Good Will Hunting

Eight out of 10 people give money to charity during their lifetime but at ‘deathtime’ only 5% leave money to charity in their will. Are fundraisers doing enough to plug this gap? Or are they going to miss out on the potential offered by the ageing population?
Nina Botting, a planned-giving manager at the Tate Gallery says one of the reasons why fundraisers haven’t converted more lifetime givers into so-called ‘deathtime’ givers is because they are worried about the taboo of dying: ‘Fundraisers haven’t wanted to upset loyal supporters by asking them about a legacy.’ But Botting warns this is short-term thinking. ‘A charity’s supporter database is its best prospect for legacies and fundraisers shouldn’t be so backward in coming forward.’

The challenge is on for fundraisers as the number of people who could leave a legacy increases. The market is set to expand as those born in the post-war baby boom become poten tial legators. There are currently 9.8m people over the age of 60. In 30 years’ time this figure will have increased to 20m. Not only is the ageing population increasing but they are generally wealthier than their forebears.

However, Kevin Waudby, legacy marketing manager at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), says it is difficult to predict what impact the ageing population will have on legacies. ‘Unlike their parents, baby boomers don’t see charitable giving as a civic duty.’ He claims that fundraisers will have to work harder to appeal to the feel-good factor which motivates baby boomers to give.

Smee and Ford is a company specialising in legacy information. Its director, Richard Radcliffe, points out that some of the wealth may be eroded by the high cost of nursing care.

But it is not just external factors which fundraisers need to heed. Some fundraising techniques are putting people off leaving money to charities. ‘Direct marketing, telephone fundraising and approaching people on the street can make them change their wills.’ Radcliffe’s research also revealed that people make false pledges, pretending to fundraisers that they have left money in their will. In a recent focus group, 90% of pledgers admitted that they had not pledged, even though they said they had.

Radcliffe believes legacy fundraising needs to be much friendlier and less intrusive. In fact he advocates not even asking people to leave a bequest. ‘The key to fundraising is the ‘ask’ but in legacy fundraising this shouldn’t happen.’ Radcliffe thinks fundraisers, or preferably volunteers, should spend time trying to understand the motivations of potential legators.

Stephen Lee, senior research fellow in fundraising at South Bank University, also thinks the approach should be subtle. He says the fundraising approach should be face to face and part of encouraging committed support rather than focusing on the writing of a will. ‘If a charity’s legacy leaflet arrives on the doormat, out of the blue, people see it as information about writing a will, not giving to a charity.’

At the ICRF, legacy income accounts for pounds 47.5m, over half of ICRF’s annual revenue. So its approach is crucial. Waudby says the charity is targeting legacy prospects ‘more tightly’ than before.

ICRF sends out direct marketing to find out who might be interested in leaving a legacy, and then follows up with face-to-face fundraising. The charity employs four regional legacy advisers.

Botting of the Tate agrees that fundraisers should be concentrating on current supporters but says fundraisers still haven’t cracked the conundrum of reaching a wider range of people. ‘Roughly 70% of people who leave a legacy to your charity won’t have been committed givers in their lifetime. They felt they had an affinity with your charity but you didn’t know who they were.’

So for fundraisers, the challenge over the next 30 years is three-fold. To turn lifetime supporters into ‘deathtime’ givers. To find those who have genuinely written a will in the charity’s favour and convert them into lifetime donors. And, in as subtle a way as possible, to make the most of the rising death rate.