Many people think, which is very logical, that legacy fundraising is about death. Friends have wondered if I couldn’t have chosen a more pleasant profession… But for everyone interested in this fantastic work field, I have liberating news:
Legacy fundraising is about life!
Of course, a gift through a will becomes active after death. And although the subject gets a little bit more ‘normal’ as the age increases, the older target group is also more or less reluctant to talk about their own death.
This insight is essential for your legacy communication and fascinating to understand on a deeper level. Michael Rosen, professor and author of the bestseller Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing (2010, US), has done extensive research on communication about death and says:
Death is a problem, so people respond to it through two defense strategies:
1. ignore the problem
2. live on after death.’
He also speaks of ‘death reminders’: ‘In various scientific experiments, we see that personal death reminders increase avoidance behaviour’.
It is not for nothing that people often put off making a will for years.
For within legacy fundraising we focus on activating behaviour, namely making a will, ‘death reminders’ seem to be something to stay far away from. But how further? How do we get our target audience into action mode instead of avoidance with a legacy proposition?
First, it helps to remember that making and executing a will is about someone’s life, what someone finds essential, who are dear to him or her, and what personal ideals and values are at play.
From that reflection, you can link this to the practical part, namely arranging it. Those who have included a good cause in their will, and are open about it (pledgers), often say there is real peace of mind after making a will. A burden that has fallen off the shoulders, a pleasantly tidy feeling that it is finally well arranged.
This links to what Michael Rosen believes is a sense of well-being consisting of the following components:
autonomy, connectedness, and effectiveness
Making a will ensures that you, instead of the law, determine how you will bequeath (autonomy), including your loved ones and your precious goals (connectedness), and ensures that your wishes are carried out (effectiveness).
Looking at the second means of avoidance, we look at symbolic immortality and a lasting social impact. It is not without reason that charities often communicate about how your ideals or support can ‘live on’. From my personal experiences with focus groups, I regularly hear that this appeals to many, the concept that someone can continue to contribute to a better world through a legacy.
Legacy fundraising offers enormous potential, and at the same time, legacy communication is all about the right balance. That is why insights and awareness are so crucial. If we are aware of messages that induce ignoring behaviour and focus more on communication, which produces a feeling of ‘well-being’; autonomy, connectedness, and effectiveness, we are expected to find a better tone to address people to let their ideals live on. Research such as this one by Michael Rosen helps us enormously, especially if you combine it with your own observations and testing.
Elly Lont, 2021
P.s. Thanks for reading. If you have additional insights or ideas based on this, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
(source: https: //michaelrosensays.files.wordpress.com/2020/04/legacy-fundraising-best-or-worst-of-times-james-and-rosen-final-1.pdf)
Image credits: Pexels-Jacqueline Smith, Pexels-Rodnae Productions