Yes, you probably do need a Gifts in Wills programme (and no, it’s not as hard as it looks)


The latest sector buzz is all about supercharging Gifts in Wills

There are foundations to every charity fundraising strategy that help us continue to deliver the amazing work that helps our beneficiaries day in and day out. Many charities will have an individual giving programme, apply for grants and build relationships with corporate partners and major donors. Gifts in Wills should be there too, but due to their long-term nature and a nervousness about how to integrate them into a fundraising strategy, time and time again charities state that they are unsure where to start embedding Gifts in Wills. And yet there seems to be increasing chatter in the sector about Gifts in Wills being the next big opportunity to step into. Some voices are nervous – should we have been doing this already; some bold – this will triple our income within ten years; some dismissive – this won’t work for us because… but whatever the tone, it’s worth saying that Gifts in Wills seem to be the buzz term on everyone’s lips.

Is a Gifts in Wills programme right for my charity?

The good news is that Gifts in Wills programmes can work for all charities, no matter your cause area or size. There’s always an opportunity to promote this important type of giving; the trick is finding what will resonate with your donors and how to fit Gifts in Wills into your fundraising portfolio. Central to succeeding is to try and understand what encourages our donors to take this step and remember us in this way. There’s no one size fits all. Gifts in Wills can be integrated into other areas in the charity if you have an established fundraising strategy, but the tone and proposition need to flex to talk about Gifts in Wills in a unique way.

Why do Gifts in Wills merit a bespoke approach? This is a different type of giving to anything else in your strategy. Gifts in Wills are less transactional than general giving, and far more personal. Reading someone’s Will – understanding the very core of a person, how they wanted to be remembered, and what they wished to leave behind to all those they loved – is an honour. If your charity is mentioned alongside those who the supporter cherished as their nearest and dearest, then you can consider yourself very lucky. To receive such a gift is humbling and extraordinary. And our donors need to be approached when we talk about this kind of giving in their lifetime with a tone that recognises this.

Top tips for starting your Gifts in Wills programme

So where do you begin if you would like to promote Gifts in Wills in your organisation? These top tips offer pointers to get you off the starting blocks.

1 – Do an audit of what you have, what you need and the gap between the two

The best place to start with any programme is to do an audit of what you already have. Ask yourself the following questions: What do your donors need? What do you already have? What don’t you have that would meet a donor need? Find the gaps and work back from there. You may find there are opportunities that act as quick wins to share your Gifts in Wills message.The outcome of this audit will depend on your size and your available resources.

If you’re a small charity then you probably don’t need the Mercedes Benz of programmes to be set up. If small charities seek to replicate what they see the larger charities doing without necessarily stepping back and asking if it’s right for them, this can be wasteful. Instead of looking outwards at the big charities and potentially doing something costly and ineffective for your donor base, it’s important to turn your gaze inwards.

Larger charities will have the space and the donor base numbers to be more experimental; to look at what can be established to tap into your donor needs and match the brilliant noise your brand and marketing teams will be making about your cause. Don’t be afraid to talk openly about Gifts in Wills and invest in plugging gaps in understanding with qualitative and quantitative research. Take a brave line in how you speak about Gifts in Wills to socialise to your audience that this is an area of importance to your charity, and one they should take notice of.

2 – Split your goals to help prioritise

When you first set down your Gifts in Wills priorities, you’ll probably have a big wishlist in front of you. It’s easy to be overwhelmed when looking at the gaps in your programme and how to wish to fill them, alongside looking at the more aspirational goals you wish to achieve.

The first step is to set out your strategy to include quick wins whilst keeping an eye on longer term projects that will need setting up to take you further. A balanced mix will help you to learn in the moment whilst you build for future success. Quick wins are often things within your control, such as adding tick boxes to existing mailings, making updates to your website or creating a simple mailing to go to your existing database. Longer term goals often involve interdependencies and may include research, setting up journeys for your donors to go on once they are engaged, or creating a suite of assets to use in your marketing.

