Tap into funding from legacies and gifts in wills

23 October 2019
Author: Jon Jacques

Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are the wealthiest generation that there’s ever been and possibly ever will be in the UK.

As they begin to pass awayin ever greater numbers, this cohort presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity forcharitable causes. The aim is to inspire supporters with powerful impact messages that show how a gift in a will can change the lives of its beneficiaries.

As a legacy fundraiser, I recently had the privilege of launching a new television advert and digital campaign that will reach hundreds of thousands of baby boomers across the country. And as a partner in Will Aid, who will refer them to local solicitors, I appreciate that I’m in something of a rarefied position.

However, there are things that NGOs with significantly less resources at their disposal can do to ensure that they also receive a slice of the legacy pie. Smee and Ford estimate that legacies were worth more than £3 billion in the UK in 2018, shared by more than 10,000 charities.

Develop your legacy message

For me, the key building block that a charity of any size can develop is its core message of what a gift in a will can achieve if left to their cause. Ideally this will be as distilled and emotive as possible to build a connection that touches the heart of a supporter or potential supporter. Some examples that I have been proud to develop include leaving a vulnerable child someone to turn to for Barnardo’s and writing a child’s future into your will for Save the Children.

If you’re able, it’s always worth substantiating the proposition in a supporter’s head with the financial impact of legacies, such as their current contribution to your charity’s work. An example of this is “£1 in every £4 we receive from our supporters comes from gift in wills”, which we used at British Red Cross. It helpedstaff and volunteers, as well as key stakeholders and trustees, to feel comfortable including legacy conversations within their work.

Get your legacy message out

There are many cost-effective ways to share your legacy message that does not require significant budget. The key question to ask yourself is “who is the core audience you want to reach?”

The best place to start is always your existing supporter base, especially if you’ve never talked to them about gifts in wills before. Don’t assume that they already know they can support your work in this way, as currently only 6.3% of wills include a charitable bequest.

There is no doubt that response rates from direct mail, telephone and email are in decline across the sector. It’s worth knowing, then, that the effectiveness of legacy campaigns isn’t measured solely in terms of supporters telling you their intentions, which you will usually track as a legacy pledger, intender or enquirer. 

Recent statistics from Legacy Foresight show that although 15% of gifts came from supporters who we knew had legacy intentions, 35% came from supporters that were on our fundraising databases who we did not. Legacy communications need to be understood both in terms of their value in broadcasting a legacy message as much as for their response. After all, many people won’t share what’s in their wills with their own families, never mind charitable causes.


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Legacy Foresight’s statistics also show that around 50% of our legacy gifts come from people who were previously “unknown” to the charity, though many will have been volunteers, have had a family connection or donated goods to shops. This explains why so many charities – 18 in 2018, spending more than £15m between them – now use TV to broadcast their legacy messages.

Obviously, this is well beyond the means of most charities. But the use of film, which is a hugely engaging and influential medium for sharing stories about the impact of legacy gifts, is not closed to your cause. Social media and other digital channels offer an affordable and scalable opportunity to get your message out to Boomers (don’t let anyone tell you that they are not online). You can also use targeted social media advertising to reach your target audience.

By far the most engaging way to stimulate conversations about gifts in wills is to bring supporters together in person at an event to hear your legacy message first hand. They can hear from the people delivering your work or those who have themselves left a gift. Events can be inexpensive, especially if you’re able to use your own premises.

Given that legacies come from right across the social spectrum, invite the most engaged supporters, identified both by their tenure of involvement and the multiple ways that they support your cause, rather than solely the financial valueof the potential legacy.

The biggest ever wealth transfer

I hope that my blog helps to initiate or develop your legacy programme. The challenge presented by the passing of the Baby Boomer generation – often referred to as the biggest ever wealth transfer – is an opportunity for the whole sector to collaborate.

Currently, a charitable will contains legacies for an average of three charities. If you are able to inspire someone to consider leaving a gift in their will to your cause, there is every chance that they will also include other NGOs too. And vice versa.

About the author

Jon Jacques
Save the Children

Jon joined Save the Children in October 2017 where he leads both legacy income and marketing teams and is focused on enhancing the acquisition, regional and will-writing aspects of the charity’s legacy strategy.