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How charities should boost gifts in Wills fundraising

Op-ed: Future Planning Manager at Multiple Sclerosis Limited, Laura Henschke, shares what she learnt during a UK gifts in Wills fundraising study tour

They say charity begins at home, but getting your charity on board with gifts in Wills fundraising starts in your office. This was a key takeaway from a UK fact-finding trip.

Six fellow fundraisers and I spent four days attending the Institute of Fundraising’s annual legacy conference where we met people running specialist organisations that support gifts in Wills fundraisers and visited charities that are doing this work.

Not surprisingly, UK charities have been conducting legacy fundraising for longer and have a more accomplished track record than charities in Australia.

At one workshop, Michael Clark, legacy and in-memory manager at Cystic Fibrosis Trust, warned us that charities would lose out financially if their staff didn’t talk about gifts in Wills to potential supporters.

Using a model to predict legacy income, Michael showed us how to evaluate how much an organisation is receiving versus how much it could receive if charity staff were to instigate wider conversations about gifts in Wills. I think the Australians in the room agreed we needed to have more of these conversations!

Several presenters said storytelling should always be at the heart of what we do to get the legacy message out. I agree that in Australia we need to offer compelling storytelling around gifts in Wills in every communication we issue.

Perhaps we should also be more daring in our communications. To stand out, UK charities have become more adventurous in their legacy campaigns. They are doing much more advertising in mainstream media so people are hearing about gifts in Wills more broadly. We aren’t doing this in Australia and we need to consider it.

The courage to have the conversation

We need to have more that storytelling and a good advertising campaign to reach potential bequestors. We were told the right words are also critical because legacies are a sensitive subject that can frighten people and shut down the conversation.

At the IoF Conference, we heard it was important to overcome that fear when we speak about gifts in Wills and to have a better mindset for the conversation.

In the UK, they have developed more ‘in touch’ ways to help fundraisers reframe their thoughts and put themselves in someone else’s shoes before having that conversation. Maggie’s, a Scottish organisation that provides advice and emotional support with cancer, does this extremely well.

Maggie’s Lead Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Lesley Howells, said: “The setting, person and what we say to ourselves often gets in the way of compassionate conversations about gifts in Wills.”

To combat this, Lesly encouraged fundraisers to:

  • Reset our inner chat. We often tell ourselves that we might turn people off from our cause by talking about gifts in Wills. We need to reset our inner chat and see this as giving supporters another ‘loving opportunity’ to donate.
  • Discuss our values, find meaning and enable reciprocity. We all have a deep need to leave a positive statement/memory. A gift in Wills is a great way to make a difference for those we care about. A legacy could be a reflection of our own values and that of the person we could be talking to.
  • Validate. Once we were okay about having the legacy conversation, we then discussed what words might be used. Lesly used the Swedish Mentimeter app to get us to respond to her questions, allowing for real-time feedback. This allowed us to see how others responded to our answers and we learnt we were not alone in being fearful of the conversation.

Lesley helped us work through our values, feelings of reciprocity and the opportunity the legacy could offer us. The result? We felt more confident in these conversations.

Every staff member can be legacy ambassador

The conference and discussions cemented my belief that charitable organisations need to reach out to donors through an inspired, well-informed and passionate workforce. UK charities are now promoting the concepts of gifts in Wills fundraising to all staff, not just the fundraising teams.

Once staff and volunteers overcome the fear of the legacy conversation, they need to be trained on how to have caring conversations with people. This starts with the board and senior leadership teams, and then training.

A legacy ambassador program could be particularly helpful for organisations that do not have the budget for advertising or other mass promotions.

Produce a pocket-sized legacy resource

Legacy Fundraising Consultant, Richard Radcliffe, suggested every charity should have a pocket-sized ‘key facts’ legacy brochure on hand.

This brochure would be the ideal way to summarise why gits in Wills are so important for an organisation. It is small and cost-effective and would be a simple tool for any staff member to hand out.

It goes without saying that your organisation’s ‘legacy mission’ should be visible in all marketing materials and throughout your communications!

Celebrate when a legacy arrives

It often happens that the fundraising team will talk about the importance of gifts in Wills, but no one shares what has been achieved in the program. Many UK charities now let their staff and volunteers know when a charitable gift has been received.

The Cystic Fibrosis Trust’s Michael Clark holds a ‘Friday Legacies Day’ where he personally thanks staff who have made it happen. He also urges fundraisers to share case studies and results: “There can be a sense of achievement and pride in having participated in something good by inspiring others.”

Always measure

As gifts in Wills are a long-term proposition, you rarely see instant results. We were told it’s important to consider enquiries, pledges, brochures issued and contacts made to offer this information in ongoing reporting. Expectations need to be managed – more so than any other type of fundraising.

I left the study inspired by the speakers I heard and the themes they covered. I have now returned to Australia, determined to press ahead and implement as many of their recommendations as possible, starting with a staff ambassador program!

Laura Henschke is the future planning manager at Multiple Sclerosis Limited.          

The UK study tour was organised by Include a Charity and funded by Australian Executor Trustees

Photo: Legacy fundraisers from Australia on a UK study tour: (left to right) Nadia Aden, The Fred Hollows Foundation; Ross Anderson, consultant; Vicki Rasmussen, Charlie’s Foundation for Research;  Naomi Schofield, International Fund for Animal Welfare; Laura Henschke, MS Ltd; Eyvette Turner, The Heart Foundation (SA) and Jakki Travers, The Smith Family.

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