CDE project 10 sec­tion 5: the lega­cy mar­ket­ing, fundrais­ing and influ­ence method and experience

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 23, 2017

As described in the first section of this report, the history of legacy marketing has largely been driven by the focus on revealing intent. The reality is that the majority of legacy gifts are made without revealing intent in life. We have indicated reasons that this focus may actually drive engagement away rather than encourage openness.

Our need to measure has focused on the pledge. But, as described in the introduction, if we are to increase gifts through better and more donor-focused experiences, we need to deliver better tools to make this possible. How donors are inspired and engaged regarding legacies impacts directly on their willingness to consider this as an option and turn thought into action. 

We are now seeing a new form of legacy fundraising. This involves creating a more integrated experience, with a strong proposition, and many different channels and ways of reaching supporters, ranging from TV to face-to-face encounters and everything in between. Donors want to be engaged and inspired but, when it comes to legacies, we must add ‘informed’. This is a difficult combination and requires a longer term view instead of relying on the immediate fix of a pledge. Digital is a perfect medium for this approach, allowing supporters to engage, exchange and explore without the pressure of commitment 

The challenge here is to provide an alternative set of measures. The 5 Cs model, devised by the author (Stephen George) and based on the more traditional enquiries and pledger’s language was tested at the NSPCC; it has subsequently been used by a range of charities and was published in Legacy Fundraising – Third Edition Edited by Sebastian Wilberforce and from DSC. The 5 Cs are as follows:

a. Connection – we recognise that we engage with a wider audience and use this to influence a legacy ‘brand’ and message

b. Conversation – when people elect to engage and can be contacted again

c. Consideration – when people consider actively by enquiring, or taking information, or expressing interest

d. Commitment – when people state they intend to leave a gift but haven’t yet

e. Completion – when people state they have already left a gift in their wills.

This approach recognises the need to be more deliberate in measuring the wider set of measures - in reality, this is where donors are and how they behave. This approach balances the wider process from long-term consideration to action, and reflects Prochaska’s change model. To enhance the experience, we must measure donors’ actions and behaviour in terms of where they are instead of adopting a narrow, singular view. 

In addition, we need to embrace donor-friendly language. This can play a major part in the donor experience and has been the subject of debate for many years. In Relationship Fundraising, Ken Burnett said

One aspect of wills, bequests and legacies charities that can influence the better is the terminology. It’s an area full arcane words and phrases such as legato, residuary, codicils, executors and so on. We have even contributed by introducing terms of our own such as pledging, which isn’t a very user-friendly concept or at least doesn’t sound as if it is. If fundraisers are to promote legacies widely, perhaps we should re-examine the language we use to make it more appropriate to what the donors want to hear.
The search for the appropriate language is crucial for establishing a social norm and helping donors to engage, and it is likely that we have not gone far enough. For some charities, language is still not widely considered by the wider sector. We need to make a further shift from internal, technical and alienating language, to language, references and words that are in tune with the donors and that we would be happy and content to share with them openly. 

This is true of legacy communications, whether the aim is to identify a new legacy gift or to nurture and support an enquiry, or even a family that is going through the probate process. The language must create more recognition of the donor’s intents and circumstances. In the study Will it work? 2013 An analysis of Legacy advertising by charities in 2012/13, the context in which it has to work and an assessment of future prospects of problems in attracting legacies, the author Andrew Papworth concluded:

Legacy communications need to be friendlier, with strong incentives to respond promising more recognition to legators and their families, ensuring more awareness of the concerns of the potential legato.

