I was delighted to be involved with Legacy Foresight’s recent Legacy Stewardship research project. I believe we are at a critical time for stewarding our legacy supporters. Over recent years, charities have spent a lot of time and money inspiring supporters to consider a legacy gift. But, all that time and money is wasted if we then do not continue to move, excite and engage those supporters throughout their relationship with our causes. That is why I believe stewardship deserves far greater attention from fundraising teams. In particular, senior management needs to take legacy stewardship more seriously, so it receives the resource and priority it deserves.

In my opinion, two of the key lessons from the research which need far more consideration when planning stewardship programmes, are resource and skills.

Over the course of the project, we conducted case studies of eight charities – ranging from sending handwritten letters to taking pledgers overseas to see projects – using a wide variety of approaches and goals. Some of the best examples of stewardship we studied were extremely low cost. Charities are delivering full stewardship programmes for a few hundred, or a few thousand pounds. In fact, this low-cost activity seemed to be what supporters truly appreciated, offering authenticity and closeness to the cause without much overt expenditure.

Where many stewardship strategies fall short, is in not appreciating how much time and human resource good stewardship programmes need. To offer personal, bespoke and ‘behind the scene’ experiences requires enormous energy and commitment to have maximum impact. The recent Legacy Marketing Benchmark report backs this up with hard facts – overall, stewardship represented just 13% of legacy marketing budgets, but 31% of legacy fundraisers’ time!

In my experience of working with charities across a range of sectors and sizes, freeing team members up to undertake excellent stewardship doesn’t happen often enough, and lost legacies are the result. If your charity wishes to improve its stewardship, investing in staff resource to deliver the programmes is essential.

The second key lesson is something less obvious: good relationship managers have a set of ‘soft’ skills often not prioritised within fundraising teams. Some of the charities we spoke to went so far as to say that these ‘soft’ skills are innate and must be recruited for rather than trained.

Commonly, legacy fundraisers are undertaking a diverse range of marketing activities, even sometimes running other fundraising programmes too. This results in an unrealistic range of skills needed and, in many cases, the ‘soft’ skills – listening, empathy, responsiveness, creativity, for example, may be overshadowed by other ‘harder’ skills.

Our research demonstrated that acknowledging and prioritising these soft skills was critical to delivering magical and effective stewardship programmes. The feedback from the supporters we spoke to echoed this point – where they experienced personal ‘relationship management’ from fundraisers using these softer skills, their understanding of the cause, closeness to the charity and commitment was very high.

I began this blog by saying we are at a critical time for stewardship. We will never know the cost of lost legacies to our charities and the incredible work that could have been delivered if they had been received. To my mind, good stewardship is how we can contribute to reversing this. We ‘just’ need a little imagination, lots of time and to prioritise relationship building!

To access the ‘Understanding Legacy Stewardship’ briefing report, please click here.

Christine Reidy is a legacy fundraising consultant and Associate of Legacy Foresight. She has worked in a variety of fundraising roles, specialising in legacy giving since 2005. She holds an MSC in Charity Marketing and Fundraising and is a past Chair of IOF’s East Anglia Committee and the Legacy and In-Mem Marketing Special Interest Group.

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