Stephen Pidgeon: Love your legacy supporters to death

Charities must understand the potential lifetime value of their supporters and stop bleeding them for every penny they can give, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

I'm going to share some figures that should completely revolutionise your fundraising from minor donors. They come from the Royal British Legion and I am very grateful to Guy Upward, direct marketing manager at the charity, and his team for allowing me to publish them. I believe that if fundraisers took such figures seriously, and if financial directors and trustees understood their implications, then substantial funds would be redirected towards old-fashioned direct marketing recruitment followed by diligent, loving stewardship. Why? Because such strategies recruit and nurture supporters who are in their late 50s or older – the prime target for legacy marketing.

The numbers below are legacies left by Royal British Legion supporters, plus their value, by the year of their recruitment to the database. They were all recruited by direct mail, door-drops and inserts. Just 12 years of recruitment has already yielded an income of £14m from legacies. That's in addition to valuable lifetime giving – and, of course, it is just a drop in the ocean of the legacy money that will come over the next 20 or 30 years from others recruited at the same time. I assume, of course, that the charity will continue its excellent stewardship programme, including asking for legacies at the right moment.

Year Supporters Legacy value
2002 174 £3,248,899
2003 144 £1,454,008
2004 152 £2,260,210
2005 131 £2,219,724
2006 58 £716,993
2007 43 £555,745
2008 70 £914,379
2009 77 £1,110,062
2010 37 £332,583
2011 20 £212,166
2012 11 £942,772
2014 1 £1,000

Upward's view is deliciously understated: "I always look at the return on investment when reviewing new supporters generated from cold. I obviously need to look at these figures too, because nearly £14m in 'incremental sales' in such a short period is not too bad, is it?"

Do the analysis – I challenge you. It is dead easy; you're mad if you don't. Plot these figures on a graph and you'll find the trajectory is exponential. Trustees and financial folk in charities should be aware of the new sources of legacy income. They have always assumed, and most chief executives know no better, that legacy money comes from the legacy fairies. Less and less will come this way as every charity, every university, orchestra and theatre company in the UK starts to ask for gifts in supporters' wills.

Trustees have to understand three things: the potential lifetime value of new supporters including their legacy gifts, the importance of recruiting older supporters and the fact that, once you have them, you have to (literally) love them to death. Which, in a shameless piece of self-publicity, is the title of my new book, out in January under the DSC label.

Money has to be invested in caring for supporters, and we must stop bleeding them for every penny they can give, then losing them because they resent being treated this way. We all know the money they give in their lifetimes is a fraction of what they will be pleased to give in their wills when they die.

Very few trustee boards plan more than a year ahead. Most of those boasting five-year strategies are simply bunching a series of one-year strategies together to make it look like they are doing a good job. They're not. How many have ever asked for a clear recruitment and stewardship strategy to target legacy income 30 years ahead? You won't get that return on investment by spending money on new media and the internet.

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and a teacher

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