Five Evidence-based Ways to Boost Income from Legacies

Five Evidence-based Ways to Boost Income from Legacies

In the UK, around 70% of the population donates to charity in one form or another during their lifetime. Yet only 7.3% leave a gift to charity in their will. Despite this small percentage, charities still receive £2 billion in funding every year from legacies. Just imagine what more we could do in the charity sector if everyone who donated in their lifetime also left a legacy.

So much of a charity’s fundraising efforts are focused on individual giving, community giving, fundraising from events and applying for grants. For every £1 spent, fundraising returns on average between £3 and £4. The lowest return on investment (ROI) is street fundraising at between £1 and £2, closely followed by events at £2 to £3. Grants are more lucrative returning £7 to £8 for every £1 invested.

Legacy fundraising goes far beyond any of these and returns on average £30 for every £1. So it certainly pays to have legacy giving as a core part of any fundraising strategy.

With all that in mind, here are five ways to help you boost your income from legacy giving right from day one.

1. Sell the Vision

Often we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to legacy giving. The charity sector can tend to talk negatively about funding: ‘these are difficult times’, ‘our funding is being cut’, ‘we need your support now’.  These might be more appropriate messages for emergency appeals or individual giving but they’re the worst when it comes to legacy giving. We are creating the doubt that stops people donating.

For those planning to leave a financial gift in their will, it may be another 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years before that donation is realised. Your supporters need the reassurance that your charity will be around in 50 years’ time to benefit from their gift.

When communicating your legacy messages, paint the vision or picture for the next 50 years in your charity. What would the world look like if you achieved your vision? You may want to revisit your charity’s ‘Vision Statement’ for inspiration. Keep the message simple enough that a child could understand it.

Even if your charity really is in a precarious financial situation currently and it’s no secret, be sure to sell the determination, commitment and drive to be around long into the future. Make it clear that you won’t go down without a fight at the very least!

2. Ask for the Residual Legacy

There are several different ways that a supporter can leave a gift to your charity in their will.

An itemised legacy is a specific item is donated to your charity. It may be a boat, a car, a house, a book collection, a laptop.

A pecuniary legacy is a specific amount of money left to your charity, e.g. £10,000.

A residual legacy is either a percentage of a person’s estate, or what’s left over once everything else has been allocated.

A conditional legacy is when something must happen in order for money to go to the charity for example ‘If my husband is still alive, the money is to go to him, otherwise it can go to this charity.’

Not all legacies are created equally, but fortunately the legacy with the best ROI is also the easiest to ask for. Whilst a pecuniary legacy on average is worth £3,000 to a charity, residual legacies are worth a spectacular £34,000. And that’s just on average.

People often underestimate the value of their entire estate and therefore a large amount often remains unallocated. So after people have taken care of their partner, their children, their family and loved ones, this donation is simply what remains of their estate. And asking people to think of your charity once they’ve taken care of their loved ones is surely the easiest of all to ask for.

3. Exploit the psychology of social norms

Social norm messaging can be an incredibly convincing tool of persuasion when it comes to getting people to behave in a certain way.

No doubt, many of you reading this article will have noticed messages in hotels asking you to reuse towels to help save the environment. When that message includes the fact that 75% of people staying in that hotel reuse their towels, the number of people reusing their towels in that room goes up. When the message is changed to the fact that 75% of people who stay in that room reuse their towels, the number goes up even higher. As humans we want to fit in, so social norms are incredibly convincing.

You can use this psychological trick to your advantage. Make it seem normal that people are having conversations about legacy giving or are choosing to leave a gift in their will:

“Last month, 50% of our regular supporters like yourself attended our event on legacies.”

“This week over 1,000 people visited our page on how to leave a gift to charity in your will.’

“When we surveyed our members, 60% said they would consider donating to us through a legacy.”

“Last year, three of our long-standing members made a bequest to the charity to leave a legacy.”

If any of your current members, supporters, volunteers, staff, CEO, trustees or patrons are planning on leaving a legacy, be sure to communicate this to your supporters with that person’s permission.

There is nothing more powerful than the leaders of a charity showing their commitment to the charity’s future by openly declaring they have bequeathed a legacy in their will.

4. Team Up With a Local Solicitor

Make sure that it is as easy as possible for someone to leave a legacy to your charity if they wish. Keep in mind that many supporters may not even have written will or know how to – nearly 60% of Britons have not written a will after all.

At the very least you might want to locate the solicitors who provide will-writing services in your local area and make them aware of your charity, so they can support those who approach them wishing to leave something to their local sight loss charity. The Law Society have a website function to search for solicitors in a local area who provide will-writing services:

You may wish to team up with a local solicitor and cover some or all of the cost for an individual who chooses to make a will with that solicitor. Remember though, even if you are covering the cost of that service, you cannot expect the individual to leave something to your charity. This is an investment risk you need to weigh up within your charity.

You may wish to go a step further and use the expertise of your sight loss organisation to support solicitors to become more accessible to people with sight loss looking to write a will. With wills being written, printed documents, many people with sight loss may feel put off from making a will in the first place. You may be able to come to a win-win arrangement with a local firm to help increase the number of people accessing their paid services whilst at the same time helping your supporters to access what they need to leave a legacy.

5. Start with The Smallest Goals

Getting someone to leave a legacy to your charity in their will is not a single action – it’s an ongoing process with several stages. At a very basic level, you could consider it a three-stage process.

Firstly, you need to raise awareness. Many people may never have considered leaving a legacy or even know that it’s an option. This stage is about sewing the seed – communicating the concept of legacy giving, talking about others who have left legacies.

Secondly, you need to encourage consideration. Now people know legacy giving is an option, they need to start thinking of it as an option for themselves. This is your case for support and showing the difference it can make. You need to understand the motivations of your supporter.

Finally, you can prompt action. Only now that people are aware and have considered the option of giving can you prompt people to make or update their will. This will be explaining the options available and supporting them to access those options.

Don’t be tempted to jump to the final stage. Just focus on stage one first of all – communicating the message of legacy giving to raise awareness. Set yourself small goals that relate to this first stage. Some indicators to help measure progress on stage one might include:

  • Number of visits to legacy website pages
  • Reach / engagement in social media on legacy giving
  • Number of articles on legacy giving
  • Number of people receiving legacy mailing
  • Number of face to face conversations about legacy giving

Focus on measuring the volume of communication about legacy giving before you go any further.


Now you know the value of legacy giving and have some ideas on how to increase your income from legacy fundraising, it’s time to get to work making partnerships, communicating the message and setting goals. But it doesn’t end there.

As wonderful as it is for someone to leave a legacy in their will to your charity, if you do not know about it, it will be very difficult to plan your charity’s activities. Be sure to ask people to tell you when they’ve made a pledge or a bequest.

To help your charity’s financial planning when it comes to legacy fundraising, head over the Knowledge Hub in the members area of the website and go to the ‘Fundraising’ section to find the planning document ‘Measuring Success in Legacy Giving – Key Metrics’ along with other guides and resources.

If you want any more information on legacy giving or other resources, contact Visionary by emailing