If there are two things the British public tend to be most reluctant to discuss, it’s death and money. Bearing in mind that both are core components of a legacy gift, you can understand why many fundraisers, chief executives and trustees – even those who are entirely comfortable talking about large financial gifts – can still be reticent to discuss gifts in wills with their supporters.
While legacy conversations do need to be handled sensitively, we certainly shouldn’t be afraid of them. Legacies are an opportunity to shape the world beyond our lifetime and give people a chance to make sure the causes they care about are supported well into the future It’s this iconcept that we’re promoting during Remember A Charity week from11-17 September, 2017.
Ultimately this means that those of us in the sector must not shy away from such conversations, but shift the lens, so the focus is clearly on the impact of legacy giving.
One example is the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Until four years ago, the trust avoided promoting legacies because it was deemed too sensitive given that the charity’s beneficiaries face a life-shortening condition. But in the past four years, the trust has found that having potentially awkward conversations has not only enabled it to attract more legacy pledges than in the previous 50 years, it has also opened up discussions with its beneficiaries about other ways it can support them.
Five ways to make the most of legacy fundraisingRead more
This year, during the sector’s most ambitious legacy awareness campaign yet, we’re bringing more than 190 charities together to shine a spotlight on gifts in wills.
Charities and their supporters will take to the airwaves with Last Pirate FM – a dedicated radio station fronted by former Radio Caroline DJ Emperor Rosko – to inspire baby boomers around the country to think about legacy giving.
Gifts in wills are the biggest source of voluntary funding, worth more than £2.5bn a year - the equivalent of 25 Comic Relief appeals. Charities have become increasingly reliant on legacies. One third of Cancer Research UK’s work and as many as six in 10 RNLI lifeboat launches are funded by legacies. For smaller organisations, gifts in wills can be fundamental in securing the charity’s future work.
In 2015, there was a 10% rise in the number of charities being named in wills, as charities become more confident about promoting legacy giving. But we can still do better. Although a third of the public say that they would be happy to include a charity in their will, only about 6% of people do so. We estimate that just a 4% increase in charitable bequests could raise an additional £1bn a year for the sector.
Writing a will isn’t a job you’ll relish, but it is a matter of life and deathRead more
To achieve this, we must come to terms with the need to talk about death. There is no avoiding it. Death is one of life’s certainties and, like any other major life event, it’s something people need to plan for.
It’s important to be open and answer supporters’ questions. Some people will find these type of conversations more difficult than others. It’s important to listen and take a steer from what people are comfortable talking about. Like anything else, the more you engage, the easier it gets.
Charities need to avoid giving legal advice. Always refer supporters to an independent adviser for that. But you can enourage people to plan ahead.
And while legacies are a serious issue, it doesn’t mean you can’t take a lighter approach. We often use humour to break down barriers when talking about death and estate planning. It can be a good way to diffuse potentially emotionally-charged situations. Conversations can also be started online. There’s a feeling that digital communications may not be right for talking about wills, but with one in four people over 65 using social networking sites, digital communications can be very effective.
Legacy conversations aren’t always easy, but in our experience, people are more willing to talk than you might think. If we get more of these conversations started, we will see the benefits for decades to come.
Rob Cope is the director of Remember a Charity.
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