Episode 28: Dr Claire Routley – Talking to supporters about leaving a legacy

Episode Notes

In early March 2020, I recorded this interview with Dr Claire Routley, an expert in expert legacy fundraising. The subject of our conversation was the reasons people choose to leave a gift in their will; why many charities fail to talk about this subject to their closest supporters; and tips to help you talk to your own supporters about this fantastic way of giving to charities they care about.

Since then, inquiries to will-writing services have gone dramatically up. For this, among many other reasons, Claire recently told me that the subject of having more conversations, in an appropriate way with your closest supporters, is as relevant as ever. That said, clearly, charities are also right to have been cautious and sensitive in making decisions about whether to promote legacy appeals during this crisis.

If you’re interested in understanding and weighing up the ethics of legacy fundraising in an emergency, I’m pleased that Claire and her colleagues at Rogare, the excellent fundraising thinktank, are soon to publish a report on this very subject. To request a free copy, you can contact Claire via her website – www.legacyfundraising.co.uk or via twitter.

If you want to share this episode – thank you!! – or get in touch, Claire and I would love to hear from you – we’re both on Linked In, and on twitter Claire is @claireyJaneR and I’m @woods_rob.

Takeaways

  • DESIRE TO BE REMEMBERED – Human beings experience the motivation of wanting to be remembered, to leave something behind that shows we were here, we made a difference. This is one strong motivator for why people chose to leave a gift in their will.
  • LET THEM KNOW ABOUT THIS OPPORTUNITY – Seen as a way of achieving symbolic immortality, or at least the chance to make a difference to something they care about, is a far more helpful mindset than seeing legacies as something awkward and taboo, to be avoided.
  • DECISION, NOT MONEY – One fabulous thing about this kind of fundraising, is unlike all other kinds of donation, supporters don’t need to pay a penny (today). They just make a decision, that when they next talk to their solicitor, they choose to leave a gift in their will to a cause they care about.
  • CONVERSATIONS NOT PLEDGES – If you seek to raise awareness of this opportunity inside and outside your charity, we recommend you make the focus to ‘have more conversations’ / to mention legacies more often, rather than to ‘seek pledges or make asks’.
  • INCREASING AWARENESS – Leaving a gift in a will is such an important decision, we should never seek to persuade someone to do it. But respectfully mentioning it as an option, to people who already support your charity, is reasonable and helpful.
  • DON’T GIVE ADVICE – If someone has questions about how to make their will or leave a gift, suggest they talk to their legal advisor, as its clearly not for us as a charity to give this advice.
  • KEEP IT BROAD – If someone expresses an interest in leaving a gift to fund a particular, specific project, its in their interests for you to point out that this is difficult / sometimes impossible to achieve in practice. The world changes so fast, the project may no longer be appropriate in a few years. But if they’d like some kind of focus, many charities offer broad areas of work (eg education / advocacy etc) to leave a gift towards, even if the tactics change over time.

 Quotes

‘Switch the mindset from the idea that talking about legacies is a big scary ask, to seeing it as just another opportunity for them, another way of giving to a cause they care about.’

Dr Claire Routley

Further Resources

To get in touch with Claire, or to request a copy of Rogare’s report The Ethics of Legacy Fundraising in a Crisis, find her through her website – www.legacyfundraising.co.uk.

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise high value income, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Full Transcript for Episode 28

Rob:

Hey there folks. Welcome to episode 28 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods and this is the show for anyone who works in charity fundraising, and he wants ideas for how to raise more money, enjoy their job, and make a bigger difference, even during the pandemic.

Rob:

In today’s episode, if you’re conscious of the importance of legacy income to your charity, in particular, the wonderful potential for legacy donations from your closest supporters, but you feel you may be missing a trick in letting those supporters know about this opportunity, then I hope you’re going to find this episode interesting and useful. Because today, we’re looking at the crucial subject of being able to talk about legacies when you’re in conversation with your supporters.

