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When talking to a charity fundraising director recently about getting trustees and other senior leaders on board with investing in legacies, she said: “Legacies is the equivalent of climate change. It’s so far ahead, people don’t want to invest in it.”

These challenges aren’t unique to her organisation. Despite legacy income in the UK being £4 billion and representing 15% of total income for the top 1,000 legacy charities, the focus in many organisations’ senior leadership teams and on trustee boards can still be that short-term income is king. And that’s understandable.


This mindset must shift to maximise potential

In my work, I focus on three senior stakeholder groups:

Heads of departments – the ‘INFLUENCERS’ – Your peers across the organisation who engage with supporters and beneficiaries. They need to see the ease of opening legacy conversations and be inspired with stories and the impact of a legacy ask.

Directors – the ‘DECISION MAKERS’ – Often time poor, focused on this year, and their 3-5 year strategy. They need data, and to know what decisions you want them to make. You need a director to be your champion.

Trusteesthe ‘GUARDIANS’ of your charity’s future – And potentially your greatest opportunity for long term legacy success. So, I’m going to focus here on this group.

Are your trustees championing your legacy strategy?

Trustees can be in post a long time when directors can come and go. The good ones are strategic and less distracted by in-year pressures. The best performing charities for legacies have trustees who understand the value of legacies and protect the long-term strategy from the temptation in tough years to turn it off. They want to be inspired by who leaves legacies, who benefits, and a future vision for your impact. They also want DATA.

The most powerful thing we present to trustees is a Marketing Evaluation — a long term forecast modelling decades into the future, with different scenarios for investment, growth and income returns in today’s value.

For many senior leaders, seeing this can be the lightbulb to ‘getting’ the value of legacies.

Trustee engagement – what does good look like?

It can be challenging to introduce the legacy conversation to the board table. This was a very cordial conversation I had when interviewing the Chair of a UK Top 100 charity:

Chair: “Legacy giving is essential to our long-term success.”

Me: “That’s great to hear. How often is legacy discussed at the board meeting?”

Chair: “Never.”

Contrast this to an insight project we recently delivered for Mencap. I interviewed 3 trustees and the CEO. We were then invited to present to the board, where they were fully engaged, and gave the green light for the legacy team to proceed with the strategy.

It’s not easy to engage trustees and you need to carefully work your way up the chain. I’d recommend conducting stakeholder interviews, to engage, involve and understand the needs of directors and trustees. And if you can turn trustees into your CHAMPIONS then your long-term legacy strategy will be in safe hands.

A thought: Just like UK governments protect pensions with the ‘Triple Lock’, is there an opportunity for trustees to be the ultimate protector of a long-term legacy strategy? Where legacy investment has ‘protected status’ that’s separated from in-year fundraising; and where only trustees can sanction changes to legacy spend?

Trustees don’t all think the same, so tailor your message accordingly

Like any audience, think about who you are presenting to, as trustees will often have their own area of specialism or experience. If you’re presenting to your treasurer, or the finance committee, then go heavy on the numbers. But, if it’s a trustee from a services background, you might lean into the additional services legacies could provide. If they’re from a marketing background, you might talk more about reach, share of voice and the brand benefit. Speak to their interests.

Of course, you will meet resistance along the way. Here are a few tips based on things I’ve heard…

#1: “£1 today is worth more to me than £5 in the future.”

It’s a reasonable point in a cost-of-living crisis and we can help counter this by showing charities the value of their future return in today’s value. Let’s look at it from a different perspective. I’ve got a pension and wish I’d started it earlier. I have never thought ‘Yes, but £1 today is worth more to me than £5 in the future’. When we start a pension it’s for an income that’s decades into the future. But we see legacy returns from successful charities in 5-7 years — so it’s not that far away.

#2: “If I ever need to convince trustees, I show them one slide from Legacy Foresight that tells them we get 12:1 for our legacy marketing spend.”

This is what Craig Fordham, Director of Legacies at Macmillan Cancer Support told me. Craig has lots of data and has been doing this a long time. But we know from our Legacy Marketing Benchmarks bi-annual research that charities earlier in their marketing journey can see bigger returns and a range of 10:1 – 16:1 is reasonable. And that’s in today’s value. So, next time you hear “I get £3 for every £1 I spend on regular giving”, remind them of the even more impressive ROI figures around legacy marketing.

Presenting to trustees

Trustees have limited time and lots to consider. They will be focused on numbers, outcomes and beneficiaries. Keep the following in mind when you get your moment in front of them:

What’s your vision? You don’t have long, so grab their attention from the start. You might link your legacy ambition to the charity’s strategic vision, eg “Imagine if we could deliver £XXX a year from legacies, and what that could enable us to do.”

What do you want them to do? Make it clear what decision you want them to make, and why now.

Where are we now? Explain with data why the market is growing (you can find plenty of statistics in our public briefings). Share your position and situation within that context.

Where do we want to get to? Ideally, include some modelling to provide the data decision makers seek to justify any decision. A Marketing Evaluation will show how much your investment will pay back in different investment and growth scenarios.

How do we plan to get there? This is a strategic case for spend not a tactical plan, but you might still want to give a sense of priority actions to make this happen.

What are the risks and how do we mitigate them? It’s not just obvious risks like market fluctuations and in-year income pressures from other channels; it’s also the risk of not investing; or turning the tap off.

What does success look like? There are ‘hard indicators’, like % increase in value and volume, and numbers of pledgers and enquirers. But also softer ‘leading indicators’, such as the engagement of pledgers, considerers and colleagues, which you could benchmark over time with annual surveys.

Don’t underestimate KPIs! For all the vision and data modelling, legacy marketing still requires a leap of faith, and sometimes, senior stakeholders may wobble. It’s paramount you set clear, measurable KPIs you can report against. So, when the question is asked “Do we need to spend that amount?” you’ve got clear evidence to keep everyone on track.

What next? It can be easy to forget what happens after the trustees agree with your proposal. The best strategies are often trailed in advance, so that the final decision is more a formality. Make sure you’re ready to give at least the first 3 priorities to delivering your strategy.

Five key take outs

#1 Find your champion on the senior leadership team/board – Successful legacy charities have a champion at the highest level.

#2 Identify your senior stakeholders and what they need from you – Heads of departments and directors are important, but for long term success, look to your trustees.

#3 Think short, medium, and long term – £1 today vs £5 in the future isn’t an easy one to navigate but there is evidence you can bring to your case.

#4 Use data to build your case, and a vision to inspire – Data helps create the roadmap of where you’ve been and where you could go. Inspire with stories of pledgers and beneficiaries.

#5 Legacy and climate change are both about the future – But future returns for legacy investment can be 5-7 years away, and that’s not that far off.

A final thought …

I was thinking about the example of governments committing to the pensions “Triple Lock”. Is there also a case for separating legacy giving from regular giving? To allocate it a special space where spend and strategy is given protected status as a long-term investment, rather than an in-year voluntary income channel? In other words, legacies are separated from the fundraising team to remove the temptation to reduce legacy investment because of in-year income pressures. A debate for another day, maybe…?