How to Start A Legacy Programme From Scratch

If you’re not taking legacy fundraising seriously.

Then perhaps YOU SHOULD.

Here are 5 very good reasons why:

  1. High average gift size… £4k cash sums / £50k shares of an estate
  2. High return-on-investment… with ROI of 1:55 not uncommon (yes, that’s right … £55 return for spending £1!)
  3. You don’t have to be an expertto start and manage a legacy programme, though you do need to give it time, perhaps as much as 5 years, before the fruits of your labour appear.
  4. Little staff time and resource needed … a legacy programme I set up 12 years ago requires a budget of only £4k per annum + 40 hours input.  Each year on average it has generated £224,000, or 16% of total annual charity revenue.
  5. Your competitors are!

So what should be the key aim of your legacy fundraising programme?

Answer:  simply to get people to consider leaving a legacy to your organisation in their Will.

And the tried-and-tested mechanism for prompting that course of action is to encourage your prospects to make an ENQUIRY—in return for a free Will guide.

And the better your strategy, the more enquiries you will receive.

At the heart of every successful legacy strategy lies a strong proposition — to convince prospects — and an effective  communication plan — to reach as many of them as possible.

Legacy Proposition

For those considering leaving a legacy gift to a charity, there’s an overwhelming choice of organisations to support.

Because there is real competition for charitable legacies, it’s important to ‘succinctly’ say why your organisation qualifies as a worthy candidate.

  • Start with your organisation’s vision or mission statement, and also consider your general case for support
  • ​Do a little research.  Rather than second-guess your supporters, assemble a group of a dozen or so prospects, who are representative of your target groups. (Over a couple of hours and a cup of coffee, you can explore with them how they see your organisation, what they like and dislike about it, why they have supported it, and what would motivate them to consider a legacy.)

Here’s a good example of a well-developed legacy proposition.

It’s for the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation (CLDF) in Birmingham, a charity that provides support to families affected by childhood liver disease:

“Every day at least two children will be diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disease. There are currently no cures and CLDF leads the fight to find answers and save lives.

CLDF’s research programme needs greater levels of funding for medical and social research projects to understand what causes these diseases, improve treatments and enhance young people’s quality of life.

By remembering CLDF in your will you could make a real difference to the thousands of young people and families affected.”

This proposition was summarised in the strapline “Give hope – give life”.

Legacy Communication Plan

The first thing to take on board – and it’s a good thing – is that it’s NOT necessary to spend a lot on additional promotional activities. (If you do, you’re likely to be tipping good money down the toilet)

The trick here is to wherever possible “piggy-back” legacy promotion onto your existing campaigns and literature, at no extra cost.

For instance, incorporate legacy messages and stories in your:

  • newsletter (either in print or digitally)
  • web materials
  • emails
  • annual report.

There is also no cost involved in incorporating a legacy request into talks and presentations to groups, or in one to one conversations with potential donors.

Richard Radcliffe, the UK’s leading legacy fundraising authority, is a big advocate of ‘drip-feeding’ promotional messages.

“Add a line about legacies on everything”, he advises.

Drip-feed your legacy message easily by incorporating it with:

  • email signatures, stationery and business cards
  • campaign or programme literature
  • membership forms.

In fact, a simple legacy brochure is really the only resource you do need to spend money on.

Even the Will guide you send your legacy prospects can be published on a Word document and sent via email.

(If you’re not sure where to begin with a Brochure  + Guide, send me an email and you can see mine.)

Direct mail is still by far the most effective (responsive) delivery channel for fundraising.

Rather than pay out for a dedicated legacy mailing, ‘shoe-horn’ your legacy message into a pre-existing mass-supporter mailing, where the additional cost is negligible.

This is what you need to enclose in your mailing:

  • a ‘PS’ at the foot of the cover letter explaining in two succinct sentences why leaving a legacy to your charity would help those it was set up to serve.
  • A C5 leaflet listing examples of what your charity could achieve with a range of money amounts. (… A legacy gift of £xxx could help vaccinate 10 babies in Africa … A legacy of £xxxx could pay for a year’s schooling etc)
  • It’s also important to say something in your legacy leaflet about Inheritance Tax, and how this may be avoided.

Email is another marketing channel you should not ignore. Again, a sentence or two as a ‘PS’ saying what a legacy can achieve, telling supporters how to obtain a free Will guide, is all that’s needed.

If your charity runs community events with decent foot fall, then also consider display stands and posters too.

Finally, in considering your legacy strategy it’s important to understand why people might leave a legacy to your organisation.

This could be for a number of reasons, for instance:

  • Empathy with other people in need
  • A sense of civic or religious duty
  • Because it’s a “good thing” to do
  • To give something back
  • To say thank you for help they’ve received
  • Out of belief in a cause
  • Out of guilt
  • Because they have been treated well by the charity
  • To influence the future
  • To be remembered
  • To be seen as a good person
  • To save tax
  • Or simply because you have asked them!

And I emphasise this last legacy trigger for a very good reason.

A colleague at the NSPCC recently told me that their most effective legacy promotion tool is politely asking supporters this simple question at the end of a telemarketing call:

Have you thought about writing your Will?

A free Will guide is offered, if requested.

Very simple, very cheap.

And astoundingly effective.

So, don’t forget to put ‘telephone‘ right at the top of your legacy communications plan!

PS – Here is a handy good practice guide from the Institute of Legacy Management.  It provides some useful advice for anyone embarking on the legacy programme journey for the first time.



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