While legacies are worth over £2.6bn to UK charities1 , more than half of British adults have not yet written their Will2 . Remember a Charity and Will To Give’s national campaigns to encourage the public to make a charitable Will are now an integral part of the British fundraising calendar.

Many of our charity clients also take part in free Wills schemes, either on their own (most notably CRUK) or working in consortia (such as Will Aid and Free Wills Month). As the latest Free Wills Month gets under way, we spoke to three of our clients – Marie Curie, the National Trust and The Salvation Army – who take part in the initiative alongside 20 other organisations, to find out what impact being part of the scheme has had on their cause and for their supporters.

Free Wills Month (FWM) operated by Capacity Marketing, takes place every March and October. The participating charities are grouped into three consortia in March (four in October), each consortium running in different sets of locations across the UK, covering as many cities and major towns as possible over the course of a year. This month, it is hoped that 3,500 Wills will be written across the country, thanks to the scheme.

The Salvation Army first took part in October 2012. Jackie Birch, Legacy & In Memory Fundraising Manager said, “We take part because it is a very good way to a engage with new supporters and to raise awareness around the ‘make a Will’ message. The campaign has a much wider reach than we could easily achieve in the same timeframe.”

The National Trust joined in October 2013, as part of their strategy to make it easy for supporters to leave a legacy gift, after finding that lots of their supporters worried that making a charitable Will would be time consuming and difficult. Alison Edwards, Head of Individual Giving said; “We thought that if we could make the process feel simpler, that more people might be inclined to overcome that first hurdle.”

Marie Curie first got involved in October 2015, after the success of regional schemes run by their Legacy Advisors, which had proved that there was an opportunity to widen the offer out to a colder audience, especially given Marie Curie’s strong brand presence with the public.

Success, and how to encourage it

All of the charities we talked to receive more than 30 notifications of gifts in Wills per consortium.

In October 2013 (still their most successful campaign to date), the National Trust was notified of 73 supporters who had made a Will with a gift to them included. In addition to the marketing activity Capacity delivers as part of the scheme, they supported the initial campaign with their biggest concerted marketing effort, with inclusion in their members’ magazine, national and regional e-newsletters, PPC advertising – using their Google Grant, and messages across all their social media channels. Since this first pilot, most FWM promotional activity has been through targeted emails to the National Trust’s warm membership base.

The Salvation Army – which receives on average 50 notifications per consortium – arms all of its relevant charity shops and Corps (churches) with leaflets and an outline of the scheme. FWM is also promoted on the website and on social media. In addition, Birch writes to those supporters who have enquired about gifts in Wills, and who live within the catchment areas, advising them about the FWM offer.

In their first Free Wills Month campaign Marie Curie received by far the most gifts of any charity in the group. Nigel Gorvett Individual Giving Manager – Legacies said “It absolutely has provided a significant number of gifts pledged to Marie Curie which far outweigh the cost of taking part.”

For the March 2017 campaign they are supporting the scheme with paid digital activity using PPC and Facebook advertising, driving people to a bespoke FWM landing page on their website – a test which they hope will allow them to understand how they can further encourage people to take up the offer and support the charity, while keeping expenditure as low as possible.

So, does this open the charity up to a different type of legator?

In short, the jury is out on this one. At the National Trust, will-writers superficially look very similar to the rest of the pledger base. Edwards comments: “The value of the gifts recorded is significantly lower than we’re currently receiving from legators, but that might represent a change in our pledger base more broadly.”

Birch added; “Our results would suggest that the pledgers who come to us by way of the scheme may not have previously considered including us in their Wills, the publicity around FWM may also give them the nudge to go on and have their Wills written. Quite a high proportion of the new pledgers are younger than our existing pledgers.”

While Gorvett commented: “Free Will offerings such as FWM also help us to pick up some of those people who otherwise may not have got round to actually including us in their Will – or not known they can even do that. We also have to look further afield from our own supporter base if we are to reach the types of people who make up the 50% of legators that we don’t know about – the ‘invisible legators’.”

How does FWM stack up in terms of ROI?

For the National Trust, the ability to offer a service which makes it easier for their supporters to make a Will is the main benefit of being part of the scheme. Edwards said: “For us, we stick with FWM because although the volumes aren’t enormous, it provides a steady flow of supporters about whom we are notified, rather than having to rely on the individuals to let us know. As such, it actually makes it easier to measure as a piece of legacy marketing activity than a lot of the other things we do, as it has a tangible, quantifiable return.”

Gorvett confirmed that FWM drives volume in both enquiries and pledges for Marie Curie, although they tend to see smaller gift amounts from the scheme. He said; “As we know with legacy fundraising, it only takes a few large residuary gifts to make a real difference to future income and FWM allows us to cast our net – and brand – further than we otherwise would be able to, increasing awareness and the opportunities this then creates for these larger gifts to be written into Wills.

Birch commented, “ROI is difficult to measure in exact terms because of the nature of some of the gifts to us. More importantly though, being part of the scheme brings a wider awareness of and engagement with us. The number of new supporters we connect with through the scheme and the opportunity to create meaningful ongoing relationships with them, means that FWM is a very valuable element of our overall legacy strategy.”

Stephen Maund, Director of Capacity Marketing said “Our records show that nearly 60% of people who write their Will with Free Wills Month choose to leave a legacy to one of the charities, so we can be confident that a significant amount of future income will be raised. By taking part, charities are securing their future income whilst helping the public to put their affairs in order and achieve an amazing act of generosity.”

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1 Legacy Foresight 2016
2 Will Aid