Gold Medal Legacy Fundraising


As we wave goodbye to the Rio Olympics and celebrate the medal winners there’s been much talk about how the legacy of the investment in UK sport for the London 2012 Olympics has impacted our sporting achievement. The massive investment in UK sport has supported a whole generation of athletes across many disciplines and seen Team GB win 67 medals from cycling to athletics, show jumping to boxing.   In total there’s been about 8 years of sporting investment from the run up to London 2012 to today and there’s hope that we’ll keep up that level of investment for future generations.

All this talk of the importance of long term investment in sport and the fantastic legacy it produces made me think about how there’s a lesson here for our fundraising programmes – it’s obvious but often forgotten that long term vision and long term investment planning produce results.  And perhaps one of the key areas that truly demands that long term approach is generating income from charitable legacies.

THINK’s research around the world captured in our World Fundraising Markets Report highlights some of the big opportunities on which charities are capitalising, such as the growth of individual fundraising in Asia and the developing philanthropic market in the Middle East.  Our research also highlights the underused and undervalued areas of fundraising around the world and legacy marketing stands out as the “poor cousin” in our fundraising programmes.

The World Fundraising Markets Report looks at the state of fundraising and techniques used in 55 countries; we found that legacy marketing is prevalent in 44 countries – but only in 6 countries do we see high usage of this technique by charities, i.e. extensive and consistent marketing by charities in the country.  To some extent this can be explained by the vagaries of national laws or traditions that make leaving money or property to charity less likely, but even in countries where the leaving of assets is determined by law there are still opportunities for charities to benefit such as in the absence of direct relatives.  It is true to say that in most mature markets charities promote making a charitable gift in your Will and we’ve seen the growth of consortia that promote the idea for the not for profit sector from “Legado Solidario” in Spain to the “My happy end” campaign in Switzerland . But even so, many charities can be said to be ignoring putting real investment of time, money and resources in legacy marketing when this is low cost-high return fundraising that produces largely unrestricted funds.

The global picture from our research makes us think that legacy marketing is perhaps the most under used technique in the fundraisers tool box, an assumption which has been further compounded by a survey of how legacy marketing is promoted by international NGOs to their national offices.

Our research looked at the promotion and support from the centre of 4 major INGOs to their national partners. We found that none of the INGOs surveyed had a global legacy marketing strategy or framework and only one had increasing legacy income as a major objective in their overall global fundraising strategy.  None were making legacies a key part of their investment strategy.  This picture is similar across the INGO spectrum when we’ve taken informal soundings with other INGOs. So none of the big international fundraising organisations are pushing their national offices to get behind legacies as a key income source.

Furthermore, we see that charities still hesitate to promote legacies and bequests to their supporters; when we need to be braver.  Just last month I was talking to a German fundraiser about the difficulty she has in getting her charity to put any significant budget into legacy marketing, let alone agree to approach their 300,000 plus supporters and or give legacies a slot in the annual calendar of donor communications.

This picture is very common.  I think there’s an issue in many countries about the long term vision of fundraising directors; increasingly many stay in post for a relatively short period, particularly in the most mature fundraising markets, so investing in legacy marketing where the impact on your income will be seen in 7, 10 or more years is less attractive than fundraising programmes that bring a quicker return. They may also be under pressure from the trustees to maximise short term income if the trustees have limited fundraising knowledge. The long term character of legacy income means that it’s easy to put off investing in marketing until “tomorrow”.  And investment gets cut when finances are squeezed, the legacy marketing budget is an easy target for expenditure cuts as it delivers long-term returns, and cutting the budget has no immediate discernible impact on income.  The decision to cut will often be made by people who will not be in post to see the impact down the line when legacy income dips.  This was clearly evidenced by work we did with one of the UK’s largest charities that raises c.£50 million a year from legacies; we were able to trace their investment programme over 20 years and the legacy marketing budget had been successively cut between 2002 and 2012.  The result of under-investment was shown clearly in the downward trend in the number of notifications of Wills in which the charity benefited which fell by 10% starting in 2007, not addressing that decline was putting this valuable source of unrestricted income at serious risk.

So what is the solution?  I believe there’s a clear argument for long term planning of the legacy marketing budget, looking 10 years ahead, building a business case and taking a clear decision to ring fence the investment budget against the long term plan.  That means agreeing that the legacy marketing investment transcends the normal annual or biannual fundraising budget cycle and sits outside of year on year decisions.  To do this you need to educate the charity’s senior management and trustees to understand the long term goals and get behind the long term legacy business plan to ensure it is maintained – even when Fundraising Directors change and new ideas are promoted.  Only then will we see truly “gold medal worthy” legacy marketing that invests for the long haul.