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Not many people know this, but before life as a legacy fundraiser, I studied for a degree in Biology at the University of Leeds.

I loved studying Biology. Of all the sciences, to me it was the most tangible and really got my interest. Unlike quantum theory, you can see and touch and smell and taste Biology. And it didn’t mess with my head the way Chemistry and Physics did. I mean of course Schrödinger’s cat was dead – he locked it in a box for goodness sake!

I loved how diverse it was. I got to study zoology, cell biology, molecular genetics, parasitology, I even spent a summer identifying grass species (it’s all about the hairy auricles).

And it’s really weird the things I remember, from over 15 years ago. For example, I know that this cow is a Holstein-Fresian.

It’s a variety that we’ve all seen a hundred times and would be the one a child would draw if you asked them to. It’s such a common sight right across the UK and Europe because it is quite literally a milk machine.

Did you know, the average Holstein-Fresian can produce 7655 litres of milk a year – that’s 22,500 tall skinny lattes, or 38,275 flat whites for all you hipsters out there.

So why all this talk about cows?

Because I’ve been reading a book called the Purple Cow by Seth Godin and I’ve learnt 2 lessons from reading this that are really relevant to us legacy fundraisers.

The idea for this book comes from a holiday to France that Seth took with his family a few years ago. To start with they were enchanted by the picturesque scenery and ‘storybook’ cows grazing in every field they drove past. But after a while, they got used to their new bovine friends and even stopped noticing them – after they’d seen a few of these new cows they became less remarkable. Boring in fact. Familiarity did indeed breed contempt.

But a Purple Cow, he thought – now that would be interesting. For a while.

The book goes on to explain that in a world saturated in advertising, we can become familiar and bored with the same old look a like products. Businesses that thrive are the ones that are remarkable – that stand out from the crowd.

Well I want to take this illustration in a slightly different direction.

Not all cows are alike

Imagine our supporters are like the cows. They look alike, so we assume they must be the same.

This is often the biggest mistake we make when starting out in legacy fundraising – assuming that all our supporters are the same. And this can go one of two ways.

For the legacy wary, we adopt a blanket ban on talking about legacies, making the false assumption that because most people don’t leave us a legacy, that nobody will, so we won’t talk to anyone about it. Or we apply this to distinct groups of our supporters – volunteers for instance. The problem with this approach is it is quite patronising. We make decisions on behalf of our supporters, rather than opening up a conversation and allowing them to make a decision that is right for them.

But for the legacy enthusiasts, we can take this to the other extreme and assume that everyone is a great legacy prospect. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a big advocate in spreading the legacy message far and wide, but I’m talking about something slightly different.

The default suggestion I usually hear when a charity ventures into legacy fundraising for the first time, is the idea of taking their legacy leaflet to the local solicitor and getting them to show it to their clients. Or the idea to place an advert in a legal journal in the hope that a member of the public will see it from amongst the and crowd leave nice big legacy to the charity. But this approach is rooted in the same problem.

Rather than treating our supporters as the individuals they are,  we end up treating them like a commodity. We assume that everyone has the same propensity to leave us a legacy – all they need is to see our fantastic legacy advert and they will go running to the solicitors office.

But the reality is very different. People need to have a personal connection to our cause – to feel really passionately about it, probably having a lifelong relationship or knowing someone who has been directly affected by our work. For those that are wary about talking about legacies to our supporters, this is an uncomfortable truth. Because the best legacy prospects are those that are closest to our cause, and they are exactly the people we should be talking to.

1. Know your audience

So, my next tip for effective fundraising is to make sure you know your audience. Spend time identifying and segmenting your supporter base and find those that genuinely have a propensity  to consider leaving a gift in their Will. What are their motivations and barriers, and how are you going to create a story that resonates personally to them?

And the more you know about your audiences and their uniqueness, the more you can respond in kind and treat them as individuals and tailor your conversations to suit.

2. You are remarkable

The other lesson I learnt from reading this book is this. We don’t need to worry about shaping our causes into remarkable, Purple Cows. Because the reality is, your charity already is remarkable. Whether large or small, local or international, your cause does remarkable things everyday, that matter to distinct groups of people. You just need to remember your uniqueness and make sure you tell it to your unique supporters, because it is the very reason they support you in the first place.

Ps. In case you were wondering, Humba is Bengali for Moo. See they don’t even all speak the same language.