10 Ideas to Have a Robust Legacy Pipeline

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by Ligia Peña

One question that has been asked repeatedly in the last few months is, “Should we start a legacy program right now, or should we be asking for legacy gifts?” The answer is always the same: a resounding YES! We must be more sensitive and careful with our messaging, but one thing has not wavered, and that is our donor’s resolve to continue supporting our organizations so we can continue helping others.

Whether you are considering starting a legacy program today or you need to reboot it, there are some fundamentals you need to be mindful of if you want your program to succeed. Does this mean you need to do absolutely everything? Of course not. The point is, implement what you can feasibly do and then build on that one brick at a time – easy does it!

Let’s get started …

1. Build your mini army

Building your social capital by demonstrating how legacies can help the organization will play a vital role in ensuring your legacy program’s success. To do so, you need to find your allies. Internal allies can be the director of finance, the board chair, the board finance chair, etc.

External allies can be individuals in the community that can support your legacy plans, such as a major donor or philanthropist, allied professionals (attorney, notary, financial adviser, etc.). These allies will help you build your case for legacy investment and provide you with advice when needed.

2. Deep dive into your CRM

Strategy should always begin with data and insights. To build a solid legacy pipeline, you must identify the best prospects. It doesn’t matter whether you have 300 or 30,000 donors as long as you dig into your database and pull lists based on some basic characteristics:

  • Over the age of 55
  • Long-time donors
  • Monthly donors
  • Usually women with education degrees
  • High engagement (i.e., attends events, donates regularly, reads your newsletters, etc.)

Of course, we can get fancier with propensity modeling, but if all you can do is segment your lists using the above, you are already one step ahead.

3. Spruce up that legacy website (or create one!)

The first thing a prospective legacy donor will do is visit your website, so make it easy for them to find the information they need to write or update their will. At a minimum, your legacy web page should:

  • Have inspiring web copy and stories
  • Provide sample bequest and codicil language
  • Offer a simple form to download documents so you can capture their information and then follow up with them
  • Partner up, if possible, with a digital will-writing service

4. Sprinkle legacy dust (as Jen Love of Agents of Good says!)

When starting, you don’t need to develop a lot of very fancy legacy marketing, especially if you don’t have your strategy and engagement strategies figured out. Instead, do an inventory of all communications sent to donors and start sprinkling that legacy dust everywhere! As your program evolves and you have maximized your current communication tools, then invest in legacy-specific materials.

5. Inspire through stories

People connect through stories, not facts (especially not the legal or fiscal facts!). Tell stories of lives that were changed thanks to legacy gifts, share pledgers’ reasons for leaving a legacy; both passed and living. Essentially, show why legacies are important to the organization, not how to leave a legacy. To create storytelling magic:

  • Collect testimonials that focus on shared values with donors
  • Capture photos with a focus on people’s eyes
  • Share stories of living and past legacy donors
  • Talk about the vision for the future and the impact of the gifts

6. Cross-pollination

Traditionally, charities will use offline tactics to communicate with prospective legacy donors. Organizations across the world are using a multichannel approach to promoting legacies with their constituents. A 2018 Pew Institute research showed that Facebook and YouTube are the top platforms used by older donors.

Leverage your organization’s social media following on these platforms to talk about the impact of legacies, the stories from your past and current pledgers and invite them to consider a gift in a will to your charity.

7. Get your board on board

Leading by example does not apply only to fundraisers – it starts with the board of directors. They’re the perfect individuals to ask for a legacy gift, whether you’re starting out or trying to revive your program. The first ask should be to the board’s chair, who will then ask the rest of the board members. This can also be an alternative to the annual gift. Board members who pledge their gift can offer a testimonial that you will then use in your marketing. More importantly, this will help build trust with donors knowing that board members are also committed to legacies. Lastly, your board members can also act as legacy solicitors once you have built enough momentum to solicit these gifts proactively.

8. Legacies as a retention tactic

Often, donors cancel their gift because they have fallen into financial hardship. Legacy giving can be offered as an alternative because it isn’t based on a donor’s access to cash but their assets. When a donor calls to cancel their monthly donation or to be removed from your mailings, ask questions and explore the possibility of engaging in a legacy conversation with them.

9. The importance of monthly giving

Your monthly donors are probably your most dedicated and committed donors on file. Because legacy giving is all about one’s commitment to the cause, monthly donors are the perfect legacy prospects. Consider sending a special legacy appeal and a prospecting survey (this can be done by mail, online, or using telemarketing). Nudge donors by offering something of value, such as a free will-writing guide, then make sure to follow up with respondents to answer any questions they may have.

10. Make it all about the welcome journey

Many organizations make the mistake of talking about legacies once donors fall into the 55+ age category. Considering it can take years before someone starts thinking about legacies as a gift option, it makes sense to include legacy giving in the organization’s culture of philanthropy right from day one. You can do this by including legacy messaging in your donor welcome series (online and offline). If you send a welcome pack to new donors, include legacies as well as testimonials and stories from current and past legacy donors.

Once again, you may not need – or be able to do – all 10 ideas mentioned, and that’s OK. Simply start with one that will give you a quick win and then build on that. Legacy fundraising is a marathon, not a race, so make sure you set yourself up for long-term success with these 10 simple ideas.

Ligia Peña, CFRE, MInstF, is a legacy and fundraising coach at her firm, GlobetrottingFundraiser. She’s also a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Kent, researching national legacy marketing campaigns as a tool to change society’s behavior toward gifts in wills. Having trained countless fundraisers, she’s a sought-after and seasoned international presenter who enjoys sharing her knowledge and empowering nonprofits professionals to think about legacies differently by daring to be creative and innovative. Ligia also serves on the Rogare advisory board

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