Legacy Fundraising

Selling the Vision

When talking about legacy fundraising, the next year or the next five years become irrelevant. It’s the big vision for the next 50 years that you need to communicate. The language you use for this will be different from any other form of fundraising. For example campaigns urging individuals to donate to a crisis are framed in negative language and what will happen if you don’t act now, as that urgency is what compels people to act immediately. However in legacy fundraising you need a different language and you need to describe your organisation’s vision that they can help you achieve. Avoid using jargon, describe the ‘picture’ of the vision, i.e. what the world would look like if you achieved your vision. Keep it very simple, like explaining to children.


A person themselves decides to give you something in their will

In memorium

A donation comes from friends or family of the deceased. It can come at all stages of the grieving process. It might be at the funeral people ask for a donation to charity instead of flowers; it might be an event to mark the anniversary of a death. It can be used to help manage grief. It does not include family or friends setting up their own foundation or trust.


The person giving the legacy


A promise to give something, but not a guarantee


A legacy – a definite promise (already written into a will)

Planned giving

Another word for legacy fundraising – a euphemism!

Itemised legacy

A specific item donated, e.g. a boat, a car, a house, a book collection

Pecuniary legacy

A specific amount of money, e.g. £10,000

Residual legacy

Either a percentage of an estate or what’s left after everything else has been allocated

Conditional legacy

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


Being notified that someone’s given you a gift

Be aware of your own emotions when responding to these words. Some people might feel it’s ambulance chasing whereas other might feel they’re immortalised through legacy.

Avoid predatory language, for example ‘When you leave your will, do this… .’ Instead, you could try ‘If you want the opportunity to do this, here’s how you can if you want to play a part in the vision.’

Advantages of legacy fundraising

With individual giving they physically lose the money as they have to part with it there and then. With legacies, they don’t have to go through the pain of losing anything. They can afford it – it won’t affect them. It allows people to still feel involved and be able to give but without the financial pressure.

Legacy fundraising is the most unpredictable income stream ever and it is very unusual for small charities to get legacy donations, however it is still worth considering because it produces by far the best return on investment.

Even within legacy fundraising, you need to be clear in your organisation what sort of legacy you are after (itemised, pecuniary, conditional, residual). Residual legacies are by far the most valuable and they’re also the easiest to ask for. ‘After you’ve taken care of your loved ones, if there is anything left over, think of us.’ Alternatively you could ask for a percentage amount which itself may sound very low but in reality could be several thousands. For example, ‘If you’d like to contribute to our vision, please consider donating just 1% of your estate.’ Pecuniary donations (specified sums of money) are never that high in comparison.

Return on investment (ROI) as a sector average against every £1 spent:
  • Fundraising as a whole = £3-4
  • Events fundraising = £2-3
  • Street fundraising  = £1-2
  • Corporate fundraising = £4
  • Major gifts = £3
  • Trusts = £7-8
  • Legacy fundraising goes far beyond any of these and returns on average £30 for every £1 invested!
Benefits to individuals who leave a legacy:
  • They get the experience of being a donor before they’ve even given – may be invited along to charity’s donor events
  • Tax incentive – if you give 10% of your estate to charity, you reduce inheritance tax if you’re paying at 40% down to 36%. (An estate of over £375,000 will incur 40% inheritance tax).
  • All donations are tax free
Convincing people to donate

Social services and health services are on obvious choice for legacies because most people have used them by the time they die. Local charities are becoming much more people to leave legacies to.

Small charities have the tendency to talk negatively about their funding: ‘We’re not sure about our future, funding is being cut, it’s difficult for us to survive.’ You cannot talk like this if you’re trying to sell legacy fundraising to people because you’re asking them to buy into your long term vision. This is not individual giving which requires people to respond to a crisis. Instead you need to sell you determination, commitment and drive to be around in the future otherwise people will perceive you as fragile and won’t donate. Make it clear that you won’t go down without a fight! Often charities themselves are responsible for creating the doubt that stops people donating.

