For the past three years, Michael Buerk, the former BBC newsreader, has urged television viewers and broadsheet readers to "leave the world a better place" with a legacy.
Buerk's gravitas and his delivery of the I Will, Will You? message helped to raise awareness of charitable legacies to record highs in 2006, according to the organisation behind the advertising, the Remember a Charity consortium, made up of more than 160 charities.
Now, however, the consortium is calling a halt to what would appear to be a highly successful TV campaign and ordering a rethink of its marketing strategy. And it is abandoning conventional marketing methods in favour of a lesser-known technique known as 'social marketing'.
According to the consortium, it is doing so because, although people hear and agree with Buerk's message, they simply aren't doing anything about it: when it comes to charitable legacies, donors are listening but not acting.
Research carried out by Mori in 2006 suggested that 49 per cent of people over 45 were able to recall the Buerk TV and press campaign. In terms of hard cash, however, income from legacies has risen little since the campaign began in 2005.
According to the Charities Aid Foundation's Charity Trends report, total income from legacies for the top 500 charities rose by only 3.2 per cent between 2004/05 and 2005/06. Researchers attribute this slow increase - barely covering inflation - primarily to a fall in the number of UK deaths.
Call to action
However, the Remember a Charity consortium believes that if charities act decisively now, there could be lucrative rewards in the coming decades.
A study carried out last year by research organisation Legacy Foresight predicted that the legacy market could triple by 2050 because a generation of baby boomers, now aged from their mid-40s to their mid-60s, has been prudent with savings and likes to leave money to good causes. But the consortium believes that, if charities are to benefit, they will have to do more than just raise awareness to achieve a significant boost in income.
While careful not to criticise the I Will, Will You? campaign, Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, says: "It's reasonable to conclude that it didn't translate into action. Remember a Charity is ambitious, and we need to be. We want a step-change in consumer behaviour, not just in knowledge."
Boswell says that the campaign's original ambition was that the proportion of wills going to probate (official proof from the courts that a will is valid) and including charitable legacies would increase from the current 14.3 per cent to 16.3 per cent. Those two percentage points, he thinks, could represent £180m a year in potential income.
"It's a big vision: it's oh-so-touchable, but still a long way away," he says.
The problem is exacerbated because legacy income is notoriously erratic. Charities find it almost impossible to predict how much money is promised to them, not least because wills are a sensitive subject. Living donors tend to consider their wills to be private affairs. Even if they are happy to tell charities about planned gifts, legal or other considerations that are impossible to predict often mean the money never reaches the charities.
The consortium believes the solution to at least some of these problems lies in social marketing. It is so convinced about this that it is holding a seminar on 30 April in London to explain the concept. Catherine Perry-Williams, an associate at the National Social Marketing Centre and a consultant to the consortium, says the key aspect of the method is that it can change people's behaviour - not just awareness.
"Social marketing is behaviour-driven," she explains. "We focus on positive behaviour, asking what is different about those will-makers who are doing what we want them to do, and what's in it for them. Then we provide them with that incentive in order to achieve social good."
The consortium is commissioning research, the results of which will be ready in July, to discover what those incentives might be. It will then use that information to create a new marketing campaign. Researchers can't predict exactly what medium the advertising campaign might use, but one thing Perry-Williams is certain about is that old-style direct marketing and TV advertising are unlikely to form part of the mix.
Stephen George, chair of Remember a Charity and development director for legacy fundraising at the NSPCC, says there are numerous reasons why legacies are at present "just doing OK" - one in 20 will-makers leaves a legacy, according to the consortium's research. He says making a will involves strong emotions such as people's fear of death and concern about their families.
The way forward
But he is convinced that social marketing can break down such fears and obstacles and is an opportunity to get legacy fundraising on the map. "There is evidence to suggest that people don't leave legacies because they worry that there would be nothing left for their families," he says. "We're simply not pushing the message to people that they can leave money both to their families and to charities."
The research backs the theory. Meg Abdy, project manager at Legacy Foresight, who led on the 2007 report, believes that baby boomers born between 1946 and 1957 in particular could respond well to the consortium's attempts to produce more charitable legacies.
Abdy predicts that the largest potential gains for charities in future lie in 'residual' bequests - those that stipulate a percentage of a donor's estate be left to charity. These are currently worth an average of £50,000 to charity and tend to be made by donors without children. In the long term, the number of residual bequests is likely to increase as more affluent childless women and openly gay people write wills (see box, above left).
In the medium term, however, opportunities to persuade large numbers of new will-makers to leave significant chunks of their estates to charity are limited, because family comes first for most people with children.
"Remember a Charity would gain if it were able to persuade this type of donor to leave, say, 10 per cent of their estate to charity as a sort of charitable 'tithe'," she says.
By contrast, 'pecuniary' bequests - those stipulating a sum of money - are worth on average only £3,000 to charity, a figure that has changed little since 2000. Abdy predicts a marketing campaign could gain ground if it were to encourage more people to increase the amounts they leave to, say, £5,000.
The consortium says it will not re-run the I Will, Will You? TV campaign, but adverts featuring Buerk will continue to run in national newspapers for the time being.
Asked whether Remember a Charity is at risk of losing the momentum gained by the popularity of the Buerk television adverts, George says: "We recognise its value, but even effective advertising campaigns reach their natural conclusion."
There is, he adds, a sound social marketing reason why Remember a Charity might not choose a celebrity spokesperson in future.
"There is some evidence that celebrity campaigns in legacies reinforce barriers," he says. "People think 'legacies are only for well-known or rich people; they're not for me'."
But there is a feeling among experts that a reinvigorated marketing campaign aimed at a rational, informed and media-savvy generation of baby boomers can make legacy fundraising bear fruit.
Baby boomers and beyond
Four groups for legacy fundraisers to target
- The Baby Boomers
Born between 1946 and 1964, currently aged from mid-40s to late-60s. They are both cash and asset-rich, but they want facts and to feel in control of their money.
- The Bridget Joneses
Born in the 60s and usually university-educated, they have no children, but do have careers. From 2030 onwards, they are forecast to become a significantly wealthy group.
- The Pink Pound
Homosexual practices were legalised in 1967, so a generation of gay men and women who became teenagers in the 80s have lived openly as such. They are often wealthy and without children.
- 'Ordinary Vanilla' adults
They have families, so tend to leave smaller bequests than those without children, but they respond to advertising and form a significant part of the population.
Legacies: the facts
£1.15bn - Top 500 charities' total income from legacies in 2004/05
£1.22bn - Top 500 charities' total income from legacies in 2005/06
3.4% - Percentage of UK adults who included charitable legacies in their wills in 2000
4.6% - Percentage of UK adults who included charitable legacies in their wills in 2006
Source: Legacy Market Audit 2006.