We enjoyed talking to Emma Bowles about talent development, the foundation of a strong legacy program and in-memory giving. Emma is last year’s winner of the Future Leader Award for fundraisers who started working in legacy or in-memory roles within the last three years. You can still apply for the Legacy Futures Awards 2022 until the end of March.
Emma, how did you start in fundraising? And why legacy fundraising?
I now work for a hospice charity, called ellenor. But before that I was an event and project manager in the arts and culture sector. Maybe it sounds a little cliché but I changed sectors because I wanted to make an impact and leave the world a better place. So, when the opportunity came up to work in the events team at ellenor in 2017 I jumped at the chance. A big part of my role working in events had always been managing our in-memory mass participation walk. Many people support ellenor because they or someone they know, has lost someone special. So, I’ve always been quite exposed to that in-memory element of event fundraising. I always felt that event fundraising was one of the last steps in that initial journey of bereavement. Often there is that point where people say: ‘I need to do something. I need to give back. We need to come together to celebrate that person’s life.’
In March 2020, just before the pandemic hit, I went to a conference run by the Hospice Income Generation Network. And there, Dr. Claire Routley presented on her work in legacy fundraising; she spoke with such passion, it was infectious. I sat in the auditorium, and I thought ’I want to be a legacy fundraiser’. Before hearing Claire speak, I’d never really seen what my career in fundraising could look like but after hearing her, coupled with my experience of in-memory events, it was crystal-clear that I needed to become a legacy fundraiser. The first moment an opportunity to join the individual giving team came up I jumped at the chance.
In-memory giving is very well known in the UK but maybe not everywhere in Europe. Can you explain what it is about?
An in-memory gift is a donation made to an organisation or charity in memory of someone that has passed. In-memory giving could be a funeral collection, one off donation, fundraising or sponsorship. It’s a special way to remember and honour a loved one and at the same time help others.
In the Netherlands, people would probably only think of a funeral collection. But in-memory gifts can be more than that. Can you give us some examples?
Funeral collections are the most recognisable example of an in-memory gift, but that’s not necessarily where it ends. You’ll see lots of different examples of in-memory giving across the world. For example, you might have seen “Sponsor a Brick”. The idea is that you donate the cost of a brick that will be used to build a new building, a new hospital wing for example, and the name of your loved one is then engraved on that brick. Or, in the arts and culture world, this could be “Dedicate a seat” in a theatre in memory of your loved one. These are referred to as in-memory products, and can be a way for a family or friend to create a physical memorial for their loved one. You also have in-memory donations, like funeral donations, fundraising through participating in an event or setting up a tribute fund or memorial page. There are lots of different elements of in-memory giving, but it’s all centred around this idea of creating meaning and paying tribute when someone has died.
You won last year’s Legacy Future Leader Award which is a prize for fundraisers who started working in legacy or in-memory roles within the last three years. I sometimes speak to younger colleagues who feel a little shy and even reluctant to work in legacy fundraising. They don’t consider themselves mature enough or think they will have to deal with very heavy topics. What would be your advice to them?
To talk about legacy fundraising, you must at least broach the idea of death with a supporter, and that can be daunting. But legacies are much more about life, and how a supporter wants to leave the world once they’re gone. I am mindful that I work at a hospice, where death is not the taboo subject it seems to be in society. The hospice sector particularly has worked really hard to challenge the concept of death as being a taboo subject.
Overcoming that fear of talking about death is a big part of being a confident legacy fundraiser. But as I said before, legacies aren’t just about death – they are about life. The supporter’s life. How their memories and experiences made them who they are and inspired them to support the charities they do. As a legacy fundraiser, you are helping that supporter create a narrative of self-remembrance, something that will bring them comfort in life, and will ensure that they will be remembered how they wish to be remembered in death.
If you are looking to start a career in legacy fundraising take advantage of the plethora of webinars, podcasts, journals, studies, blogs and articles out there, not just on legacy fundraising but around self-remembrance, death and symbolic immortality too. The more you can educate yourself, the more confident you should feel.
I have often experienced that conversations about legacy giving are less about death and more about life – about someone’s memories, experiences and dreams. I feel very privileged that people shared their life story with me.
Yes, you’re invited into that person’s life. It’s a unique position to be a legacy fundraiser and get this kind of peek through the window of someone’s life – it really is a very special and rewarding role.
About winning last year’s award. How did you apply for the award? How was the process?
I was very fortunate in that my line manager nominated me. When I started working in the Individual Giving Team, I was convinced that we had enormous potential to grow in-memory and legacy income. I saw that there were so many opportunities particularly around how we looked after our supporters. Stewardship has always been at the heart of my work – I always put myself in the supporter’s shoes, “how would that make me feel?”, “what would I do next?” etc. By making positive changes to our supporter stewardship we saw a 20% growth in in-memory fundraising in the first quarter. This was what motivated the nomination – it was actually around my in-memory work, rather than legacy fundraising. I received an email to inform me that I have been shortlisted for the award, which was a real shock, but I was lost for words when I later discovered that I’d won! My line manager obviously did a very good job writing my nomination (laughing). Having my work recognised and celebrated by leaders in the sector was an incredible feeling and knowing that this all steamed from my line manager really boosted my confidence. This is actually great advice for anyone who works with a talented legacy or in-memory fundraiser. You can nominate that person. And from personal experience, I can tell you how special and valued your nomination will make them feel.
The prize was a six month one-to-one mentoring program. How did this help you in your work?
It was amazing. I had three mentors across the six month period: Legacy experts; Claire Routley and Ashley Rowthorn and in-memory guru; Kate Jenkinson. Across the six months, I covered so many different topics with them; their knowledge and experience is so rich and diverse I felt very privileged to be able to learn from three of the leading experts in the field. We covered so many elements of in-memory and legacy fundraising; from theory to practice and everything in between. Each session I would finish with pages of notes and a head full of ideas. It really guided my work, I have not only gained a huge insight into legacy and in-memory fundraising, but I was also learning more about the theory behind these types of fundraising, which has enabled me to work more strategically and analytically. To make sure that we have strong foundations, before we start to build the house.
Exactly, it’s so important to have a strong foundation. A proposition that is working and that reflects your organisation’s DNA. Later you can still expand activities.
As fundraisers we all at some point have been hyper-inspired by an idea, or ideas, and there can sometimes have a tendency to act on those ideas in a non-strategic way. But it’s so important to build those ideas up from the strong foundations. Inspired by the mentoring my aim is to have built, by the end of this year, a strong, clear legacy strategy with good messaging that reflects our values, our mission, organisation and our brand.
I would love to hear your opinion or your prediction. What will be important topics and trends in legacy fundraising and in-memory giving?
Prediction wise we see great opportunities, legacy fundraising is set to double to £6bn in the next 30 years, and the transition of wealth from the Baby oomer Generation to Generation X is predicted to be one of the largest transitions of inherited wealth to date. But there are challenges too; be that the rising numbers of registered charities, to the increasing numbers of charities benefitting from a single Will, to how supporters’ behaviours around giving are changing.
Two categories of awards including the Legacy Future Leader Award are open to international entries. Deadline is March 31, 2022 at 5:00 PM GMT. Good luck!
Interview by Lena Vizy, March 2022