of fundraising, legacy gifts can offer financial stability, allowing organisations to plan and invest in long-term projects.

What’s more, these gifts can be unrestricted, giving nonprofits the flexibility to use the funds where they are most needed.

It can take many years for a legacy gift to be realised, so it's not a quick fundraising solution but it is a powerful way for nonprofits to benefit whilst allowing supporters to make a meaningful difference even after they are gone.

How has legacy fundraising changed?

Since 1990, the amount of money given through wills has grown a lot, by about 4.5% every year. This growth comes from more people passing away, how the economy is doing (like house and stock prices), and how people feel about leaving money to charities.

With Baby Boomers getting older, there will be 50% more deaths in the next 20 years according to ONS data. This group also has more money than their parents did at the same age. But, the biggest gifts are still a small part of all the money given.

Population pyramids show growth of population

Population pyramids, 1966, 2016 and 2066 (principal projection), UK. Source: ONS

Map of the UK showing projected propotion of the UK aged over 65 due to rise by 2039

Proportion of the population aged 65 years and over, 2016 and 2039, UK. Source: ONS

More people might not have children in the future. And Generation X is doing life events like marrying, having kids, or buying houses later than before. This affects when they decide to write a will. People are also more careful about who they trust with their money. They want to know exactly how their donation will be used.

These changes in the demographics of future possible legacy givers mean charities need to really understand and connect with different kinds of donors. Acquiring and retaining donors is changing and there’s a lot at stake, but also a lot up for grabs.

What is a legacy fundraising strategy?

A legacy fundraising strategy is a plan that helps charities get gifts from people’s wills. It’s about making a strong connection with supporters so they think of the charity when planning their will. This strategy includes knowing who might leave a gift, talking to them in the right way, and making sure they understand how their gift will help in the future. It’s all about long-term relationships and making it easy for people to leave a legacy that matches their values and wishes.

With many charities doubling down on their fundraising strategies in the current economic climate, there has never been a better time to take a fresh look at your legacy strategy.

How do you write a legacy fundraising strategy?

To craft a compelling legacy fundraising strategy, start by defining a clear and engaging proposition that resonates deeply with potential donors. For example, your legacy proposition might be, "Leave a legacy of hope and change for future generations," if your charity focuses on long-term societal impact. This proposition should succinctly encapsulate the core value your charity offers, aligning closely with what your supporters are passionate about.

Next, support your top-level proposition with specific messages that highlight the tangible outcomes of legacy gifts. For instance, you could detail how a single legacy gift could fund a community project for years or provide essential resources for research.

It’s also vital to engage your entire organisation in understanding and communicating the value of legacy gifts. This internal buy-in ensures that everyone, from front-line staff to executives, can articulate the importance of legacy giving to potential donors.

By marrying a powerful, overarching message with detailed supporting messages, you create a legacy fundraising strategy that not only captures the essence of your charity’s mission but also appeals directly to the hearts of your supporters. This approach helps to create a vivid picture of the lasting impact a donor can have, making the idea of leaving a legacy both appealing and meaningful.

You need to understand your donors

Understanding your donors is crucial for writing your legacy fundraising strategy. It involves engaging with your supporters to discover their connections to the cause, their motivations for legacy giving and any barriers they might face.

Donors often seek a personal connection with the cause, whether through direct benefits they or their family have received, a desire to support those without a voice, or recognising a moment in their life that could have led them down a similar path.

Many donors are drawn to the broader, long-term vision of your charity. They want to know how their legacy can contribute to significant outcomes in the future, going beyond immediate solutions to tap into deeper emotional and soulful connections.

Legacy giving also offers donors a chance to sow the seeds for a lasting impact that aligns with their values and the legacy they wish to leave behind. It’s about giving them control and allowing them to express their values through their will.

How do you ask for a legacy gift?

Asking for a legacy gift involves detailed planning and personalised communication. Begin with comprehensive research to understand your supporters’ motivations and needs. This can involve direct conversations, surveys with open-ended questions, and even workshops with colleagues across your organisation to gather diverse insights.

For example, you might discover that a supporter has a personal connection to your cause due to a family member’s experience, which could be a key motivator for them to leave a legacy. Highlighting stories of how legacy gifts have previously contributed can also illustrate the impact of such donations.

Screenshot of 'Stephen's story' - a video from RNID

Storytelling through personal connection to the cause, like in this example from RNID

Once you’ve gathered insights, move to the testing phase where you lay out assumptions and validate them through prototyping with real supporters. This could look like testing different types of communications or engagement activities to see what resonates most.

For engaging legacy donors, consider a thoughtful journey from the moment they express interest. Initially, an enquiry could trigger the sending of an information pack, followed by a personal follow-up call to address any questions and deepen the relationship. As supporters commit, acknowledging their pledge with a heartfelt thank you letter, welcoming them into a legacy club and offering opportunities for them to engage further, such as ‘meet the adviser’ sessions, can make them feel truly valued.

Throughout, the key is to maintain regular, meaningful communication tailored to the donor’s interests and motivations, ensuring they understand the lasting difference their legacy can make.

