To quote my friend and colleague Dr Claire Routley, I too have the privilege of being a full-time ‘legacy geek’.

A privilege because of the opportunity to work with an increasingly diverse range of charities, from all shapes, sizes, cause areas and even nations. And geek because it is an area that continues to surprise, fascinate and stretch me – full of weird and wonderful facts, inspirational stories and innovative ideas – that I continue to learn more about every year.

‘Legacies, a practical guide for charities’ published by the Directory of Social Change in 1983, is probably one of the first books ever written on legacy fundraising. Looking back at that legacy giving landscape almost 40 years ago, many things have changed. Legacy income has grown more than ten-fold – from £260m in 1981 to £3bn in 2018. It has grown in importance too contributing 10% of total charity income then, to around 15% today.

We also see a change in the types of charities that received legacy income – with legacy giving concentrated to a few large charities back in 1981, including the wonderfully named ‘The Distressed Gentlefolk’s Aid Association’ in the top 20. However, today we see real growth in small local organisations and growth in new cause areas such as arts, education and even local councils and football teams getting in on the action.

We also see a change in the fundraising tactics of charities, mostly focussed on advertising in legal journals back in the ‘80s, but today becoming increasingly sophisticated, multi-channel campaigns, embracing digital technology and mobilising the whole organisation in speaking about legacy giving.

Despite all the change, the problems of the legacy fundraiser 40 years ago feel painfully familiar today. Most notably, the issue around measuring and evaluating legacy marketing investment.

Back in 1983, Anthony Clay, Director of Fundraising at RSPB said: “It is very difficult to attribute our success directly to what we have done, as there are so many other factors which might have affected the situation”. However, there was a strong belief that “requests equal bequests”, demonstrated by both an increase in their investment and activity in legacy fundraising and growth in legacy income.

Anthony Clay’s quote could have been made by a legacy fundraiser working today. In fact, just last week at the IoF Fundraising Convention, fundraisers from some of our leading charities were debating questions such as “We’ve got so obsessed with measurement, we’ve forgotten our objective is to drive income (not to drive legacy pledges or get people to write Wills)” and “Legacy pledging is really about us – we just pretend it’s about the supporter”.

These questions are symptomatic of the fact that measuring and evaluating legacy fundraising is hard, and we have yet to find a simple, consistent way to measure success.  To meet this need we often turn to tangible metrics to evaluate legacy fundraising success – requesting a guide, filling in a pledge card, downloading a booklet, or attending an event as an example.

But the same conference, the Donkey Sanctuary shared so eloquently their story about investing consistently in ‘softer’ metrics, such as donor care, building trust with donors, and strong legacy leadership, which they feel has paid dividends and has been critical to helping them raise over £20 million in legacy income each year.

The truth is, many variables come to play, and each of these variables needs to be measured over time to indicate legacy fundraising success.

Sharing performance and activity data across charities helps fundraising teams to see the bigger picture and allows individual charities to benchmark and evaluate their success relative to the sector overall.  It is this need that led to the first legacy marketing benchmark project by Legacy Foresight in 2016, which was repeated in 2017 and is to run again this year. I have been closely involved in this analysis since the launch and am pleased to be working on it again this year.

Our last two benchmarking projects taught us a great deal about which data it is possible to collect and is meaningful to analyse. Based on this experience we have streamlined the levels of information in some areas and added some vital extra variables in others. In particular, we are going to be looking at legacy stewardship and will-writing initiatives in more detail; as our clients tell us these two areas are of significant attention and interest at present.

Collaboration has been a core value of the legacy sector over the decades, and we know that by working together and sharing our learnings, everyone benefits. We hope as many charities as possible join us in this year’s legacy marketing benchmark project, to provide the insights that will help us all more effectively evidence and evaluate our legacy fundraising spend.

The deadline for joining Legacy Marketing Benchmarks is 31st July. If you have any questions or would like to hear more it, get in touch.