I’m going to share an interview I conducted with Dr Claire Routley, who’s one of the UK’s leading experts in legacy giving. I met Claire in early March 2020 at the fabulous conference organized by the National Association Of Hospice Fundraisers and it was just a couple of days before the UK went into lockdown. As I’m about to publish this episode in late June, four months later, I decided to catch up with Claire this week to check whether she feels the idea is we talked about are still relevant, given that so much has changed for us as people and as fundraisers.

One thing we talked about was that charities are right to have been extremely cautious and sensitive over the last few months when deciding whether to proactively send out legacy appeals. Clearly, charities need to be extremely sensitive to how supporters might construe a legacy appeal during this kind of health crisis. Claire also pointed out that inquiries to will writing services have gone up massively in the last few months. And as such, the chance that your support it might be thinking about leaving your charity a gift, or potentially ask you a question about this way of giving, has actually gone up. For these reasons, we feel that today’s topic of being able to have a conversation when appropriate with an existing supporter about leaving a gift in a will as one way to support is as relevant as it has ever been.

If you’re interested in understanding and weighing up the ethics of legacy fundraising in an emergency, I’m so pleased that Claire and her colleagues at Rogare, the excellent fundraising think-tank, are soon to publish a report on this very subject. The report is due to be published in the next two weeks and I’ll include Claire’s details at the end and in the episode notes so you can get in touch to request a copy.

What you’re about to hear is a conversation I recorded with Claire four months ago. I don’t know about you, but this to me seems like another age. Listening back this week, I really enjoyed Claire’s insights again and I hope you find ideas in it that are helpful too.

 

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by Bright Spot Mastery Programs. So, if you need to increase income in corporate partnerships or major donor and trust fundraising, these programs will help. As well as the advanced strategies you learn on the training days, you receive one to one coaching help you put those powerful techniques into practice. To find out more about the Corporate Mastery and Major Gifts Mastery Programs, head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:

So welcome to the podcast, Claire Routley.

Claire:

Thank you for having me.

Rob:

So, here we are Claire. We’re in a quiet training room at the National Association For Hospice Fundraisers Conference. The plenary is going on next door. We’ve quietly sneaked out because I couldn’t resist getting your views on a very important topic for fundraisers to do with silo mashing, to do with being more holistic, and to do with the importance of legacy fundraising for all fundraisers, rather than just one small department shoved off to the side. I’d love to get into that in a moment.

But just before we do, to help the listeners get some context, let me get this right. You are Dr Claire Routley. Your company’s called Legacy Fundraising. And right before we even get onto that, you’re not a medical doctor. That doctor comes because you’ve done a PhD and crucially the PhD was in…?

Claire:

Legacy fundraising.

Rob:

Okay. So you spent three or four years studying all things legacy?

Claire:

Well, part-time, so six years.

Rob:

Wow. So you’ve gone super deep into understanding the various factors that contribute to successful legacy fundraising?

Claire:

Yeah. My PhD was really about why people do it. I’ve had the real pleasure of getting to go and interview 20 or so legacy pledges who were just absolutely fantastic. I wanted to adopt each of them as a grandparent, but hear their stories, and hear why they were doing it, and hearing about their collections to the charity.

Rob:

Fantastic. You’ve worked in fundraising for around 15 years doing various things including trust fundraising and obviously you’ve specialized and gone deep into legacy fundraising with the insight you’ve got from that PhD, among other things.

Rob:

In today’s podcast, I don’t want to necessarily go super deep into everything to do with legacy fundraising. We can save that for another episode. But today I wanted to more focus on this crazy thing that happens whereby legacies just get stuck off to one side and in many charities is the responsibility of one person or one team. And the crying shame that is when actually statistically many of the people who are most likely to leave a gift to us already have a good relationship with the corporate fundraiser or the local shop or the community fundraiser.

First of all, is that your observation, that most charities are missing a trick in that respect? And if so, what do you think are some of the understandable human reasons or organizational reasons why that just often does end up happening?

Claire:

Yeah. Well, I think increasingly charities are trying to integrate legacies across various teams, but I do think there’s varying of success. I think one of the reasons sometimes it isn’t done in the optimal way is perhaps because people maybe get someone like me in quite often to do training. That’s a real good way to sell my services, isn’t it? Get me in to do some training or somebody else in to do some training, but then that’s it. There’s not that ongoing internal effort to really embed that.

