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Legacy fundraising is inherently difficult to measure. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

I recently asked a group of international legacy fundraisers what was the biggest challenge facing their legacy strategy – and wasn’t surprised at their response.

A short term, cash is king culture, seems to be a common issue for legacy fundraisers around the world, and one that I really resonate with.

Short-term thinking damages our legacy strategy and the way we measure success.

I haven’t met many Charity Directors who genuinely don’t like the idea of legacy fundraising or are totally averse to investing in a legacy strategy. They certainly like receiving them. They like the freedom this income stream can give to their organisations, and the foundation of unrestricted income they often bring. But they tend not to be so fond of the long-term investment required to sustain legacy income for the next 20-50 years.

It’s not because they don’t want to grow their legacy income. Of course they do. And most understand there is a genuine time of opportunity coming where legacy income is set to rise.

The real problem here is the huge pressure facing our charities to keep afloat, which creates a culture of short term thinking. However, we struggle because legacies are a long term income stream and therefore hard to measure and quantify.

One Chief Exec told me he lies awake at night worrying if he will be the one responsible for bankrupting an historic charity.

This is a very real concern – in some sense there is no point worrying about the income in 20 years if we’ve got to turn the lights out next month.

But short term thinking can still prevail, even in charities with healthy reserves. I feel this is partly due to the way many of our charities are governed, and the way we measure success.

How many charity boards of Directors and Trustees stick around for more than 5 years? Success is measured on the progress made in their stay of office, not on more long term metrics. And this creates a short term thinking culture which permeates right across our organisations and can weaken our legacy strategy. How many times have you had a legacy campaign delayed or cancelled because of the need to squeeze in one more cash ask?

But let’s not play the victims here – I think we’ve got to take a share of the responsibility.

Another real reason we fail to secure the long term investment we so badly need, is because we’re so bad at giving tangible evidence of the impact of our marketing. If we could tangibly evidence the ROI of our legacy strategy, and as importantly when the money will arrive, then we’d have a much better chance at arguing our place.

We need to be better at evaluating the impact of our legacy marketing and ROI

Legacy fundraising is intrinsically hard to measure and evaluate, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find a way. And I don’t mean falling back to the old way of pledge counting.

We need to see that legacy fundraising is more of a brand challenge. There is a huge industry built around measuring and evaluating the impact of brand campaigns which we can learn from. And huge sums of money that are invested by boards of directors who want to see the evidence of their investment.

Without solid, robust evidence of the impact of our legacy fundraising, it becomes all to easy to keep investing in a short-term, jam today approach. So we must do better and provide real evidence to our Fundraising Directors and Trustees, that makes it hard for them to say no to a long-term legacy strategy.

So where do you start today?

We suggest you measure 3 things

  1. the volume of your communications,
  2. the feedback you receive from those communications
  3. the numbers of legacies you get each year.

And look for an upward trend!