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How to “plant a seed” about gifts in Wills

Third Sector spoke to Dr Claire Routley on how to integrate gifts in Wills into charitable organisations

There’s an increasing interest among the Australian public to leave a gift to charity in their Will, but only 7.4 per cent of Australians actually do it.

A research carried out by the Include a Charity campaign found that 25 per cent of Australians want to give a donation to charity in their Will, if the option was more ‘top-of-mind’.

The campaign is now working to ensure more Australians are given this option. Part of the campaign is to encourage solicitors to ask the question of people making out their will as to whether they wish to leave money to charity.

Visiting Australia for the Remember a Charity Week is Dr Claire Routley, a specialist in legacy fundraising who’s currently working as a fundraising consultant and a research fellow at Plymouth University’s Hartsook Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy in the UK. She’s here to share her knowledge on how to integrate gifts in Wills into charitable organisations.

Third Sector spoke to Routley about her experience in the field of legacy fundraising and what advise she’d give to NFP organisations.

What made you decide to focus on legacy fundraising for your PhD?

It was quite a pragmatic decision as I wanted to do a PhD in something fundraising focused and I was studying part-time so I wanted to find an area not many people were working in. I picked gifts in Wills but as I started to study it I fell in love with it as an area of giving, partly because the psychology of it. It absolutely fascinated me how human beings are able to imagine our own deaths and plan beyond that. There is something so hopeful how we can carry on in some way shape or form in a way that does something amazing for other people.

You mentioned the psychology of it, can you elaborate on that?

Generally, the whole area of gifts and Wills fundraising is a gentle ask. The big challenge for us is just raising awareness among potential supporters that it is something they can do.

Often people don’t even realise it’s an option and that they can leave a gift to an organisation. And of course to their families. There is, very often, room for both in the Wills.

From an organisational perspective it’s something you do very, very gently. It’s about raising awareness. I often use the metaphor it’s about planting seeds in people’s minds, letting them know it’s something that someone like them can do, and whatever they’re able to give will make an amazing difference to the organisation’s work.

The organisation need to make sure they’re doing things legally and ethically, and that they’re not getting involved in the drafting of Wills.

How you go about getting solicitors engaged?

Some solicitors struggle because they think “it’s not my place to talk about this”. But in my mind it’s the exact opposite. It’s the solicitor’s job to make sure that someone has thought of all bases and mentioning charitable giving is just a part of that.

What advice do you give to organisations that don’t currently have something like that, especially organisation with a younger demographic?

When you look at the stats as to when people first add a charity to their will, it’s in their mid to late 40s, so quite a lot younger than most people would imagine. It’s not just a message that you communicate to the oldest people, you can communicate from middle age onwards.

You may use different channels to communicate the message to supporters, but the direct message is going to be the same.

One of the things I love about gifts and Wills fundraising is generally that it doesn’t have to be hugely expensive. The easiest thing to do is to think about how we already communicate with people and to include a message in that, whether it is social media or a page in a presentation.

People who haven’t much experience worry about it, worry they’ve got to get the message absolutely perfect. It tends to go to the bottom of the pile because it’s something that people are just a little bit scared of when it’s actually so easy to include it in what you’re already doing. Look for those easy opportunities.

One of the most effective ways to reach more people with the gifts in Wills message is to ensure that the topic is integrated into your wider communications with supporters.

However, with gifts in Wills triggering the twin taboos of death and money, colleagues can often be apprehensive about talking about the subject. It’s important to get different staff and volunteers in the organisation comfortable with adding it into their communication so that it’s not just left to one staff member.

It doesn’t need to be a hard sell, it’s just planting a seed and being comfortable if you get asked about it and knowing where to point them.

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