It’s also helpful to sense-check what size you think these projects may be. A quick win may still be a sizeable chunk of staff time, whereas a longer term project may be easy to deliver but just further down the priority list due to urgency. There are tools to help you make these decisions; sizing your projects will give you the clarity of what you’re taking on; an urgency/importance grid can help you to decide which projects are the most pressing. Taking a step back to assign priorities can help take the sting out of your long to do list and also provide a form of structure to your strategy.

3 – The sooner you start, the sooner you will begin to learn

It can be really easy to procrastinate when you start thinking about Gifts in Wills. Although the pointers in step two are important to give you a start point, many charities spend a huge amount of time talking and thinking, and coming up with on paper strategies that are water tight – but fail to take the very first step into delivery. Yes, it’s important to have your strategy set up but don’t stay in this safe theoretical space. Once you have something concrete to act on, take it to market quickly, so you can begin to get a read from your donors as to how this message is landing.

One of the trickiest things about proving the worth of investment in Gifts in Wills is the length of time from marketing through to receiving the gift and the challenge with proving through data that the one influences the other. It’s something we’re getting better at in the sector but we still lack benchmarks consistently used to demonstrate effectiveness. Once you start marketing and capturing your own data, you will learn what is working in a test environment specific to your cause and donor base so you can quickly iterate and strengthen your ask. Don’t put off learning any longer – the sooner you start putting comms out and assessing their impact, the sooner you learn what works, and how to improve it.

4 – Content is King

With so many emerging voices in the market, you need to be able to differentiate yourself from your competitors. A trap charities can fall into is talking about Gifts in Wills without having anything in particular to say. Thinking that, as this is the next big area of growth and they hear how important it is, saying anything is better than saying nothing. Yet research shows that personal relevance plays a big role in the decision making for Gifts in Wills, so you need to talk specifically about why your cause needs Gifts in Wills and what unique impact they will have for your beneficiaries. Because personal relevance helps with decision making, the likelihood is that your potential donors already have you or your cause area on their radar. So what will tip them into consideration? The content you can share to demonstrate the impact their gift could have.

This is an opportunity in itself! You get to curate your own content; tell compelling stories, invite donors to look under the hood and see what makes your organisation work. It is a great excuse to get in touch with donors who have already left a gift and ask them to share their story, or get a testimonial from a trustee. What is important is telling your charity’s story, stating how Gifts in Wills will make a difference for your cause, not just talking generally about Gifts in Wills.

5 – It’s a relationship, not a transaction

Gifts in Wills marketing is all about understanding our donors. Fundraisers are the channel between the donor who wishes to give, and the charity that they love and wish to support. There are marketing tools and techniques you will need to employ in order to effectively reach your donor base, but at its heart, a Gifts in Wills programme is relationship fundraising. Treating our donors as friends, being sensitive to their needs and really trying to help them feel that their gift will have an impact once they have gone. Average legacy donations often eclipse what charities receive from a Major Donor, and yet often charities treat Gifts in Wills as a transactional mass marketing programme rather than an engagement approach.

One sure-fire way to understand what your donors may be feeling about Gifts in Wills is to go through the process of making or updating your own Will. If you haven’t yet done this you may be surprised at how it feels to undertake the task. It is a mix of tedious admin and deep soul searching. Stepping back and thinking how you want to be remembered, and who you wish to remember in your own Will is a thoughtful and often emotional process. You think about who you love, how you wish for them to be looked after. You consider sentimental possessions, and the loved ones you wish to pass them onto. You will think about the charities you admire; maybe ones you have worked for, or causes that you are truly passionate about, and maybe consider leaving something to them in your Will. And right there, in that moment, you are in your donor mindset.

AskRIGHT associate consultant Fi Riley is based in Auckland. A creative and strategic fundraising leadership specialist, Fi has 17 years of experience in the none profit sector working for organisations such as Save the Children and the British Heart Foundation, and she has a strong track record in delivering fundraising and marketing strategies, specialising in Gifts in Wills. If you are interested in talking to her about how AskRIGHT could help you to develop your Gifts in Wills strategy then please get in touch today.