Rob:

Yes. So it’s a tick box exercise?

Claire:

Yeah.

Rob:

“An expert came and did the thing and well, now it should all be fine now. Get on with it.” But in reality, what we know about most organizational change is it’s just doing one thing once. However well it’s done is really rarely enough to make a lasting change in behaviours and attitudes.

Claire:

Absolutely. It’s got to be a real longterm commitment from organizations. And then I suppose the other barriers are the fairly obvious ones, that it’s about death and money, two of our biggest taboos. So, that is a challenge for people to become comfortable with, to talk about those two things. I suppose it’s really got to come from the top of the organization as well as a bottom up effort as well. I think it’s difficult as a legacy fundraiser on your own without that organizational support to really embed that.

Rob:

Yes. So, this requires a decision. It requires… especially on the part of leaders… and a concerted effort that this is worth making time for in team meetings. It’s worth measuring. It’s worth looking at the specific activities that would lead to this more holistic approach to the idea of even just people talking about gifts in wills. It’s a reasonable thing to talk about, same as a 10K fun run or a new appeal for £2 a month.

Claire:

It is just another way of supporting the charity: a wonderful way. But yes, that’s how it should feel, I think, to fundraise, is that it’s just another ask. We make lots of asks all the time. I think we sometimes in our own minds position it as this big scary thing, when actually yes, it’s just a normal way to carry on your support of that organization that you’ve loved right through your life really.

Rob:

Yeah. So either from your PhD studies or from the work you do with your other clients, what are the couple of things that you tend to help people with to overcome those two taboos to do with money, and to do with death, and the notion that understandably many people don’t want to talk about those two things? But when you’ve worked with a charity and they’ve become better at it, what are certain things they’ve got their head around that help them at least have this chat anyway?

Claire:

I think, for me, it’s trying to switch the internal mindset from this idea that legacy is this big scary ask to actually giving people the opportunity to leave a legacy – its a real opportunity for them. There’s bags and bags and bags of research that basically says, “We are all as individuals motivated to leave a legacy,” in the broader sense of the word. I’m doing air quotes, which doesn’t really help on a podcast, does it? But we really want to leave something behind us that we’ve got this really strong need to create this sense of symbolic immortality for ourselves. Some people do that through having kids. Some people might do it through writing an opera or a epic poem that echoes down through the ages. But not that many of us can necessarily do that.

Rob:

This is getting pretty big…

Claire:

Existential. We got existential, yeah.

Rob:

But yeah, it really comes down to, “What is the meaning of life? Why am I here?”

Claire:

Yeah. Oh yes, this is why I love legacies.

Rob:

“There must be more to it than me working hard at my job 9:00 to 5:00 until Friday, and then trying to be a good parent and have good time with friends and family at the weekend.” When people have mini or major crises, often it comes back to, “What is the point? What is the meaning of life?” And one way we can find greater meaning is that we made a difference somehow.

Claire:

Yeah, absolutely. As I’m seeing, not that many people can do that through writing the opera or the poem that will echo through the ages. but pretty much everybody can leave something, whether that’s a few hundred pounds, a few thousand pounds, to a charity that is going to have that impact on other people’s lives, that is going to make a difference. So I just think actually switching our mindsets to think about, “I can give somebody the opportunity to achieve symbolic immortality.” That is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

It starts to feel then like it’s almost a duty to ask people about legacies because I’m given this amazing gift to them. I think that’s the key mind switch for me.

Rob:

Yes. And framing it that way, why would we not at least talk about it? It doesn’t have to be an overt, proactive ask that does or doesn’t lead to a decision today. But at least drip, drip, drip for charities to be proactively willing to include this in various conversations, rather than just the legacy mailings that happen from that team over there, especially crucially, with the people who already volunteer in your shops, who already run the marathon for you every single year. If they care that much to do those 26 miles of pain and the extra hassle of collecting the sponsorship, it’s weird that we wouldn’t also at least let them know about this other option for making a difference and being remembered for making a difference to a cause that is very important to them.

