In these coronaviral times when you listen to or watch the news it’s all about death – despite the fact that most people, even those who are infected, recover. Why are we so focused on death? And with our supporters much more aware of their own mortality, what does legacy fundraising tell us about how people are reacting and what they might want to do to help at this time?
In this blog post I’d like to share my reflections as someone who’s been working on legacies for some years and just completed a Masters in Philanthropic Studies with a dissertation on why people give legacies.
Whenever we are confronted with intimations of our own mortality the first natural reaction is avoidance. This automatic stage of what’s sometimes called ‘death defence.’ Think back a few weeks ago and this is where we were. People were displaying the 5 Ds of avoidance:
– Distract – I’m too busy to worry about that now I’m trying… to buy a house/plan my holiday/get a new job
– Differentiate – it will impact the UK differently we have a great health service/we are young and healthy and we won’t get sick
– Deny – it won’t be as bad as they say, it’s just a bad cold, and anyway it won’t spread that fast
– Delay – we don’t need to do that yet, we can still hug we don’t need to do this elbow bump/Wuhan shuffle thing
– Depart – I am going to stay away from that…maybe I should go in holiday, head to my cottage in Cornwall
We don’t want to think about death. This is one of the reasons why that despite the fact that we know we are all going to die large numbers of people don’t have wills, or do any kind of estate planning.
Our default is to stay in avoidance. But there are things that break through this stage – the birth of a child, getting married, illness, injury, advancing age, death of someone close to us, or travel plans. All can help lead to writing a will. Maybe now we should add government lock down? This pandemic has broken through this first stage, we can no longer avoid what is happening we have moved to the next stage.
Once you have moved past avoidance, one of the next stages is to move towards what is sometimes called your ‘tribe.’ And you focus on protecting them, your in-group. In an evolutionary psychology terms, we want to protect our tribe, and in return seek support from them. ‘Tribe’ can mean many things – those that look like you, come for the same place as you, act like you, eat like you, value the same things as you. In academic literature this move to protect your tribe is called ’terror management theory’ (Solomon S, Greenberg J and Pyszczynski T, 1991).
Numerous studies highlight that when you are reminded of your death you are more likely to:
• want to give to a local or national charity (rather than international charities) (Jonas, Schimel, Greenburg et al 2002);
• prefer your own cultural food (Friese & Hoffman, 2008);
• predict your local sports team would win more (Dechesne, Greenberg, Arndt et al, 2000);
• listen to advice of someone with the same ethnic identity or gender as yourself (multiple studies).
This can have negative consequences including racism. But there are positive outcomes too. All of this is showing affinity with your tribe, whatever that tribe means to you. This reflection of identity and culture is shown through the dominance of local and national charities supported in legacy giving, as opposed to international development charities (top 100 UK fundraising charities average share from legacy gifts in 26.6% – for the 17 UK international relief charities in the top 100 it is just 5.9%). People also tend to give to medical charities that tackle issues we, or those close to us, suffer from- cancer, dementia, neurological diseases.
What does this mean for those of us involved in fundraising?
We need to emphasise how our mission and our work reflects our supporters’ beliefs, identity and values.
In this time of pandemic, I am seeing this tribal loyalty emphasised and desire for connection. I have found myself having zoom drinks and on Houseparty with old friends I haven’t seen in person for far too long and sending messages to friends on
the other side of the world. And every email corporate email I receive (from the shoe shop to the place where I once bought a skirt) is telling me that I am part of their family and part of their tribe. This seems inauthentic from companies that we have had a very transactional relationship with – I just wanted to buy a skirt I don’t identify as part of the family!
This is a time when the whole country (world) is acutely aware of its own mortality and more aware of their tribe and values. Our sense of agency is compromised by the enormity and speed of what has happened, and people are looking for tangible and practical ways to do things that make a difference. Now is the time to be inspiring them to action. By offering action we allow our supporters to enact their values, gain a greater sense of agency and feel better about themselves.
So how could this applied to your fundraising at this time of crisis where we are all more focused on our tribe?:
• Emphasise how you share the same values and goals as your supporters. By giving to charities that reflect our cultural identity at this time of uncertainty and heightened mortal salience it will make them feel better.
• Talk to them – everyone loves a phone call. It’s warmer, more personal, and allows for feedback. Email is one way. Everyone is in (apart from on their state mandated walk) and actively seeking connections. Now is a great time to ring a supporter and let them know you are thinking about them. And remember not everyone is online. Some of your older supporters might still
do things by post or phone so a call is more appreciated than a mail merged communication.
• Invite connection – when they donate can they leave a message about what your cause means to them and how what you do inspires them? This enhances the connection to you and your cause and how it reflects their values. (On digital platforms being able to leave a personal message has been shown to increase completion rates).
• Share the messages of support you are getting – not just the ones about cash. Tell people the success stories where they have made a difference and what your charity means to your supporters. It will boost everyone’s morale and encourage others to support.
• Encourage people to share with their other tribes: people aren’t just members of one tribe. They may be part of your opera-loving tribe. And that may be your connection point. But they are also part of other tribes that they might connect you with.
• Your staff are some of your biggest supporters – don’t forget about them in thinking about how you communicate what you need, what is happening, sharing success and how they can help.
• Don’t neglect that wider tribe of supporters who just because they are not giving now doesn’t mean they don’t or couldn’t think of themselves as part of your wider tribe. Be in touch with them. Reach out. As Harvey MacKinnon says ‘they’re not your donors, you’re one of their charities’. In times of crisis you may mean more to them and be surprised by which ‘lapsed’ donors strongly identify as part of your tribe.
• Giving is good for us: giving makes us feel better. This is not all just in the self-interest of fundraisers or their organisation. We know from a significant body of research that the act of philanthropy are actually good for people. It makes people happier and health. Mind lists five aspects of well being – connect, learn, be active, take notice and give.
Time for the Fundraising Tribe to take a lead and let people know it’s as important for your health as the daily walk?
Marina Jones is in charge of legacy fundraising at the Royal Opera House and has just completed a Masters in Philanthropic Studies at the University of Kent. Marina is a member of the Institute of Fundraising Convention Board.
Get free email updates
Keep up to date with fundraising news, ideas and inspiration with a weekly or daily email. [Privacy]