How to build relationships with donors

Building relationships with donors is at the heart of successful legacy fundraising. Engaging in meaningful conversations, understanding their motivations and showing the impact of their support can create a sense of belonging and commitment to your cause.

Once someone has pledged a gift in their will, it often leads to increased lifetime giving so you could consider hosting more combined events with other types of supporters, such as major donors or mid value givers, so that pledgers can be inspired about their lifetime giving options too. This can also work the other way too, as an encouragement for lifetime givers to also consider legacies.

Holding regular events is a powerful way to strengthen relationships with donors. Collaborating with other teams is essential for organising impactful legacy events. Ensure that senior stakeholders are present to interact with supporters, enhancing the sense of community and commitment. Consider virtual events to manage costs and broaden accessibility. Inviting donors to bring a guest can expand your network and deepen engagement. After the event, gathering feedback and monitoring requests for further information will guide you in refining your approach and tailoring future engagements to better meet donor interests and needs.

Some of the goals you could focus on to develop your legacy donor relationships could include:

  • Increasing the response rates for warm legacy activity for active and lapsed supporters
  • Identifying strong legacy prospects that were not previously identified
  • Increasing eventual, average pecuniary and residuary legacy value per legator
  • Making more effective use of supporter data to maximise the return on investment for warm legacy activity

In the next section, we’ll look at how you can grow your legacy pipeline with these goals in mind.

How to grow your legacy pipeline

Creating a propensity model for legacy giving is like being a detective. You start with clues: bits of data from your supporters, such as how often they donate, their engagement with your events, and even their age or location.

By examining these clues, you’re looking for patterns that match those who’ve already left a legacy gift. It’s a smart way to guess who else might consider leaving such a gift. Think of it as piecing together a puzzle - each piece of data helps you see the bigger picture.

Once you have a good idea of who might be interested, you can tailor your conversations and materials to them, making your legacy fundraising more effective and personal. It's about making informed guesses and then reaching out in a way that resonates.

So, how do you do it?

1. Develop targeting models

Imagine having a map that highlights exactly where treasure is buried. In legacy fundraising, targeting models are that map. They use your data to pinpoint supporters most likely to leave a legacy gift. By analysing past behaviours, demographic information and engagement levels, these models help you focus your efforts on the right people. It’s a bit like matchmaking, where you're pairing your legacy opportunity with the supporters most likely to fall in love with the idea.

It all starts with understanding the key drivers of your legators. Indirect factors could include their gender, age, email clicks, online form submissions, hobbies and interests. Direct engaging includes everything from membership to campaigning and events fundraising or being a major donor.

You can then compare these key drivers to the rest of your database.

We can also compare relative engagement to relative affluence, since if we can identify highly engaged people who have the capacity to give, these are the highest priority people to focus on in your targeting strategy. You can use publicly available information such as deprivation statistics to understand which areas are generally more affluent.

2. Focus on pipeline retention

Once you've identified potential legacy supporters, keeping them interested is like nurturing a garden. You need to water and tend to it regularly. For your legacy pipeline, this means engaging with potential donors in meaningful ways, keeping them informed about the impact of their potential gifts, and recognizing their current contributions. Regular updates, personalised communications, and invitations to exclusive events can help supporters feel connected and valued, increasing the likelihood they’ll commit to a legacy gift.

3. Implement values-based models

This is where you dive deep into the ‘why’ behind legacy giving. Values-based models focus on aligning your organisation’s values with those of your supporters. It’s about creating a resonance that goes beyond the transactional aspects of giving to tap into deeper motivations. By communicating how legacy gifts can perpetuate the values that both the donor and the organisation hold dear, you forge a stronger emotional connection. It’s essentially telling potential donors, “Your legacy can be a lasting testament to the values we share.”

Legacy fundraising campaign examples

Scope, creating a user-centred journey

One standout example of a successful charity legacy giving campaign comes from Scope, a prominent charity focused on disability equality in England and Wales. Despite having a modest team of just two individuals managing legacy and in-memory giving, Scope raises an impressive £4 million each year through legacy giving. This accounts for 25% of Scope’s total fundraised income.

A cornerstone of Scope’s strategy is their commitment to “do stewardship brilliantly,” which is part of their 10-year legacy strategy. This principle guides their interaction with legacy enquirers and pledgers, using a test-and-learn approach to refine and improve the supporter journey. Scope understands that excellent stewardship is crucial for several reasons:

  • Building trust: By engaging supporters with transparency and care, Scope fosters a trusting relationship that encourages more significant and lasting support.
  • Enhancing donor satisfaction: Recognising that charitable giving brings joy to donors, Scope ensures that this positive feeling is nurtured, encouraging further generosity.
  • Acknowledging contributions: A simple thank you can go a long way. Scope makes it a point to express gratitude to their donors, acknowledging the vital role they play in the charity's work.
  • Demonstrating impact: By clearly showing how legacy gifts make a difference, Scope not only honours the wishes of their supporters but also motivates them to consider additional ways to support the cause.

