Looking after legacy donors and their gifts has always been a vital element of the fundraiser’s role. But in the light of changing regulations, more sceptical donors, and ever stronger competition, the challenges of delivering effective and engaging legacy stewardship are now greater than ever.

We asked three experienced legacy fundraisers for their thoughts on stewardship. What insights have they gained in their own organisations, and what tips would they give for better stewardship in the year ahead? Here’s what they told us…

1. Define what legacy stewardship means at your charity and to your supporters

For Anna Vincent, Legacy Marketing Manager at RNIB, legacy stewardship is “a journey that starts with an initial conversation or consideration of leaving a gift and seeks to build a long term relationship with a supporter, deepening their engagement in our work.”

She adds: “Once a supporter informs us they have included a gift in their Will, that journey continues to thank and where suitable recognise the potential impact  of their gift to people with sight loss, demonstrating what can be achieved now and in the future. It aims to keep our work relevant and front of mind over the years.”

Barry Hunt, Legacy Manager at Scope adds; “For me, legacy stewardship is about maximising the potential of our legacy prospect pool. It’s about thanking supporters and letting them know just how much we value their legacy and their ongoing support. As well as keeping them informed and up to date with what’s going at our charity and how else they can get involved.”

Michelle Persaud, Legacy and In Memory Fundraising Manager at Battersea Cats and Dogs Home says “At Battersea, legacy stewardship means cultivating and managing meaningful relationships with our supporters. We often refer to ourselves as a family and our aim is to make our Legacy supporters, and all supporters for that matter, feel that they are an integral part of the Battersea family too.”

2. Be clear about what you want to achieve

Anna Vincent says “We want our supporters to understand the importance and impact of gifts in Wills to our work – both now and in the future. And ultimately we want to increase the number of gifts left to RNIB.”

For Barry Hunt, the aim is to move legacy prospects along the ‘pipeline’, converting more enquirers into pledgers. It’s also about improving the chance of staying in supporters’ wills, and in some cases increasing the value of their gifts.

For Michelle Persaud, the goals are more attitudinal. “We want our legacy supporters to feel connected with Battersea, feel well informed and know who they should come to with any questions or concerns.”

3. Be donor-centric

As Anna Vincent puts it, ”A supporter should feel that they are in control of the relationship and get what they need/want from us in terms of information and communications. That may mean opting out entirely or specifying which communications they wish to receive. They should feel properly acknowledged and thanked, and – if they wish – have suitable recognition for their gift.”

Barry Hunt agrees: “Some people like to receive a lot of stewardship and others prefer nothing at all – the trick is finding out their preferences and placing them on the correct supporter journey.”

4. Personalise wherever possible

For Michelle Persaud, personalisation is key to building long-lasting relationships. “The more personal the stewardship and relationship, the greater the reward for both the charity and the supporter.”

At Battersea, the legacy team offers pledgers and enquirers bespoke tours of their rehoming centres. She explains “There is no greater way for a supporter to be reassured of their decision to leave a legacy than to see first-hand how their gift will make a difference. Our supporters have dedicated time to ask us questions, either about their legacy or about Battersea. They can put a face to a name and feel more comfortable contacting us directly for further information. We often receive lovely cards and emails from supporters following a tour, to thank us for their experience.”

5. Measure the effectiveness of your stewardship activities

Persaud says, “We measure success with quantifiable metrics such as volume of pledges, enquiries and donations generated through each specific activity and communication. But we also capture and report on the personal feedback we receive following an event, a tour or a telephone call.”

At RNIB, alongside the traditional measures of ‘completers’ (i.e. pledgers) and ‘commitment’ (i.e. intenders) they also measure effectiveness in terms of the total number of legacy conversations taking place with supporters across all aspects of fundraising.

Likewise, at Scope, ‘hard’ measures such as pipeline movements and conversion rates are combined with ‘softer’ measures such as mailing response rates and event attendance.

6. Seek advice from your peers

In a sector that’s known for its sharing culture, there is a wealth of information to be gained from other fundraisers.

Hunt advises: “Talk to similar charities to find out what they do and what works best for them. Whatever stage your legacy programme is at, you can be certain that someone else has been there before, and will be happy to talk about their experiences – so don’t be afraid to ask.”

So, it’s clear that there’s no one uniform approach to good stewardship. It depends on your cause, your objectives and above all, the needs of the individual donor. Like all relationship building, it’s about asking the right questions, actively listening to the response and genuinely trying to meet your donor’s needs.

Legacy Foresight will be exploring the many issues surrounding legacy stewardships from both the charities’ and the donors’ point of view in a new project kicking off this autumn. To keep informed of our plans, click here.