Stephen Pidgeon: Prioritise legacies on your charity's website

Few charities communicate their legacy strategies well, writes our columnist

Stephen Pidgeon
Stephen Pidgeon

A few weeks ago I spent a wonderful day working with an arts organisation on its legacy marketing strategy. I'll not name it, but it is in the top flight - a household name with tens of thousands of members and many times more devotees. Such an arts organisation is deep in the hearts and minds of its followers but, until now, the relationship has primarily been a transactional one.

Memberships and friends groups are portrayed as a means of support, but the main benefit is early access to tickets. Rarely does an arts organisation seek support from its devotees purely on philanthropic grounds. It happens, but not a lot. In comparison, philanthropic appeals are the bread and butter of charities.

During this day, we were to agree both the legacy proposition - the answer to the question "why should I leave this organisation a gift when I die?" - and a three-year marketing strategy to get that message out to passionate supporters. Naturally, I turned to the charity sector to provide examples of excellence.

And indeed, many charities deal with legacies well. Look at the RNIB website, for instance. Within two clicks you can read about a sweet young mum supported only because of kind people leaving gifts when they die. The words in this section are uplifting, visionary: "legacy gifts change lives" is a common theme.

But for every good legacy section on a charity website, there are dozens that are very poor. Many legacy pages are buried so deep that they are irretrievable by anyone who is not a technology geek. Many charities put legacy pages in a "donate" section. For me, donating is short term: cash, or a regular monthly gift. My consideration of a gift in my will is anything but short term.

I might look in a "support our work" section, perhaps a "fundraising" section or even another section common to many, "get involved". Well, there I'm encouraged to host an event, take an overseas challenge or volunteer. And when I put the word "legacies" in most search boxes, an extraordinary array of rubbish is presented. Why, in charities that are so dependent on legacy income, is a legacy button not on the home page? Legacy pages should be prioritised and accessible on a number of routes.

The young people who guard th ese sites can never imagine the absolute joy an older person feels in knowing that, when they die, their legacy will deliver transformational change.

In the next 10 years, arts organisations will pitch for a big slug of the legacy income currently coming into the charity sector. Charity trustees who believe, complacently, that the legacy fairies will always favour them will be punished if they do not take the nurturing of the charity's supporters more seriously, giving priority to presenting the legacy gift prominently - as the ultimate gift of every loyal donor.

Stephen Pidgeon is a consultant and a teacher

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