Claire:

Yeah. Again, there’s some research that it always sticks in my mind. It says that, “People who feel there’s no one to leave a legacy to or they can’t pass something on, can actually feel the sense of existential despair.” So again, it’s a precious gift that we’re given to our donors really.

Rob:

I wanted to just get a couple of top tips really… When you train a team to be more willing to—as a corporate fundraiser—mention that to your supporter or a community fundraiser, I’d love two or three of the tips that you think are important and that you help people get their head around. One of the ones that I remember being… In fact, you just mentioned it to me just before we came into the interview and you reminded me was, this is the only kind of fundraising where someone doesn’t have to give you any money now.

Even if the conversation goes really well and they say, “Yes, I want to help,” it costs them not a single penny. Actually, you’re just asking them to make a decision today or the next time they talk to their lawyer about their will, rather than having to get their hand in their pockets. There’s something very helpful and powerful about that we have found. Would you just speak to that idea? And then, any of the other little tips that you found can help someone be more brave to talk to their supporter, who until now has not been a legacy supporter? They’ve been a marathon runner or whatever. That one and any other tips that occur to you?

Claire:

Well, I think it’s an incredibly gentle ask we make of people actually. Because making a will and thinking about how you’re going to dispose of your estate and all those sorts of things, that’s quite a longterm decision. So, even if I was to march up to lots of donors, look them in the whites of their eyes and go, “Right, will you give us a gift in your will?” most of them just won’t be able to say, “Yes, no,” at that point anyway. I think all really we want people to do is to maybe commit to thinking about it, as you said, “Next time you’re thinking about this,” or, “Next time you visit your lawyer, just please think about it.”

I think that’s really important because, again, we know that only 6% of the population ultimately leave a legacy gift and so it’s not yet a social norm. And so I think very often when people are going to make a well, you’ve got two kids, 50/50 down the middle, done, and it just doesn’t even get into the decision set that they might leave a gift to charity unless sometimes maybe they haven’t got children or they’ve got tax implications, or those sort of things. As we were saying, most people though could do it, they could do a couple of percent or they could do a few hundred quid. Most people would have the capacity to do it and yet I think it just doesn’t get into the decision making set. If we can just get more people to say, “Yeah, that’s something I’ll think about.”

Rob:

I remember a couple of the organizations I have worked with in the past that decided to get better at this thing, not just the legacy team doing what they do, but helping all fundraisers in the organization get more proactive and less afraid of this. The whole focus of those two projects I’m thinking of was not, “Let’s get legacy pledges.” The whole project was about, “Let’s have more conversations about it.” And indeed, that was what was measured.

 

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but would you agree? You’ve got to be clear what the outcome is so that the fundraisers you’re talking to know what is you’re asking them to do, rather than them inadvertently thinking you wanted them to go and get some legacy pledges. “No, no. We just need you to be mentioning it.” And secondly, the importance of getting the measurement right?

Claire:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. We really just want people, as you said, to have these conversations to raise it. If people then do say, “Well actually, yes, I’ve done it already,” I think it’s good to… where GDPR and et cetera permitting that you can capture that. Because there could be a whole other podcast about stewardship and the fact that actually a lot of people will change their wills and charities will drop out, so where we know they’ve done it, we can look after them. That’s really important.

 

But absolutely, I think just having the conversation is the key thing to do. But even I think where you’re measuring conversations, as I said, lots of people will actually go, “Yeah. Yes, I’ve done it,” or, “Yeah. I’m really thinking about this. Next time I see my solicitor I will.” And so I used to do it with a brilliant major donor fundraiser called Robert and he used to do quite a lot of work on the telephone, talking to our various donors. He got into the habit… always good… of pretty much every call he would say something like… have a look at the database, see how long they’ve been supporting and say, “Did you know you’ve been supporting us for 15 years? That’s absolutely amazing. Did you know there’s a way you can carry on that support…?”

Claire:

“After you’re gone” I think is maybe how he phrased it. Just by saying that over about six months, if you assume that everyone he spoke to you was giving our average legacy, we calculated that there’s more than a million pounds he either raised or identified in legacy gifts, just from that little phrase being added into the conversations he was having already.