Do your Articles of Memorandum or Constitution offer a clause about where legacies go if you close down? If people don’t like those plans, then advise them to make a conditional legacy so they choose where else their donation goes if your charity folds.

Legacy Foresight is a think tank doing research into legacy fundraising.

Remember A Charity is a consortium of UK charities that raises the profile of legacy fundraising. There is a ‘Remember A Charity’ week in September: Rememberacharity.org.uk

There are two processes for securing a legacy gift:

  • Prompting people to write a will in the first place
  • Get people to update a will to include your charity

Signpost people on where they can go to do this. Legacy Foresight and Remember A Charity will be able to direct people.

Useful resources

Stephen George, Richard Radcliffe, Claire Routley are leaders in the field of legacy fundraising.

British Red Cross are leaders in the charity sector at obtaining legacies. Look at their website for best practice on how to do legacy fundraising. They dedicate a full page spread to the topics with further links to ‘Why gifts matter?’ and ‘How we can help you’. You could use the wording they use here and adapt it to your own charity:

Sofii.org is a showcase of fundraising innovation and inspiration with great case studies which includes legacies. NSPCC did a great piece on how to drop legacies into conversation. See it here:

Whizz-kids.org.uk are a good example of a small/medium charity doing legacy fundraising.

Monitoring legacy fundraising

With legacy fundraising it’s not enough simply to convince people to donate, you need to tell them to tell you that they’ve actually done it. Tell them, ‘We want to be able to plan for our future. Part of what helps us to do that is anticipating gifts so please let us know if you are considering.’ British Red Cross use a tactic on their website to try work out who is likely to be donating of requesting a legacy booklet. It is not possible to download it automatically. You have to fill in your information, giving them better leads.

British Red Cross supplement the cost of writing a will so that it’s free to the individual. You could offer a discounted rate – it’s worth finding a good local lawyer to support with this. Will Aid has 8-9 large charities including Sightsavers. Willaid.org.uk has a search mechanism for local will writers.

In memorium fundraising – the British Red Cross has a separate section on its website for this. It needs much more sensitivity than legacy fundraising. They suggest lots of good ideas on how to donate: set up a Just Giving page for ‘in memorium’ donations for example.

Marketing legacies

You need to keep drip feeding the suggestion of creating a legacy to people – put it in email signatures, on your website, in newsletters etc. If you have information on your website, put links to legacy fundraising on the top right as this is where they eye naturally gravitates towards.

Use the word ‘donate’ on your website rather than ‘fundraising’.

If you are advertising legacy fundraising, don’t do it from the voice of the charity, do it from the voice of the supporter: ‘I’m leaving a gift to this charity, here’s how you can do it.’ Make clear who your target market is and have them represented in that advert (for example they may be middle class, it might be a former service user, it might be someone in their sixties). A good advert is not about the money itself it’s about the impact the money will have – you do not even have to mention money. Be sure to mention in your advert that you are prompting people to either make a will or update their will and that it’s the residual legacy you are after: ‘In my will, I leave a gift to….’

When talking to current or former service users you can explain that leaving a legacy is ‘the best way to say thank you’.

Legacy fundraising strategy
  • Decide who to offer this chance to (to donate a legacy). Start small.
  • Set goals for activity and outcomes – it won’t be about obtaining a sum of money though. It will be around mentioning is in the August newsletter, updating the website, getting a certain number of enquiries.
  • Ask people what part of your work inspired them the most and use that in your message when encouraging people to leave a legacy.
  • Learn the best way to reach that group and use the language and communications familiar to them, for example don’t focus on advertising through your newsletter if you key audience doesn’t read your newsletter but attends you events instead.
  • Test, get feedback on what works and what doesn’t and re-iterate. Plan around other activity – look at what you’re already doing and see where the legacy message can fit in. For example if you’re doing feedback forms after events, you could add a reminder about leaving a legacy at the bottom of the form.

 Measuring success in legacy giving (23KB)

 Legacy fundraising (58KB)

  Guide to talking about legacies (54KB) – adapted from NCPCC Talking Legacies

Font Resize
Change contrast