Digital legacy fundraising for small charities

  • Many large charities rely on legacies to make up a significant proportion of their voluntary income
  • Small charities should think about legacy fundraising as part of their fundraising portfolio
  • We look at examples of how large and medium-sized charities ask for gifts in wills on their websites

Legacies make up a significant portion of many charities’ voluntary income.

Cancer Research UK, for example, says legacies pay for a third of its research. In 2016/17, the charity’s legacy income was £187m.

These large organisations generally have a team dedicated to managing and asking for legacies. They have marketing budgets and have tested out the best way to communicate with potential donors.

People are motivated to leave money to organisations that have been important in their lives – such as places of worship, community centres, arts venues or hospices. Small charities, which are often at the heart of communities, are therefore in a particularly good place to ask for legacies – however many don’t.

A gentle request can often be the catalyst to action.

Here, we look at some of the best practice used by large charities in their legacy web pages, and the lessons smaller charities can learn from these examples.

Be clear and persuasive

What is your mission and purpose? How will a legacy help you to deliver your goals? What impact will it have?

Be clear about the difference a legacy will make. You have to build trust and confidence. Potential donors need to believe that you will still be operating when they die and will spend their money wisely.

For example, Save the Children UK uses clear and inspiring headings – Write a child’s smile into your will – with important words highlighted in bold. It also uses beautiful pictures of smiling children to reinforce its words, and the writing is confident, concise and persuasive.

Use social proofing

Campaigns like Remember a Charity week help to promote legacy giving as something everyone can do. Many charities reinforce this message in their copy. For example, The Migraine Trust makes a clear statement that “a gift of just 1% will make a real difference to supporting our charitable work”.

Many charities use phrases such as “thousands of people who leave a legacy” or “thanks to people like you”. This idea of encouraging people to follow a course of action by demonstrating how others are doing the same – in this case leaving money to charity – is known as social proofing.

Tell a story

A story about your work can help to share your impact. For example:

Think about a hook

What could make your legacy fundraising connect with someone? What stories do you have to tell? Has a legacy gift allowed you to do something special or unusual? Did your organisation start because of a legacy?

Take a look at Mencap and Leonard Cheshire, who celebrate their founders.

Include practical information

Make it as easy as possible for someone to include you in their will. Practical information includes:

  • Information about different types of gifts (see the Family Holiday Association’s page)
  • Your official name (and any previous names) and charity number
  • Suggested wording
  • Information to help someone work out the detail of their estate
  • Information for executors
  • Contact details
  • A Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page

Say please and thank you and include images

Choosing to leave a legacy to a charity is a big deal. The fact that someone is reading your page is a good sign. Keep them with you by recognising this. Say please and thank you in the right places.

If you come across as kind and thoughtful at the asking stage, it will reassure people that you will behave in the same way when you are processing their gift.

You could also brighten up a serious subject with colourful or inspiring images. Reward visitors to this page and make them want to stay.

A collection of several images may work better than a single one. For example, this landing page for the British Heart Foundation includes images of family and medical research as well as a big thank you.

Many legacy web pages include stock images of grey-haired couples. However, it is important to remember that the decision to write a will is often triggered by big life events, such as getting married or having children, so your audience isn’t just people in the later stages of their lives.