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Charities are changing will-writing but is it for good?

Charities are changing will-writing but is it for good?

Many consumers now start their will-writing journey online. They might search for a will-writer, or a solicitor, or increasingly, they may intend to write their will online.

Charities need to follow their prospective supporters online if they are to maintain the £3 billion the Smee & Ford 2019 report, just released, demonstrates is generated in legacies each year.
New technologies, new suppliers and new will-writing business models create new fundraising opportunities for charities. Because it’s so new there is less information and experience on which charities can base their procurement decision.

And that’s a problem. Because the wrong decisions will not only impact supporters and the charity but shape the entire market on which charities rely for gifts-in-wills.


The dangers of oversimplification

There’s a train of thought we’ve heard several times from charities’ marketing teams. We are normally able to help charities understand why it’s so wrong: we have won 30 charity customers in under a year. But we don’t always succeed.

The rationale runs like this:

“Online will-writing is best for simple needs – if a consumer’s needs are complex they can choose the charity’s face to face offer with a solicitor or will-writer – so the charity needn’t worry too much about the limitations of a simple online process – a simple user journey is likely to lead to more gifts – and anyway, some suppliers of simple online wills now offer checks.”

Our customer charities also want the scale online offers. They too offer face to face options that we sit alongside. They care about conversion: 44% of our users complete online. However, they also understand that things aren’t so simple and that they must also safeguard the interests of the consumer, the reputation of the charity and the validity of any gift pledged in the will.


Consumers don’t know what they don’t know

At the heart of the rationale above is the assumption that a consumer will be able to make an informed choice about which will-writing route to take. Simple = online, complex = solicitor.

It demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how will-writing consumers behave and the awareness they have about issues which need to be addressed.

People of all ages, with all sorts of circumstances, and all sizes of estate are going online to make their will (as our user profiles show).

And that means an online will-writing system promoted by a charity must be capable of identifying the issues that any user, irrespective of age, doesn’t know to ask about. user registrations

[Chart] user registrations by age

Consumers don’t have enough knowledge to recognise that they ought not to start an online will process. They don’t
understand when the terms and conditions render a check by a supplier legally meaningless. They don’t know, when they’ve completed the process if they’ve failed to consider vital issues that could impact the very people they were making the will to protect.

If your charity offers them a simplistic solution, they will take it, whether they should or not.


Making informed decisions

It’s not only consumers that need help to make informed decisions. Charities do too.

The article “6 questions to ask when selecting a Will-writing partner for your charity” by Marta Montague, Head of Development at Remember A Charity and the Institute of Fundraising should be required reading for all charities

I won’t repeat her advice here. I urge you to read it for yourselves. But I will add to it.

Speak with other charities who have gone online but who are not working with whichever online provider you are tempted with.

Some of those charities will have produced highly detailed tender processes. Maybe they will let you have a copy?

Many have involved their Legacy Administrators in assessments and decisions. What did those experts think about all the contenders?

Each will have made a choice not only about the provider they did select but about those they did not.

Why did they make those choices? What is it that they know or have discovered that you might learn from?


Your decisions will shape the will-writing market

Your decisions matter for your supporters and for your charity. They also matter for the will-writing market on which your charity relies for gifts-in-wills: online will-writing is at an early stage and the patronage of charities matters.

When a charity offers an online will-writing solution, consumers will trust it. It doesn’t matter that you might be testing it out or paying very little. When you align your charity with any will-writing supplier you communicate to consumers that “it’s ok, go ahead”.

Consumers will interpret an online will-writer’s offer through the lens of the charity’s endorsement. They won’t question what “expert” really means or whether a “check” is anything like the same as the advice provided by the law firms whose future probate business these online providers are targeting.

Your charity’s decision will also influence other charities. (I know this because the greatest source of new business for us is enquiries from charities who have seen that RNLI, RNIB, Mencap, Guide Dogs, Blue Cross and many others have chosen Bequeathed.)

Those new charity customers of the online will-writer you chose then recommend it to their supporters and so the sector starts to take shape: for consumers, for charities and for law firms.

In an area where, I repeat, the consumer does not have enough knowledge to make an informed choice about which supplier’s process for wills or probate will or will not be appropriate, charities actions will be decisive.

Tread carefully. Charities like yours are changing will-writing. Will it be for good?


John Brewer

Jon Brewer, Founder, of Bequeathed, which is changing will-writing for good.  Bequeathed provides free wills and valuable advice. It sits at the heart of a mutually beneficial relationship between consumers who need to make a good will, charities that need to develop legacy income and law firms that need to attract and retain good private clients.




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