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Lessons for a brighter legacy future

Lessons for a brighter legacy future

As we near the end of the tenth Week, Stephen George, looks at what lessons we can take and what this means for the future of legacy giving.

The most important truth I’ve learnt in legacies, is to accept that it’s a long game, but recognise that what you do today really will make the difference tomorrow.

From my first legacy role at the NSPCC to Chairing Remember A Charity (from 2006 to 2010) and now observing so many campaigns across the world, it’s clear that the sector has really embraced legacies and so too have the public. The vision for the first Remember A Charity Week was to build awareness of legacy giving and demonstrate impact, leading to behaviour change.
Looking back, we can see what levers we pulled, what worked and what was less effective. So what does the future look like for legacies?

I know the economy may collapse, house prices may plummet, asteroids may land. (We can’t do much on that front.) But if we think about legacy growth and potential, ultimately the future is bright. There is plenty we have learnt and much more to do. What lessons should we be taking from the past decade and how might this influence our legacy programmes?

Take action and be bold: ask

Firstly, 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 of factors: people are living longer and there are many more of them; there is increased wealth and; technology is making it easier to reach and engage people. That in itself is a very nice strategic place to be, but we cannot be afraid to step forward and take action or the moment will pass us by. For some charities, this remains a tough nut to crack. Legacies can be a huge prize so be sure to lean in and talk legacies with your supporters.

Understand what your supporters want

We have developed a way to ‘market’ legacy giving that is often at odds with understood supporter behaviours and preferences. Donors generally don’t like our demands to “tell us” that we are in their Will. Our methods of measurement satisfy internal and old-fashioned views rather than reflecting the reality of how a donor feels and behaves. Quite simply, they take a long time to think about legacy giving, and to act. And they are often reluctant to tell us when they do. So the future needs to be more about influence, driving consideration and action.

Ultimately, people give to people. So legacies will need a new generation of emotionally intelligent, supporter-led, personalities to make it happen. We need to be more strategic, human-centred, insightful or we will drive people away rather than encourage them to listen, open up and act.


Margaret Mountford and supporters of Remember a Charity

Margaret Mountford, aide on BBC’s The Apprentice, and a former lawyer, front row, centre, launches ‘Forget Me Knot week’, a campaign raising the awareness of the importance of leaving gifts to charities in wills, at Lincoln’s inn Fields, London. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 9, 2009. Photo credit: Anthony Upton/PA Wire

Get your charity fully behind your legacy programme

The next phase of legacy growth requires us to challenge and evidence the largely held view that legacies simply happen and ‘just come in’. We need a future where cause and effect are understood. Find that and we will open the door to investment, but this means that we need buy-in from across the organisation.

Our lessons of the past 10 years tell us that leadership and culture are two of the biggest and most powerful factors in making legacies happen. Poor leadership blocks and stagnates. Good leadership aspires, inspires and invests. We need fundraising leaders who understand, and are willing to integrate and champion legacies.

Be willing to work together to grow the market

The sector’s learning and focus on behavioural change through Remember A Charity has been revolutionary. It allows us all to work together and make an impact, it drives our collective campaigns and it paves the way for low cost but powerful legacy strategies for small charities. A single gift can transform a small charity, and every cause can benefit. There is no charity anywhere that is not able to get a legacy gift. Donors will seek out trust, relationship and impact.

Small or niche charities are well placed to deliver in these respects, while big charities can innovate and test and scale. Together the landscape can truly change.

Don’t stand still: Innovate

We can already see a huge shift to digital, but there’s so much more to come. Over the next few years, we will see a surge in creative and innovative ways to connect, ranging from new social media platforms to AI driven campaigns, TV to sponsorship and corporate partnerships.

Collating resources through initiatives like Remember A Charity can give us the tools we need to develop faster, to share best practice and test new messaging and channels. The world of legacies cannot stand still and we will need to continue to come up with new ways to engage supporters and convey the importance of legacy giving.

Lessons from the last 10 years show that bold, brave and innovative solutions driven by insight and tested and scaled can cut through. There are too many who are still frightened of legacies, unable to engage, measuring the wrong things and stuck. We have enough evidence and learning now to unlock that and take a huge leap. Be brave, lead, connect, invest and the next
10 years look very bright indeed.


About Stephen George

Stephen George

Stephen George is a fundraising and leadership coach & consultant, with over 30 years fundraising experience working with organisations such as NSPCC, UNICEF, RNIB, Action on Hearing Loss, Maggie’s and Scope. He is an international speaker, writer, trainer and podcaster. He is currently working on global legacies strategies for international NGOs and is a former Chair of Remember A Charity, and former Vice Chair of the Institute of Fundraising. He is also a trustee at a national UK children’s charity.

You can follow Stephen on Twitter.


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