CDE project 10 sec­tion 4 part 4: the organisation’s cul­ture, capac­i­ty and experience

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 24, 2017

Creating a positive experience for legacy donors or for those enquiring about becoming such donors requires a much wider contribution and understanding from the organisation. From the top to the very bottom of an organisation, legacy fundraising needs three factors to be in place:

  1. Permission, authority and leadership to engage and embrace legacies rather than simply relying on the legacy department
  2. Messages and positioning that demonstrate the organisation needs, wants and appreciates legacies
  3. Systems, processes and training to empower people to act, respond to donors and support the experience 

In their 2003 AFP report on Planned Giving ‘Identification, Death and Bequest Giving”, Adrian Sargent and Jen Shang wrote that legacy donors want to see three things in an organisation to ensure continued support.

  1. Performance professionalism
  2. Communication quality
  3. Programme quality 

Donors expect to see organisations fulfil all three aspects. The donor’s experience and relationship is usually with the cause, followed by the organisation, and this organisational relationship, trust and belonging must not be underestimated. It is important this is understood by the entire organisation. As an analogy, when a consumer engages with a well-known department store, the purchase may involve the on-line experience, the store experience and the warehouse experience. The consumer sees one body, not three. This must be the same for the donor and fundraising, particularly with regard to legacies, if the experience is to cut through. Damage a relationship carelessly and you damage the potential gift.

Much of the solution to this challenge is leadership; organisational, department and team wide, and personal. But leadership can only operate if it understands and engages with the problem. This is true of any problem, and is no less true for legacies. For leaders to lead in the field of legacies, they must:

  1. Understand the nature, importance and value of legacies
  2. Determine the climate and culture of an organisation so legacies can thrive
  3. Have the right strategy
  4. Be clear about how to measure progress
  5. Have the right people in place to deliver

Organisations that want to create long-term legacy income must focus on the human exchange, behaviour and experience backed up by investment, strategy and a crafted and understood proposition for legacies that resonates with the donor by inspiring and uplifting. 

One of the areas with which legacies resonate is a hopeful future. Donors want a positive, optimistic outcome and one of the areas with which this is most in synch is the purpose and vision of the charity. Curing cancer resonates with a legacy message of a world in which people don’t suffer from cancer through the mechanism of a gift in a donor’s will. Organisations can build a strong platform for legacies through their messages and through their greatest asset, their people. This extends to influencing supporters – both known and unknown. The closest example is the characteristics of the brand, the purpose and the values of a charity and how they are brought to life through services, behaviour and activity. It is the same for legacies, and building a legacy-friendly and legacy-ready message and experience can add huge value to reaching out, engaging and inspiring donors to leave a gift.

Some examples of strong legacy propositions are:

  1. Cancer Research – Write an end to cancer – Leave a gift in your will
  2. WaterAid – Leave a world with water
  3. Red Cross – Leave a gift of compassion and hope
  4. Age UK – Leave a world less lonely with a gift in your will to Age UK

At the NSPCC, when we first explored ways to help all staff engage in legacies, we found that there were three things staff needed to have in place to be able to have a legacy conversation with anyone.

This insight is at the heart of how to make an organisation legacy-friendly and to create the environment in which it becomes normal, and in which donors can see and feel that their legacies matter. To support a positive organisational culture, the following principles and actions have been identified: 

1. Legacy messaging and positioning should show that the entire organisation values legacies and the donors who are considering them

  • If the experience of considering a legacy gift feels like it is an unusual one, or is not understood by parts of the organisations with which the donor may engage other than the legacy team, then the potential for the gift is less likely and, more importantly, the donor is more likely to resist engaging
  • If legacy messages are restricted to legacy pages, it restricts the process of a donor considering a gift
  • Sensitivity to the legacy subject prevents donor engagement - organisations have a responsibility to address this barrier by promoting a positive experience

2. Charities should support efforts to ‘normalise’ legacies by the way in which they behave with staff, how they talk to and behave towards the public and partners, and via active contribution to the sector

  • Normalising legacies is a strategy that supports growth in the market, is good for the organisation in that it helps donors to engage, and which is ultimately good for the donor. Organisations need to recognise that they can play a part in helping to create the atmosphere and environment
  • Practical ways to do this would be to ensure all staff are briefed, trained and engaged, and have a process in place to help donors with whom they engage to consider leaving a gift in  their wills

3. Belonging to and contributing to Remember a Charity helps to create an internal atmosphere of acceptance and normality concerning legacies, as well as engaging a wider audience. 

  • Donors like to see charities working together, and charities can leverage engagement through being seen as part of a wider campaign
  • Contributing to the wider campaign provides practical internal opportunities to engage supporters in a helpful way, and creates content to engage staff  

4. Trustees should take responsibility for engaging and understanding legacy fundraising, and should be able to support the donor experience by engaging with the organisation’s legacy programme and supporting the charity by leaving a gift in their wills.

  • Leadership and acceptance by the governing body help to set the tone for how legacies are delivered and received by donors
  • Public support for legacies and a positive experience will be enhanced 

5. Organisations should measure the donor experience of legacies via a net promoter score collected as part of the legacy programme

  • Donors’ experiences, if sought, send a signal that the experience matters
  • Leadership can set the tone that experience is important, and can establish a positive culture and climate, as well as the conditions to strive for improvement
  • Measurement is focused on a good and positive experience, and the systems and processes resulting from this provides a further opportunity to engage supporters

6. The legal and probate processes of a legacy gift should closely follow or be part of the gift process in order for donors have the same experience of giving, recognition and gratitude.

  • Organisations that spilt the marketing and legacy admin (probate) can potentially create a disconnect in experience for the donor and family that can undermine the joy of giving
  • Donors require service and support in a consistent way that is in line with their view of the charity

7. All staff should have a basic understanding of the needs of legacy donors during induction to help to create a legacy environment in which donors are valued.

  • Donors can engage with various parts of an organisation during legacy consideration, such as finance, communications, legal and fundraising.
  • Having joined-up understanding and empathy can improve the experience at all touch points
  • During the journey, involve and engage staff in legacies to emphasise that everyone plays a part in making the donor feel good and valued.

Click on the image below to view project 10 in full - PDF format.

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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