Rob:

Wow. That’s amazing. Again it’s all about getting the process right, the habit right, knowing that plenty of times you’ll do the right thing and it won’t necessarily get a result, or even if it did, you won’t necessarily know. But if you thought carefully about what the process and the habits should be, then as those results show over time, it’s absolutely going to pay off.

Claire:

In your questions, well, actually you’ve reminded me of the… I should probably admit to the big mistake I used to make when I was in-house, which was to generally talk about how great legacies were and say, “We help with legacy promotion,” but not being specific about what I wanted people to do. I read one of the Chip and Dan Heath books about change, which was… it’s an excellent book.

Rob:

Switch, I think?

Claire:

Switch. That’s it. One of the things they say is, “Script the move,” so be really specific. I think that is something that I used to fall down on. I’d talk about legacies, but not actually say, “Every time you have a conversation can you say this?” Or, “Can you find your own phrase that really works for you that you use?” So yeah, that point about just being specific about what we want people within our organizations to do as an important one and a failure of mine that I’m quite happy to admit to.

Rob:

Yes. I remember when we did some training on this, we did quite deliberately give a rough approximation of a sentence that people could use. Of course, it’s going to change depending on who you’re talking to and depending on your style and the organization, but I remember a key element of the way we were talking about it was to understand that if people think about their will, charities are often not the first thing that they think about.

The first thing, the purpose of their will, is to look after their family. If there’s something left over and if they’re able to, potentially to look after or be remembered or in some way help their friends. And however strong their connection to a cause, those two things just are usually going to come first. The insight of knowing that, helped the fundraisers get that out of the way up front so that in no way were we are implying that, “Please put us first.” It was something along the lines of, “I don’t know if you would consider… clearly, after doing everything you possibly can through your will to help your family and indeed potentially your friends… but after you’re happy with the way you’ve done that, I don’t know if you would consider making a decision to leave something in your will to this particular cause after you’re gone?”

Rob:

That is 10 years ago since I studied this topic, but that’s my memory of roughly what people were finding was effective. Does that broadly sound okay or is there any changes you tend to recommend with your clients to what I just said?

Claire:

No, I think that sounds perfect. I suppose the only thing to be conscious of, like you say, sometimes it’s about the person you’re talking to. The classic legacy donor might not have family, so I suppose just being conscious, if we know the person, being been conscious of that really.

Rob:

One thing that’s occurred to me is a fundraiser might be concerned about the legal element of this. Anything they should or should not mention or should or should not know to do with the legal side?

Claire:

Yeah. I think you’re right. I think that’s potentially another one of those barriers to having these conversations is that fundraisers worry that they need to be experts on inheritance tax and the different ways in which someone can leave a gift. And so, I suppose, in terms of your own confidence, it might be helpful to just have a quick look at the basics, different ways that someone can leave a cash gift or they can leave a share of their estate.

Claire:

But in practice, in my 10 years plus now as a legacy fundraiser, I think I’ve only ever been asked maybe one even vaguely legal question, so it doesn’t tend to come up that much. You absolutely don’t need to be an expert. And also, codes of practice tell us that we, as fundraisers, should not be giving any legal advice. As we were just chatting about on the way down, Rob, you were saying the really good thing to do is just point someone to that legal advisor.

So yeah, we can tell them about our organization and the really good things that it does. We can have conversations about how they might want their gift to be spent, but we shouldn’t really ever get into that area of giving someone personalized legal advice.

Rob:

I remember a common worry or question can be if a donor wants their money only to be spent on a particular thing that our charity does. And actually, realistically, the charity can’t necessarily guarantee that in 10 years’ time we will still be doing this particular kind of project to protect cats or this particular kind of project to help refugees. What do you tend to advise that the fundraiser could say in response to that request?

Claire:

Well, I think it’s probably good to have thought about that as an organization before you get to the point of the conversations because really you don’t want to be on the hoof, making up what you could do with the gift. Sometimes you might have to… if someone wants to do something very specific, you might have to go back to your organization and talk about it a little bit more and come back to them.