If language is to play a part, so must some of the basics of stewardship, such as saying thank you and being able to engage honestly. In the AFP report on Planned Giving ‘Identification, Death and Bequest Giving” written by Adrian Sargent and Jen Shang, they shared some findings from Dame Green who, in the 2003 15-year study on non-profits, wrote the following:

  1. Donors who received a letter asking them directly for a request were 17 times more likely to give a bequest than were donors who were not asked
  2. Donors who were thanked gave twice as much as those who were not thanked
  3. Those who were cultivated (notes, letters, visits and so on) after the thank you gave three to four times as much
  4. Less than one donor in 14 had informed the charity that they had named is as a beneficiary in a will

In his 2014 study to uncover the right legacy messages, Professor Russell James, professor at the Department of Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech University, discovered a series of findings relating to both language and stories to engage donors in a way that resonated with them directly. Here are the key findings summarised from the report:

  1. Use family words (stories and simple words), not formal words
  2. Use social examples/norms
  3. Tell life stories of planned bequest donors
  4. Talk about benefits – in the right way
  5. Ask about family/friends’ connections to the cause and give the option of a tribute gift in the will
  6. Tell life stories of donors whose plans include tribute gifts
  7. Keep communicating with older donors 

Results from 20 survey groups including nearly 10,000 total participants collected during 2013 and 2014 with one goal: To uncovering the messages and phrases that work to encourage planned giving Theory Results Action

In the paper entitled We the living: The effects of living and deceased donor stories on charitable bequest giving intentions, Professor James, working with UK Legacy Giving expert Claire Routely, presented some findings concerning specifics about stories in legacies. In Claire’s words (on her blog,

We used an online survey asking people to rate their intention to give to various charities. We then asked them to read stories about people who were leaving legacies. The stories were framed so the donor was either alive (i.e. someone who had recently signed a will leaving a legacy), or dead (i.e. someone who had died and left a legacy), although in either case the donor was the same. After reading the stories, participants were asked about their likelihood of leaving a legacy. There was also a control group who weren’t given any stories.
Donors who had read any stories – whether the donor was alive or dead – expressed a greater interest in leaving a bequest than those who had read none. Those who had read stories about living people expressed a greater interest, as did those who read more stories about living people.

The summary of this reflection on legacy marketing and fundraising shows that we now have evidence to prove what was once simply instinct and understanding. Perhaps it takes evidence to prompt us to revert to the very things many know to be truths. 

Legacy Fundraisers reflected on a number of these dimensions in the survey and during this project, but ultimately supported the following seven factors that can directly influence the donors’ legacy experience through better legacy marketing and the shift to a more influence-based approach.

1. Ensure the organisation’s brand projects the organisation’s needs in a way that also reflects the needs and aspirations of the donors.

  • An organisational brand can often be an internal facing definition.  There needs to be language rooted in the donor and their experience first
  • It is particularly true that this needs to work for legacies - an organisational brand needs to embrace legacy messaging.

2. Build a programme of events and face-to-face opportunities that reflect the personal nature of the gift

  • Developing a marketing approach that offers donors the opportunity to meet face-to-face helps to inspire and engage them
  • The mere act of being invited can have far-reaching impacts on future legacy gifts
  • Encouraging face-to-face conversations enhances the style and approach of a donor-friendly legacy campaign

3. Incorporate and integrate legacy messages into all fundraising activities, channels and supporter journeys to demonstrate the need, the normality and the value of legacies

  • Incorporating legacy messages can help to normalise legacies
  •  This is often described as a ‘drip drip’ approach
  •  The aim is to reinforce legacy messaging and to influence and educate donors

4. Embrace technology as a key opportunity to inspire and engage donors in a positive way that supports donor engagement and builds relationships. 

  • Social media such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, amongst others, are the perfect medium on which to engage
  • Digital fundraising in an integrative way combining events, PR, telemarketing and other channels can greatly enhance experience
  • The use of mobile technology - smartphones are an opportunity waiting to be exploited
  • The use of television is increasing, particularly when supported by digital

5. Emphasise the donor’s life instead of the cause

  • In making a legacy gift, we need to emphasise and focus on the donor’s motivations
  • Organisations that are keen to share a problem and engage people with a solution forget to frame this in terms of the needs of the donor
  • A legacy gift is a reflection of a life led and being remembered – this must be reflected in the approach.

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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