The digital space is accessible to charities of all sizes, offering amazing tools for reaching new audiences, telling stories and stimulating conversations.

The pandemic has led to an inevitable surge in the use of digital technologies by both charities and their supporters. After months of spending so much of our time online, digital literacy has grown, resulting in permanent shifts in how people wish to live, work, and engage with businesses, charities and communities.

In this fast-changing environment, legacy teams have adopted new ways to recruit and steward legacy donors. We have seen innovations across the sector, with teams re-imagining their planned activity in a virtual world.

Over the past 6 months, Legacy Foresight has been running a programme with a pioneer group of 30 leading charities to understand what’s been happening in this space. We have laid the foundations by collecting evidence on the current scope of digital legacy fundraising and conducting ‘social listening’ research into the conversations on social media around legacy giving.

Our social listening research identified a public reticence to talk about gifts in Wills. Currently, volumes of content are low compared to other topics such as in-memory giving. How can we encourage more original User Generated Content to drive peer-to-peer sharing? Which new influencers and intermediaries can we work with to inspire legacy giving? And what more can we be doing collectively through digital and social to raise awareness and normalise behaviour?

Digital legacy stewardship – what next?

Legacy stewardship is a vital issue for all legacy fundraisers, however large or small their charity, whatever their cause area. Inspiring a supporter to consider writing you into their Will is a testament to the strength of their connection with you. But it’s just the start of a journey that may take years, even decades, to realise. Your legacy donors’ continued support cannot be taken for granted. As Legacy Foresight found in the 2018 Understanding Legacy Stewardship project, “to stay top of mind throughout your legacy donor’s lifetime, your charity must continue to prove your relevance, show your appreciation and build the supporter relationship”.

There is growing evidence about the use of ‘conventional’ stewardship approaches, such as events, service visits and personalised one-on-one contact by phone or post. But less is known about how digital and social communications can add value. How can they be used to provide ‘behind the scenes’ insights into your organisation, express your values, and nurture relationships? To surprise, delight, and even to convey magic? Can they appeal to a new and different target audience that might not otherwise engage with you?

How should we measure success?

There’s a myriad of KPIs and benchmarks out there, but most are based on more immediate forms of sales or fundraising. What measures make sense for the protracted, emotional legacy donor journey? How can we prove the return on investment in digital and social legacy fundraising to help make the case for more spend?

With limited budgets and heavy internal competition for airtime, we need to prove the effectiveness of our digital and social activities. Benchmarks can help track performance over time, compare results to peer charities, and test and learn. There’s already an array of digital benchmarks to choose from, but many are not relevant to legacy fundraising. Given our specific objectives, our older audience and our desire to foster long-term relationships, which measures are right for us?

What investment will be needed?

Our clients know how vital digital and social marketing will be in the future. 100% of this year’s consortium expected their charity to commit more resource to digital in the next five years; 77% expected a lot more. Already, around one-fifth of team time and team budgets are spent on this area. But with so much information out there and limited capacity, what practical steps should we take now to make things happen?

At such a crucial time for legacy giving and as digital fundraising unfolds at pace, I’m so excited to be looking at finding answers for these questions (and more!) with the Legacy Fundraising 2.0 learning circle and key sector partners. If you’d would like to find out more the next programme starting in July, please contact Caroline Waters.