Our research to date has revealed that good stewardship can create engaged, loyal legacy donors who feel assured that their gift is needed and will be well spent. Far from being a ‘waste’ of money, stewardship shows donors that they are valued. And right now, stewardship for supporters is critical.

Satisfied pledgers and prospects spread their good experiences to family and friends and – with the right support – may become more formal legacy ambassadors.

In fact, highly engaged supporters who indicate that they are open to dialogue expect reciprocation. Based on our research, it appears that this small group of ‘cherished’ supporters may well be higher value childless and/or residual legacy donors, who will go on to leave significant gifts.

Beyond the ’inner circle’ of engaged donors is a much larger group of disclosed but apparently disengaged legacy pledgers. Cutting through the ‘noise’ to target this wider group with personalised, compelling communications is a challenge but also a significant opportunity.

What can you do to understand and improve this experience for your supporters during this important yet difficult time? I’ve pulled together some things to consider.

  1. The best stewardship conveys magic – Surprise and delight supporters, engaging emotionally and make them feel is key to this.
  2. Beyond the magic, personal connection is key. This doesn’t have to be big or expensive; authentic small communications, such as personalised cards or tokens of thanks, can make the donor feel appreciated and involved. Having a named person to contact seems to make all the difference, providing a conduit into the charity itself. We know how much you care about your donors; personal connection is the best way to show them that you care.
  3. In many cases and examples uncovered in our research, direct expenditure on stewardship activities was low and was often appreciated by supporters. It is important to note that good stewardship requires a significant commitment of staff time and the authority and influence to make things happen. Things like sending follow-ups to mass communications or picking up the phone to speak to the supporter directly can go a long way. These personal touches are not difficult or costly to do, but you do need the time, of course.
  4. Developing the legacy donor relationship takes many years, but often legacy stewardship programmes suffer from a sporadic approach. The commitment needs to be maintained through any management changes, with procedures to ensure continuity of donor communications. This is particularly important in the light of high levels of staff turnover, where connections and records may be lost when a key team member moves on.

There are all sorts of reasons why a pledger might remove your charity from their next will. Over time, circumstances change, and allegiances shift, so other beneficiaries – whether charities or family members – may take precedence.

To stay top of mind throughout your legacy donor’s lifetime, your charity must continue to prove your relevance, show appreciation and build the supporter relationship.

As part of our Stewardship research, Cancer Research UK and Great Ormond Street Hospital shared some examples of how they approach stewardship. These examples are from before the pandemic but show their commitment to building relationships with supporters.

CRUK has a regional relationship approach to its stewardship and is a great example of personalisation. The Manager is given the freedom to build and develop the relationship as they see best. Personalised emails, tailored newsletters and regional or cancer-specific news is shared with the supporter. They use hand-written notes and offer experiences that allow the supporter behind the scenes.

At GOSH, when a supporter becomes a pledger, they are given a hard-back book on the history of Great Ormond Street, a coffee table read. From there, if they seek it or if they are selected, they receive a bespoke legacy journey with hand-written letters and updates, Christmas cards from children and one to one stewardship.  From the donor’s point of view, GOSH develop a very personal relationship with the hospital, seeing developments before anyone else and really appreciating the continued amazing work the hospital does. This builds a deep commitment to supporting the work and an understanding of exactly what their legacy gift will achieve.  From the charity’s perspective, they are able to say thank you with a very special gift and then build relationships that will lead to significant support in the future, as well as being advocates for the charity in their lifetime.

With will-making at the forefront of many minds, you may want to refer to our Legacy Inspire work, to find out how to inspire enquirers with the all-important legacy brochure and our advice for making the first impression count.

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