Six ways to maximise legacy donations online

James Lock shares the results of his research on what people think about leaving gifts in their wills, and how information about legacies is presented on charity websites

James Lock
James Lock

Earlier this year, we ran eight hour-long sessions to find out what the public thought about legacy giving. Their comments enabled us to consider how charities could use their digital channels more effectively as a means of increasing legacy donations. Here are my suggestions:

Make written information more inspiring

On the charity websites we looked at, information about legacy donations typically focused on what to do and who to call when planning and administering a will. However, since our participants had no immediate plans to leave legacies, they said they were unlikely to read it.

As an alternative, charities should think about using case studies as a way to make the idea of leaving a will more accessible to website visitors who are not actively considering it. These should be accompanied by images of real people, rather than stock photographs, which will make the task feel more tangible.  

Don’t overcomplicate the process

The people we interviewed said that the functional and detailed way in which information about leaving a legacy was presented online led them to believe that it involved large amounts of paperwork, long meetings with solicitors and an understanding of the legal lexicon. In reality, many charities employ active, passionate regional development officers who will make the process relatively straightforward.

If a charity offers this kind of support, it should make this clear on its website and avoid giving too much space to granular tasks that will not be the responsibility of the donor. Any information on legacy giving should conclude with a single, straightforward next step for the user.

Make it easier for people to make a start

A motivated visitor to a charity’s online legacy pages needs to be supported to act immediately. On many websites there are numerous starting points – for example, emailing a contact at the charity or carrying out a five-step process in order to register with a third-party solicitor. These are sensible moves, but completing them won’t make the user feel that they have moved closer to achieving their objective.

Speak with your legacy managers and find out what information is most useful when following up a lead. Use this information to create an expression-of-interest form – but don’t call it that – and tell potential donors that completing this form is the definitive first step towards leaving your charity gifts in their wills. Once a completed form has been received, it is important that you respond quickly and make sure you don't ask for the same information again.

Tell people what their donations can achieve

Many participants in our research felt that a legacy needed to be a significant amount of money. In reality there is no "normal" legacy donation, and those unable to leave huge sums need to know that their contributions are valued.

On the charity websites we looked at, it was difficult to find out what one, five, ten or even a hundred thousand pounds could achieve. Where this information was available, it did not resonate with the mindset of a potential legacy donor.

When seeking one-off or monthly gifts, most charities provide suggested donation amounts. This strategy should also be applied to legacy donations. Describe how even the smallest gifts could be spent, and make sure donors understand that their donations will have a lasting and significant effect, ideally with a permanent outcome.

Show potential donors that legacies are an important revenue stream

Interestingly, the people we spoke to did not appreciate how much charities rely on legacies. One participant, who had fundraised for a particular charity, predicted that less than 0.5 per cent of its income came from legacy donations. In fact it is that charity's largest revenue stream, comprising about a third of its income. While other participants did not have such an extreme misconception, they typically underestimated the significance of legacies. However, their attitudes towards leaving legacies changed when they understood how important they are to charity work.

Many charities have created graphics that instantly make people aware of what they spend donations on, which reassures potential donors that the charity is being run efficiently. A similar device for communicating revenue streams could be valuable. Even if this device does not communicate a percentage of total income, consider explaining what has been achieved through legacy donations in the past year.

In summary

Asking for legacy donations requires tact and sensitivity, so speak to your supporters to find out their thoughts. Bear in mind that, even if implementing these recommendations creates an uptake in pledges, it won’t have been successful if other revenue streams suffer. Any changes that these conversations suggest need to be implemented gradually and with close reference to your long-term development strategy.

James Lock is a UX consultant at the digital agency e3

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