Anna Taylor: Time to go for a push on legacy giving

Legacy fundraising can potentially secure the best return on investment and shouldn't be overlooked, says our columnist

Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor

Legacy fundraising is one of those things that struggles to make it to the top of the to-do pile. It never seems urgent, yet it is, perhaps, the form of fundraising that can potentially secure the best return on investment.

Over the past decade, legacy giving to the charity sector in the UK has fluctuated between £1.7bn and £2.1bn. Currently, according to the legacy analyst Legacy Foresight, 7 per cent of people are leaving charitable gifts in their wills - up from 4 per cent in 1990.

Even though such a modest proportion of the population supports charities in this way, the most recent figures in the National Council for Voluntary Organisations' UK Civil Society Almanac show that, in 2009/10, the UK's largest charities got 46 per cent of their incomes from legacies. Meanwhile, big charities got 31 per cent from legacies, medium charities 17 per cent, small charities 5 per cent and micro charities 1 per cent.

So why does a charity's size make a difference? Perhaps smaller charities fail to recognise the potential and do not build legacy asks into their communication with supporters.

The reality is that you can get legacy fundraising started without investing huge amounts of money. Mentioning legacy giving in every newsletter is worthwhile. General leaflets can touch on legacy giving and include a tick box on the reply slip for further information. Annual reviews can be your most powerful legacy fundraising tool - you can set out your charitable vision and include a form that people can use to make responses.

Older people are increasingly using the web and potential legators like to dig deep, so it is important to provide them with plenty of information. It is easy to put together a guide to making a will. Many charities now publish guides on their websites, so it is easy to take a look and use them to adapt a will.

One of the psychological barriers for fundraisers is the time lag between legacy fundraising and results. One way round this is to solicit pledges to remember your charity in the wills of your supporters so that you have an immediate idea of how many people are likely to give. Charities are increasingly setting targets for the number of pledges to be secured each year. This can be done face-to-face, but it might be more feasible to do it through mailouts. Remember not to get too caught up in talking about the mechanism - the message is the importance of your charitable work.

Finally, it is worth noting that legacy giving is recession-friendly - people can pledge now without being poorer in their lifetimes. So, perhaps the time has come to stop procrastinating and make legacy fundraising a priority to coincide with this September's national Remember A Charity campaign.

Anna Taylor is a freelance fundraiser, writer and researcher, and a former UK director of Child in Need India

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