Scope’s success with legacy giving demonstrates the power of focused, strategic stewardship and the potential for even small teams to achieve remarkable fundraising results.

MS Plus, putting memories at the heart of the campaign

MS Plus, the multiple sclerosis charity in Australia, took a heartfelt approach by putting memories at the core of their legacy campaign. They shared a moving video featuring Marjorie, who explained her decision to leave a gift in her will as a tribute to her late husband, who battled multiple sclerosis. This campaign underscored the profound impact that personal memories and experiences have on the decision to leave legacy gifts.

Video Thumbnail

Reflecting on life's pivotal moments is a crucial motivator for will giving. Whether it's the loss of a loved one, key life experiences, or significant relationships, these moments often inspire individuals to make legacy donations. Research by Professor Russell James, which included brain scanning studies, revealed that thinking about memories, especially those involving loved ones, activates specific areas of the brain associated with making legacy gifts. This suggests that the emotional connection to these memories can significantly influence legacy giving decisions.

Marjorie's story, shared by MS Plus, exemplifies how personal narratives can powerfully resonate with potential donors. Her recounting of memories with her husband not only brings the cause closer to home but also highlights the deeper, emotional reasons behind legacy giving.

Interestingly, 40% of legacy donors include an in-memory gift in their will, reflecting the special significance of these gifts. The concept of a "tribute bequest," as found in Professor James' research, shows a heightened brain activity compared to a standard bequest, indicating a stronger emotional connection when the gift honours a loved one.

Charities can leverage this insight by offering supporters the opportunity to leave gifts in memory of someone special, thereby making a more meaningful connection. Additionally, engaging with family members of legacy supporters can further strengthen the relationship between the charity and its donors. Often, these family members are eager to learn how the charity impacted their loved one's life and are motivated to support the cause in their memory.

Legacy Fundraising Giving Day

Every year on September 13th, the global community of charities unites to mark Legacy Giving Day. This special day is dedicated to amplifying the importance of charitable bequests and expressing gratitude to those who have bequeathed their legacies to support great causes.

Running a campaign or event for Legacy Giving Day can be a great way for charities to boost their fundraising efforts. This dedicated day serves as a focal point to raise awareness about the importance of legacy gifts, educate potential donors about the process and celebrate the impact of legacy giving on the charity’s mission.

To run an event on legacy giving day, follow these steps:

  • Create a plan: Give yourself plenty of time to plan and promote the event. It doesn’t have to be on September 13th, so you could choose a date that is meaningful to your cause.
  • Engage your potential donors: Use all your channels - email, social media, your website, and direct mail to engage your audience. Share stories of legacy gifts in action and the impact they have.
  • Offer resources: Provide clear information and resources on how to leave a legacy gift. This could include a follow up conversation with an expert or a free will writing service.
  • Host events: Consider virtual or in-person events that educate about legacy giving, featuring speakers such as financial advisors, current legacy donors or staff who can speak to the impact of these gifts.
  • Follow up: After the day, follow up with those who showed interest. Thank them for participating and offer further support or information.

How to make legacy fundraising more accessible

Accessibility in legacy fundraising is important to inclusively engage all potential donors, regardless of disability. With over 10.4 million people in England and Wales self-identifying as disabled, charities must cater to a diverse range of needs so that everyone can participate fully in the legacy giving process. Here are some top tips to enhance accessibility:

  • Use clear and simple language: Avoid jargon and complicated terms. For individuals who are neurodiverse, providing written clarifications of important points can be helpful. Offering materials in larger fonts and providing recorded versions of letters can make information more accessible.
  • Personalise communication: Directly ask supporters if they have any specific needs and include options to accommodate these in all communications. This can relate to disabilities, hearing loss, or visual impairments, ensuring that every supporter feels valued and understood.
  • Incorporate breaks in meetings: For longer meetings, include breaks (e.g., 10 minutes every hour) to accommodate everyone, including sign language interpreters who typically switch over every 15 minutes.
  • Collaborate with solicitors: Work with solicitors to provide accessible solutions, such as sign language interpreters, for clients drafting their wills.
  • Adhere to visual accessibility guidelines: For those with sight loss or colour blindness, make sure your materials follow colour contrast guidelines to enhance readability.
  • Optimise virtual legacy events for accessibility: Choose simple backgrounds, ensure good lighting and encourage the use of cameras for those speaking to aid lipreading. Enable features like live captions, the hand-raising function to prevent talking over each other and chat for written communications such as asking questions. Ensure options are available for pinning sign language interpreters on the screen and provide transcripts alongside audio recordings.

Join our webinar on The Future of Fundraising

Join us on Wednesday 20th of March at 2 pm GMT / 10 am ET to explore how to adapt to the changing values of donors and cultivate lifelong supporters.

We’ll go beyond the basics to explore the nuances of evolving donor expectations, the importance of storytelling, and the power of treating donors as collaborators in your mission.

Get help with your legacy fundraising strategy and campaigns

If you would like help with developing the strategy for your legacy fundraising or creating a compelling campaign, get in touch. We have 24 years of experience in creating effective user journeys and persuasive marketing campaigns.

Email us via [email protected]