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Michael Smout: Five tips for starting a legacy programme from scratch

11 Sep 2018 Voices

As part of a series of blogs for Remember A Charity Week, Michael Smout, head of marketing at the Family Holiday Association, gives his five tips for starting a legacy programme from scratch. 

It can be a daunting thing, starting a legacy fundraising programme. When I joined the Family Holiday Association in 2014, while I had years of client and agency marketing experience, I had little knowledge and no direct experience of the intricacies of legacy marketing. 

I could see that the charity had benefitted from legacies for as far back as I could sensibly track, and that it was an important source of income, so we were or had been doing something right. But there wasn’t any formal process in place for fundraising. Beyond a dusty flyer showing that a legacy mailing had happened once, there was no sign that we’d ever really marketed legacies to our supporters. What’s more, we had no records of anybody who might have left a gift in their Will or might be thinking about it. 

Where to start?

I’m a big believer in going back to basics and getting the foundations right. Once you have those in place, whatever you build on top has a much greater chance of succeeding. So here are my five tips for getting a legacy fundraising programme off the ground:

1)    Read all about it
There is a wealth of fantastic research material available for fundraisers. It’s important to choose the medium you enjoy, whether that’s books and online guides through to trade magazine articles, blogs and case studies for those that prefer a shorter read or specific focus. In today’s age of content driven marketing you shouldn’t be in danger of running out of material. 

2)    Learn through training
Look at more formal training options, taking the experiences of people who have done the job and learning from them. This can be invaluable. I went to one of the Institute of Fundraising’s training days, delivered by Howard Lake, which was a real help for me. But I also find it equally rewarding to chat to people who are at a similar stage of learning as I am. Ask questions, even if you’re afraid that it might be daft!

3)    Watch and learn
Legacy marketing is a discipline in its own right and bigger charities have dedicated staff working on it full time (oh the luxury!). And they are incredibly good at it. But it can be a delicate subject, so have a look at what others are doing across the board, not just in your area, and see what might work for you.

As a member of Remember A Charity, the campaign forums have been a great way for me to keep on top of it all, and I always get value from the presentations. Working collectively is a great way to learn. In fact, during our first Remember A Charity Week, we did very little other than watch what others were doing online and on social. We also looked at how they framed the message and conversation. What we learned we then applied in subsequent years. 

4)    Identify the basics, do them consistently and do them well
There are a few basics you have to put in place to have any chance of success. These will differ from organisation to organisation, but probably not by much. For example, if somebody is interested in leaving a gift in their will one of the first things they will probably do is look on your website. So make sure the legacy pages are up to date and easy to find. Think about if and where you should advertise.

If a supporter asks for more information, know what you are going to send them; have a prepared high-quality printed pack ready to go. Make sure your donor database is able to keep suitable records in relation to legacies. And post-GDPR remember to decide and document how you are legally going to process that information. 

5)    Reach out
Once you have the basics in place, you can start to reach out and build your legacy programme. Last year, we undertook our first dedicated legacy mailing to supporters, which generated an excellent response. We now include information about leaving a gift in your Will on almost all donor postal appeals, every other month or so in our email newsletters and via social channels. And Remember A Charity Week can be a godsend for the time-poor fundraiser giving our activity a natural focus and ready-made campaign that we can piggyback on.

As a final thought. All charities receive legacies from people they’ve seemingly never heard from. But legacies are rarely a completely random act of kindness. Somebody, somewhere has done something to make them care passionately about your cause. Always remember that this somebody could well have been you. 

Michael Smout is head of marketing at the Family Holiday Association – a charity dedicated to providing short breaks and day trips for families coping with issues such as severe and long-term illness, bereavement, mental health issues, disability and domestic violence. 


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