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Recently I’ve been teaching my eldest daughter to ride her bike. It’s been quite a journey, one which we’re not quite at the end of yet.

Two and a half years ago for her 4th birthday we thought it would be a good idea to get her a bike. I should have got a sense of her interest in the idea when she promptly fell asleep on the way to the bike shop and failed to wake up despite our best efforts. Still, we persevered with the idea and bought a nice purple bike, together with obligatory Hello Kitty helmet.

In my naivety I assumed we’d be straight out on the bike that day and by Christmas I’d be taking the stabilisers off and proudly standing back as my first born sped off into the distance.

The reality has been more like this:

Sit on the bike and get frustrated that the pedals won’t turn…end up pushing bike until back aches, getting frustrated that she can’t get the hang of the pedals…get bored with the bike for several months…get back on the bike and gradually get used to pedalling on her own…get frustrated that she can’t ride uphill or when the stabilisers get stuck and spin the wheels…get bored of bike for several months…get back on bike a bit more confident now she can pedal that bit better…falls off bike now scared to go back on bike…get bored of bike for several more months…and so on and so on.

In fact it’s taken all this time until we’re finally at a place where my daughter is ready and confident to learn how to ride her bike. It has had to be on her terms. She now wants to go out at weekends to practice and has even suggested for the first time that we take the stabilisers off and try balancing without them. And one day soon she’ll be off on her own and I’ll be teaching daughter number two (well maybe not just yet).

Drip feed your legacy message

If you’ve been involved in legacy fundraising for any length of time you will probably be familiar with the term ‘drip your legacy message’. It’s a lot like the story of teaching my daughter to ride her bike. You can’t go diving in at the deep end asking people to leave you a legacy when you’ve not taken them on a journey first.

This idea is rooted in a theory of behaviour change first developed by Dr Prochaska.

Studies have shown that people move through a series of stages when deciding to change their behaviour. From pre-awareness of an idea, to contemplation, preparation, action and finally maintenance. At each stage there will be different motivations and barriers that will help move people along the cycle, and therefore it is important to develop tailored interventions to help progress people along the journey.

Let’s consider this from the perspective of leaving a legacy to charity.

Legacy stages of behaviour change

legacy cycle

The purpose of drip feeding our message is to gradually help people move through these stages of consideration until they are at a place where they are ready to take action. It is important to remember there is another step – active rejection – which can be taken at any stage of this journey.

At this point it is also really important to state that drip feeding your message isn’t about a constant barrage of communications until people relent and agree to the idea.

Instead it is an ongoing conversation with your supporters which should be tailored according to the actions or triggers which reveal their stage of consideration. This means being donor centred and giving them what they want and need, rather than what you want.

In order to do this well, you need some level of knowledge about their stage of consideration and to segment your supporters accordingly. A good approach is to offer regular, simple opportunities for your supporters to reveal their intentions, without being overly pushy or intrusive. The important bit is getting a true reflection of their opinion rather than what you want to hear. You can also segment people according to life stages, which can be a helpful indication of where they are on the legacy cycle.

Once you know these stages, you can develop suitable messaging which addressed their specific need and barriers and helps to move them along their journey to a legacy gift.

Exercise: tailoring your messaging

Try writing the following headings on a flip chart:

  1. Stage of consideration
  2. Needs / barriers
  3. Example messaging
  4. Channels

Under each heading list the different elements that you will need to consider and try and think of different messages that might help someone in that situation. Once you do this for each stage you can use this information to shape your communications plan and map out how you can take your supporters through theor journey towards a legacy gift.

For example, for the first stage of consideration, Precontemplation your recordings could look like the following lists. You can then repeat this process for each of the stages in the cycle.

1. Stage : Pre contemplation

I’ve never thought about it and am not ready to make a decision yet.

2. Needs / Barriers

  • I don’t understand what a legacy is.
  • I may never have thought about writing a Will.
  • I need slowly warming up to the idea.
  • I don’t want to think about my impending death.
  • Ask me too frequently and I’ll avoid the issue.
  • Ask me too soon and you may put me off altogether.

3. Example Messaging

  • Simple messages that raise awareness of legacy giving, without a call to action. Non direct and non-threatening.
  • Examples of everyday people leaving a legacy – show it is a normal thing to do.
  • “As an independent charity we rely on volunteers, donations and gifts in Wills.”
  • “Without the generosity of people leaving a Gift in their Will, much of our work would be impossible.”
  • “Did you know, half of our services are made possible thanks to the generosity of people leaving a gift in their Will?”

4. Channels

  • Website
  • Social media
  • Email footers
  • Newsletter articles
  • Talks
  • Information leaflets
  • Annual reports