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Top tips for effective legacy communications

Melanie May | 24 February 2021 | News

The value of legacies to charities is undisputed, and thankfully it’s a growing income stream, increasing from £1.7 billion to £3.3 billion in the last 15 years, and with bequests and income predicted to continue rising over the next decade.
This is in part due to a growing interest in leaving a gift in a Will as legacy giving has become more visible through campaigns such as the annual high profile Remember A Charity week helping to clear up common misconceptions and make charities and the public alike more comfortable with this topic of conversation.
So with more people open to the idea of leaving a charitable legacy, how can you improve the chances of your communications being noticed and your charity considered?
Everyone can leave something: get that key message out there
Legacy fundraising consultancy Radcliffe Consulting has spoken with hundreds of donors since the outbreak of Covid-19, and what people want to know in order to consider leaving a legacy is clear from these conversations, says co-founder Richard Radcliffe. Charities have to get across what they need to achieve, and why they are best placed to do this, along with the value of legacy giving and how easy it is for them to remember a charity in their Will.
It’s not uncommon for people to think that leaving a charitable legacy is beyond their reach but of course lots of people leaving a small amount is just as valuable as one person leaving a bigger amount so this is also a critical message to get across.
Radcliffe says:

If you can get one simple message over to your supporters it is this: everyone can afford to leave a modest legacy as well as taking care of their family. Your final words can still affirm your life beliefs, and families will surely respect that – for many it is heart-warming to know that their loved one had so much passion and compassion. Legacies are one of the simplest ways of giving; the problem is that few realise it.”

Inspire through storytelling
There’s nothing more inspiring than real-life experiences so tell stories that bring to life the role of legacies for your cause.
Minted Box, which recently launched Charity Intentions, a fundraising tool designed to support charitable giving, advises:


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“Look at your mission – what is the problem your charity originally set about to solve and how are you doing? What would you do if you received a boost in revenue and what would that look like?
“Talk about values and how important your service or campaigning is to the community you provide for. So, environmental charities may talk in terms of saving the planet, and how a gift from a supporter made a difference to a particular patch that needed care and attention, while hospices provide comfort and support, adding value to lives, and how they do this also makes powerful case studies.”

Tell too of people who have already chosen to leave a gift in their Will. Research also shows that telling stories about what other living people plan to do with their legacy in the future can be impactful, and the more stories a potential donor encounters, the more likely they are to see and hear a story that strikes a chord.
Include practical information on leaving a legacy but keep it simple
Providing information on how to leave a legacy is important but be mindful of how you word this so you don’t accidentally put people off.
Dr Claire Routley, Head of Gifts in Wills Consultancy, Legacy Voice says:

“Clear information on leaving a legacy is very wise to include – but one trap that organisations can fall into is conveying that in legal-sounding language. Research suggests this can actually decrease people’s interest in legacy giving, so wherever possible charities should seek to use everyday language rather than technical terms.”

Be sensitive to the current times
Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, highlights for the need for sensitivity following a year when many have lost loved ones and jobs to Covid-19, and for a multichannel approach to help get messages across:

“The past year has highlighted how critical legacies are for charities and how much of an appetite there is for charitable Will-writing. But there’s also been a great deal of concern around how to talk about legacies sensitively during the pandemic.
“While sensitivity is key, it’s vital that charities stay front of mind. This means using a wide range of channels to communicate what they do and working hard to demonstrate their relevance within a pandemic world. Legacy conversations have to be part of this wider communication strategy, reminding supporters that they have the opportunity of giving in this way. This is particularly important now, at a time when so many people want to include a charity in their Will, and when legacy income will play such a crucial role in the sector’s recovery.”

Don’t forget the value of digital
Indeed, the past year has seen a huge uplift in digital activity with people spending more time online than ever before. It can also be a valuable channel for reaching people with stories about legacy giving.
Minted Box says:

“There has been a massive increase in activity online in the last year and this extends to people looking at how to manage their affairs. Charities have the opportunity to show why they are relevant and inform audiences who are likely to be a lot more engaged if the content is authentic. Video messages, kept short and to the point, don’t have to be stylishly polished, but can convey genuine calls to action that inspire generosity.”

Get the basics right
Of course, leaving a legacy isn’t a decision people make lightly, and people need to feel reassured that they’re giving to an effective, efficient, trustworthy organisation. Mistakes can undermine that feeling so make sure the basics are covered – that names spelt correctly, text is readable, and packs are sent out in good time.
Routley adds:

“As part of our Legacy Inspire project, we looked at research around what captures and holds people’s attention – it’s important to remember to make it readable, colourful and emotional. People can sometimes turn off from death-related subjects, so making sure your materials are as engaging as possible is essential for legacy giving.”

Stewardship is key
Legacy income is not a quick win, and developing the legacy donor relationship can take many years. When it comes to stewardship communications, Richard Hill, Programme Manager, Legacy Foresight says:

“The best stewardship conveys magic – Surprise and delighting supporters, engaging emotionally and make them feel is key. Beyond the magic, personal connection is also key. This doesn’t have to be big or expensive; authentic small communications, such as personalised cards or tokens of thanks can make the donor feel appreciated and involved. Having a named person to contact seems to make all the difference, providing a conduit into the charity itself.”

Look inwards at your internal set up
And finally, because the legacy donor relationship is often a long-term one, it’s a commitment that needs to be maintained through any management changes, with procedures to ensure continuity of donor communications. This is where having your internal processes and culture right is critical.
Stephen George, fundraising and leadership consultant and past Chair of Remember a Charity, says:

“Some organisations have their legacy admin and legacy marketing separate and in different departments and even functions. If you want an integrated and insight driven approach and a powerful journey put the two together in the same team. The internal culture and how legacies are driven is as important as how you speak and engage externally. Culture can transform a legacy programme.”