But actually, one of the things I really like is what the National Theatre do, which is where they give people choice, but to fund quite broad areas. And I’m probably getting exact areas wrong here, but they talk about, “You could fund new productions. You could fund our work with young people. You could fund the fabric of the building.” If you’ve got some broad areas of work that somebody could fund, so they get that sense of choice, they get that sense of personal impact, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to those situations where you’ve got a million pounds that must be spent on one tiny village in Devon.

Rob:

Yes. Very good. I think maybe not every time, but most supporters, most donors to organizations, if you articulate to them that we can’t… Goodness, at the time of recording the entire political and social and economic things going on in the UK are utterly transformed in the last two/three weeks to do with the onset of coronavirus. In the last five years, there’s been massive change economically, politically, socially.

Rob:

I think if one points out to a supporter that it’s hard to predict what will be going on in society in five years’ time let alone 10, 20, 30. If you can help them see that and, “For that reason, as an organization it’s unhelpful for us to be committing to too specific and too tactical a thing.” But like you say, I just love that advice. Often organizations can sign up that it would be in this broad area achieving this kind of outcome rather than these very low down specific tactics.

Claire:

Yeah. I think no donor wants to see a situation where it’s spent… takes 30 years to spend their money because it’s tied up in legal or internal wrangling, or even there’s a situation it might even never get spent, or the gift would fail. No donor wants that. So yes, just making it clear to them really.

Rob:

Yes. I’d like to move on to the other half of the conversation soon. But just before we do, if we are a fundraiser, we might want to be more proactive in having these kinds of conversations with our supporters. In addition to everything else we’ve said, any last couple of tips that you think are useful for us to bear in mind?

Claire:

Yeah. I think we haven’t really said, “Listen to the donor,” yet, which I think is a real fundamental basic for any type of fundraising and absolutely for legacy. There might be certain things that a donor says to you that just make you think, “Well, they’re in the perfect place to be thinking about this.”

Claire:

It might be something like, “I’d really love to support your work. I’d love to do more, but I’m on a fixed income and I can’t up my donation.” Well, that person potentially is a perfect legacy prospect. And again, it’s that beautiful win-win that they’d love to do more. Well actually, there’s a brilliant way they can do it and it’s not going to cost them anything now, as we’ve been talking about.

Rob:

Surprise, surprise! The fundamental skills of good relationship fundraising are at the heart of whether one of these conversations is going to be successful and reasonable or not?

Claire:

Yeah, absolutely. As we were saying earlier, it’s just another way of supporting your charity when it comes to it.

Rob:

Yes. Very good. Claire, thank you so much for appearing on the podcast and I’m looking forward to having another conversation very soon about this other notion of silo smashing. But for now, Dr Claire Routley, thank you so much.

Claire:

Thank you.

Rob:

Goodbye. There you go. I hope you found Claire’s insights and tips helpful to find out more on this subject, do check out the excellent book Legacy and In-memory Fundraising, which Claire co-edited with Sebastian Wilberforce. I’ll put a link to that, as well as a summary and transcript of the ideas we discussed in the episode notes, which you can find in the blog and podcast section of our Bright Spot Fundraising website.

Rob:

If you found my discussion with Claire helpful, it would be fantastic if you could take a moment to leave a kind review wherever you get your podcasts, which really helps other fundraisers to find this resource.

Rob:

If you want to get in touch, we’d love to hear from you. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Claire is @ClaireyJaneR with a capital J for Jane and a capital R at the end. I’m @woods_rob. Claire’s website is legacyundraising.co.uk. As I said at the beginning, if you’d like a copy of Rogare’s upcoming report on The ethics of legacy fundraising in an emergency, which Claire co-authored, do drop her a note and she’s happy to send it to you for free.

Rob:

If you’d like more ideas to help you succeed during the pandemic, then please do check out my new ebook, Power through the Pandemic, which gives seven key strategies to help you raise money, even now, through major donors, corporates, and trusts. You can download it for free from brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power. Until the next time stay safe and good luck with all your efforts to make a positive difference.