I have been writing about digital legacy fundraising since 2013. Back then, legacy web content was pretty basic, functional, sometimes apologetic. By 2017 when I looked at 50 charity websites, things had moved on. Legacy content was bolder, more inspiring though smaller charities were further behind.
Where are we now? Analysis shows that legacy giving is booming. The market is growing but is becoming crowded. Charities need to do much more to stand out.
For the past two years I have been involved in Legacy Foresight’s Legacy Fundraising 2.0 programme looking at the role of digital in legacy fundraising. The pandemic has propelled this area of fundraising (as with all others) into a digital-first world of paid social media, virtual events, digital stewardship, analytics and user journeys. It has been a steep learning curve for many legacy teams as they have had to learn new skills and negotiate with digital colleagues who base success on much shorter-term metrics.
Now the genie is out of the bottle, we can’t go back, digital legacy fundraising is here to stay. With all this new activity, it can be easy to overlook the basics. When was the last time you read your own ‘gifts in wills’ pages on your website or reviewed the web traffic? Or looked at them next to the other fundraising pages? Or looked at the pages of your competitors’? Here are some observations on trends and developments across the sector.
A big shift since 2017 is that gifts in wills are now so much more prominent on charity websites. Analysis of 30+ charities found that for the majority, it was one or two clicks from the homepage to reach legacy content. Previously, content had been tucked away. We made people work to find it, tucked it away in ‘other ways to give’ alongside phone recycling and give as you shop schemes. It is encouraging to see legacies given the prominence it deserves. This reflects the normalisation of giving in this way, which Remember A Charity have been working on for so long, and a greater confidence in talking about legacies.
Language has changed too. In most cases charities use ‘gifts in wills’ rather than ‘legacy’ as a menu title. We will all use legacies to describe our work internally and in longer copy, but it is good to see that the language we use with our supporters, especially on titles, is simpler. Generally too, the active voice is present on the title of the page once there, for example ‘give a gift’ or ‘leave a gift’. Simple, clear, easy to skim read but with a call to action.
In comparison with 2013 and 2017 many more charities have developed strong propositions for their legacy ask. These frame the messaging with strong, persuasive statements which connect with their loyal supporters. They set the tone of voice with stories, information and images. Propositions align with the brand values and are often the end product of a significant piece of work involving research, audience insights and content development, usually done with an agency. The content is used across different channels and formats (on and offline) to give the supporter a consistent experience. They show an investment in legacies.
It is also great to see some really creative content around legacies. Legacy Futures produced a showreel of inspiring legacy activity for this year’s CIOF Convention. 18 people shared examples which had inspired or moved them including WaterAid’s What Jack Gave video (which is brilliantly integrated onto WaterAid’s legacy pages – do visit and read the copy as well as watching the film) and North Devon Hospice’s Forever Stone (which is a physical thing in their garden as well as an app and pin badge). Storytelling, humour and simplicity were common themes across the examples. Many of the examples feature prominently on the charity’s websites and their wider digital legacy fundraising.
The other massive change which wasn’t a factor at all in 2017 is online wills and free wills. Many charities offer this option now and there is a wide variety of ways they present this. One charity I found only had one page on their site about legacies and it pointed straight to an online will provider. Other charities include all the terms and conditions of a number of different providers they have partnered with. Getting the balance right for your audience is key. Data from your web traffic, user testing and other insights will help you get it right.
I am also seeing more charities removing barriers and being more transparent. For example, many now have a legacy promise in their sections. Do a search on Google for ‘legacy promise’ and see how many come up. While many charities still have a form to request a gifts in wills guide on their website (rather than sharing it freely as a PDF or other download), there is debate about whether this is a barrier or a connector. I’d love to see more research on whether a form puts people off asking for more information, whether receiving a guide through the post or electronically drives pledges, whether the data capture drives more donors through stewardship and relationship building, whether counting pack sends is useful or just a metric to justify budget. What’s your experience?
Work to do
I’ve often written about why images are important as part of digital content. As the demographic of who we are talking to changes, the images used needs to follow. No more stereotypical grey-haired white people in the last years of their lives. Our pages need to inspire and reflect our audiences. We’re talking to them directly now as they will be users of digital platforms. Dr Claire Routley shared research done with Haseeb Shabbir at the Fundraising Everywhere legacy conference in April about the diversity of people shown in images across legacy marketing. There is still lots of work to be done here.
We should also start ensuring our videos are accessible to everyone. Subtitles are widely used now which is great. But I still see so many videos with pretty images, text on screen, joyful music but no voiceover or audio description. As a sector we need to do better on the accessibility of videos.
I think there is also more work we can do to strenghten the links to brand and impact in legacy comms. People need reminding about the work you have done, and how your ambitions and values match their own. This builds trust, and reassurance that they are leaving their money to you and you are going to do good things with it. I like how Greenpeace UK do this.
Checklist for digital legacy fundraising in 2022
- 1 or 2 clicks from the homepage
- Gifts in wills – no jargon titles
- Strong proposition
- Stand-out content
- Legacy promise
- Unnecessary barriers removed
- Right balance of free will options
- Diverse images
- Accessible videos
- Show impact to build trust
The market is changing
As legacy champions Meg Abdy and Rob Cope have said, the future of legacies is huge. But the market is getting crowded.
Small charities are joining the party. In 2019 I volunteered for Small Charity Week’s big advice day. I spoke to four small charities who wanted to get better at legacy fundraising. I volunteered again this year and spoke to two about legacies, both were so much further along than the ones in 2019. It’s a small sample but a noticeable difference. If small charities with closer personal relationships with their donors get the message right about the impact they could have with legacies at a local or specialist cause level, this may well be more appealing to them than leaving a gift to a mega charity they also support.
Shelter say in their legacy promotion that big changes are needed in the country. These will only be possible with big money to spend on the work needed. Investing in digital legacy comms now should pay off in the future. Whether your charity is large or small, the time is now.
Do take a look at the Legacy Foresight’s Legacy Fundraising 2.0 programme. The next round starts in the autumn. The programme includes benchmarking analysis of web traffic and actions.
Join Remember A Charity to be part of a movement helping to grow legacy giving. Work happens all year round but there’s LOTS of noise during Remember A Charity Week which starts on 5th September this year.
I do bespoke benchmarking and content support for charities with legacy fundraising and other areas of digital comms. Do get in touch via Twitter or find me on LinkedIn if you think I can help.