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Taking Bequest Marketing Seriously…A Guide for Complacent Chief Executives


Tuesday, 22nd February 2011 at 12:05 pm
Staff Reporter
Opinion | As a keynote speaker at this week’s Fundraising Institute Australia’s 34th International Conference in Melbourne, international fundraising expert Stephen Pidgeon calls on charities to change the organisational culture which undervalues bequests.


Tuesday, 22nd February 2011
at 12:05 pm
Staff Reporter


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Taking Bequest Marketing Seriously…A Guide for Complacent Chief Executives
Tuesday, 22nd February 2011 at 12:05 pm

As a keynote speaker at this week’s Fundraising Institute Australia’s 34th International Conference in Melbourne, international fundraising expert Stephen Pidgeon calls on charities to change the organisational culture which undervalues bequests.

You know the scene. The chief executive and financial director, planning next year’s budget, set down a big fat number in a column marked “legacy income”. It’s the same number as last year, plus or minus a bit depending on house prices and the stock market.

And, on the whole, that number is met from the good folk who believe so fervently in the work of the charity that they leave a gift in their will when they die. This is the situation in the UK, and I’m from the UK, and I’ll be joining you at the FIA conference in February.

In the UK, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that more legacy income is coming from known supporters. Less and less is arriving “out of the blue” like it did in the “old days”.

That could be the result of ubiquitous fundraising and better data capture or it could be coming from better legacy marketing.

I don’t know the answer to that which brings me to my first whinge. I’m a pom – you’re expecting me to whinge!

“Major gifts….all but the big ones, are chicken feed in comparison to legacies.”

My whinge: Nobody spends serious money researching what motivates good people to leave legacies to charities, what puts them off, what might encourage them and so on.

Legacy income figures are so huge (£1.9bn in the UK in 2009 according to my friend Richard Radcliffe) and the impact of this money is so transforming, that it transcends ANY other form of fundraising.

Major gifts….all but the big ones, are chicken feed in comparison to legacies. Regular monthly gifts through the bank….legacies dwarf even this welcome source of money. Corporate gifts….most are pennies in a bucket!

Yet, people in charities (not, thankfully, the fundraisers) don’t take legacy marketing seriously at all. They love the money flowing in, but don’t seem to think the flow can be promoted, nor that it might stop one day without such promotion. Which is why in so many UK charities, legacy income remains the responsibility of the finance department – disaster! And it’s why so little research has been done in this vital field.

In the UK, there’s a massive prize for getting legacy marketing right. Recent research from the Remember a Charity consortium showed a considerable gap between those who say they are happy to give a small percentage of their estate as a gift to a charity (at an exciting 35 per cent) and those who actually do (at a depressing eight per cent).

Only a change of culture (the task this consortium of charities is bravely tackling) and the individual marketing efforts of individual charities will narrow that gap.

Legacy marketing remains the butt of non-profit marketing. Huge efforts are put into donor recruitment, the push to secure regular monthly gifts, donor development and, now, online recruitment and development.

“People in charities (not, thankfully, the fundraisers) don’t take legacy marketing seriously at all.”

Every conference I go to has wall-to-wall online fundraising sessions, but only the occasional appearance of someone speaking about legacy marketing.

Until recently, one of the UK’s charities most dependent on legacies – the animal charity RSPCA – made no mention of legacies on its website AT ALL. Yet they relied on legacies for 60 per cent of their income! In contrast, there were multiple references to online methods of supporting RSPCA.

Let me lay down some fundamentals. For many non-profits, income from legacies is the biggest single source of income. Yet, look at the numbers of fundraising staff dedicated to bringing it in, compared to say, corporate income.

Or watch the chief executive or director of services, science or whatever, jump at the opportunity to meet a major donor. Legators are major donors, big time. And most legacies will in future, come from the ranks of the ordinary donors, members and volunteers on the database.

“Why not extend the feeling of ‘specialness’ to all supporters?”

At the very least, the chief executive should insist on a good stewardship program to nurture supporters and volunteers towards the ultimate gift. In practice, few CEOs would see stewardship as a key strategy for their organisation.

Major donors are rightly lauded by the most senior directors in a charity. But the ability to give an immediate large gift is simply a product of wealth; it gives no indication of commitment.

Why then should not ordinary donors receive such interest – those perhaps, who have already indicated strong commitment by giving three or four donations, or donations plus another activity or two? Each one of them may only be giving 10 or 20 pounds at a time, but again, the value of a gift is simply a refection of their wealth. And every one of them has the ability to make a major gift, albeit after their death.

The answer is two-fold – there are certainly too many ordinary, individual donors for the CEO to meet. Time is at a premium. But frankly, most CEOs don’t really like doing it anyway. This is where fundraisers’ innovation needs to kick in.

Why don’t the many charities I support send me an invitation such as this:
“Dear Stephen, the chief executive has suggested I write to invite you to join his special group of close supporters…”.

The “special group” would be run by the fundraisers of course. The chief executive would meet them only once or twice a year perhaps, but his name would be put to a number of special briefings, reports from the field, copies of key strategies, all delivered on-line of course.

“The best charities will appoint legacy staff…”

If it is the feeling of “specialness” that convinces a major donor to part with a five or six figure sum of money, then why not extend this feeling to all but the newest supporters. We have the ability to do this, and the legacy gift that might result will frequently eclipse gifts from major donors.

This is new and radical thinking. In the future, as legacy income from unidentified sources becomes rarer, the best charities will take this stuff very seriously.

They will put greater investment into older, individual donors on the basis that the real rewards will come, not from their cash or monthly gifts, but years later when they die.

The best charities will appoint legacy staff to nurture individual supporters who have pledged a legacy.

And clever charities will train every one of their staff to answer the simple question from a supporter: ‘You’ve all been so wonderful, how can I help your charity?’

If an elderly person is asking the question, there is only one answer. However it is phrased, the sentiment is the same – “please, leave us a legacy”!

Taking legacy marketing seriously… the smart CEO will insist on it.

Stephen Pidgeon works with clients on long-term strategies to make supporters “happy to give” at his charity specialist agency, Tangible. He also runs an international fundraising training consultancy with Adrian Sargeant, Professor of Fundraising at Indiana University, teaching the UK Institute of Fundraising’s new fundraising qualifications throughout Europe.

Pidgeon will present at the bequests and direct response tracks at the FIA’s 34th International Fundraising Conference, and also deliver one of the post-Conference masterclasses.

FIA International Conference registrations are still open at the FIA desk in the Melbourne Convention & Exhibition Centre. For more information, please call the FIA office on 1300 889 670.



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