Gastblog: Monika Willich – Legacy Fundraiser
Monika is an educational science graduate and fundraising manager (FA). Since 1993, her career has led her through various non-profit organisations. From 2005 to 2018 she was responsible for legacy and major donor fundraising at the federal headquarters of Malteser Hilfsdienst e.V. and for Malteser International. She also works part-time as a lecturer, e.g. at the Fundraising Academy Germany, at fundraising congresses and writes articles. Since September Monika is in charge of the legacy fundraising program of UN Refugee Aid e.V. (UNHCR) in Bonn/Germany.
“Does your heart belong to me?!”
The three biggest mistakes in donor relationship management of pledgers*.
Loyalty with donors is essential, especially when it comes to legacy fundraising. The strongest connection is the one between people who embody “their” mission in a personal and authentic way. “People do not give to people. They give to people with causes. ” (European Commission, 2008*). But stewardship of donors raises questions about closeness and distance in the donor relationship. It’s a fine line. That’s why I think it’s important to take a clear position.
Misconception 1: Donor relationships are private friendships
It is a mistake to see relationships with donors as personal. Most of our pledgers are retired, some of them lonely. The wish for more close contact can arise, e.g. through regular visits, small errands or joint activities. In a worst case scenario their support of the charity may be conditional on the charity’s reciprocal “friendship”. Sensitivity is required here. The best approach is to always appear as a friendly, competent employee of a charity with clear limitations.
Misconception 2: Non-profit employers are perfect do-gooders
“Meaningful action with full commitment! Belong to the good guys! Help to change the world ”. Caution: Overestimation of fundraisers can quickly turn into frustration. Employers shouldn’t demand excessive commitment such as: constant availability, including outside of working hours or while on vacation, waivers of certain regulations, additional tasks that are to be performed “on a voluntary basis”.
Misconception 3: Relationship management is office fundraising
Anyone who thinks that relationships can be cultivated entirely from the office is wrong. Maybe fundraisers who think like that are shying away from personal contact? Personal meetings need to be well prepared; you have to organize the journey, prepare documents, be competent and well informed. Will the visit be pleasant? Will there be sensitive topics? Personal conversations are usually the key that lead to a will in favour of the organisation. Even if the conversations aren’t always easy.
No misconception: donors are friends (of the organisation)
A complete rollback to a purely professional and informative communication is neither possible nor sensible. Because it’s all about building trust, creating connections and letting the spark of enthusiasm grow to ultimately receiving a generous gift in a will.
I consider the pledger a friend of the organisation. And that’s how I treat him or her. In my working hours, I dedicate myself to the relationship with joy, respect and attention. Just as a good doctor looks after their patients. But if someone asks me for my private phone number, I’ll pass. I also don’t have the number of my well-esteemed orthopaedic surgeon either.
I have been a legacy fundraiser for 16 years and I am motivated to continue my work – maybe also because I am constantly aware of the balance between closeness and distance.
* Pledger = The term ‘pledger’ is used to denote someone who has informed the charity that they have included a legacy to that charity in their Will.
* European Commission (2008): Engaging Philanthropy for university research. Luxembourg
This article is a revised version from August, 2021. The original German version can be found here (page 58): https://fundraiser-magazin.de/files/archiv/pdf/fundraiser_43_2014-05.pdf