Charities have made no progress on legacy giving, conference hears

Academic Adrian Sargeant says the sector is not good at asking for bequests

Adrian Sargeant
Adrian Sargeant

Charities have made no progress in persuading more people to leave a charitable legacy and are not very good at asking for them, delegates at the International Fundraising Congress were told yesterday.

Adrian Sargeant, professor of fundraising at Bristol Business School, said the proportion of people leaving a legacy had not grown for many years.

"Despite the professionalisation of fundraising, we’ve moved the needle on this diddly-squat over the past century," he said.

He said the sector was often not very good at asking for pledges. Charities needed to find better opportunities to ask people to leave legacies – for example, telling people they wanted to thank them for making a donation or inviting them to visit the organisation, he said.

According to research from the US and the UK, only about 23 per cent of people who made a legacy pledge to a charity reported being treated any differently by that organisation afterwards, said Sargeant.

"I think that’s sad," he said. "If you can afford it, you should treat people who tell you they made a bequest with a differentiated standard of care so they won’t take it out of their will at a later date."

Sargeant said charities should gain more coverage with their legacy marketing if they were to get more people to leave legacies.

Research had shown that 77 per cent of people felt comfortable with charities asking for bequests, he said, but he was not sure charities had "ubiquitous coverage" with their legacy marketing yet.

He said there were certain events in people’s lives, such as a divorce or the death of a friend, that usually triggered them to make wills.

"We don’t know when people are going through a life change that will make them make a will, so our legacy message needs to be ambient and drip-fed," he said.

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