hat an exceptional way to start our expert interviews. Our first interview is with Meg Abdy. Meg is a recognised expert after having analysed legacies markets and conducting ground-breaking research on the why, what and how behind legacy giving with her company Legacy Foresight. Since 1994 Legacy Foresight has been monitoring the UK market but has also expanded their services to other countries like the Netherlands and Australia.
Meg has been involved in every aspect of the Legacy Foresight business – from forecasting to focus groups, scenario building to social media. Today she is responsible for programme management and business development, with particular interests in international markets, supporter research and in-memory giving.
Last spring Legacy Foresight merged with two other British legacy consultancies: marketing experts Legacy Voice and administration specialists Legacy Link. Together, they are helping over 200 charities worldwide to harness the transformative power of legacy giving.
In the UK, legacy giving is more established and incomes from legacies for charities are higher than across other countries. Looking at different countries, do some nations have a ‘legacy gene’?
Meg: I think the fundamental drive to leave a gift in your will, to leave something behind, is not just a British thing – it’s human nature. There are structural differences between countries that may explain the different stages of development. For example, there are different legal structures, which means that writing a will in the UK is more necessary. Under British law it’s not an automatic process for your family to receive your inheritance, whilst in a lot of other countries, the feeling of needing to write a will is reduced, as automatically your family will inherit your possessions. That makes a huge difference.
Another factor is that the UK charity sector is probably older and perhaps more established than the European continental sectors. As I understand it, a lot of charities in the Netherlands were set up after the second world war, where in the UK many charities date back to Victorian (nineteenth century) times. In the nineteenth Century, in some European countries, the role of the state was more powerful and willing to provide more services than in the UK. And that’s still happening now. Over here, hospitals and hospices, universities and arts organisations are investing in legacy fundraising; sectors that traditionally would have been funded by the government, but no longer receive that support. As a result, those organisations are looking for different ways to raise money and they are adopting legacy fundraising as well.
And another factor comes down to the population size. We have nearly 70 million people in the UK, compared to the 17 million inhabitants in the Netherlands. Our market and our charities are much bigger. We often hear from Dutch fundraisers how difficult it is when you are one person that has to juggle a lot of jobs. In Britain, many charities are able to afford one or more dedicated legacy managers.
So no, I don’t think that the British are more generous or have a ‘legacy gene’.
Do you see other European countries emerging on the legacy market and developing in legacy fundraising? What about big markets, like for example Germany?
Meg: We do not have many insights in the German market. I always feel like it’s a sleeping giant, not least because of its huge population. So far we are not aware of a lot of legacy fundraising going on there. In Germany the number of childless people is high, similar to the UK or the Netherlands so you would think that there would be a great interest in legacy giving.
However because of INGO’s like WWF, Greenpeace or Amnesty, that are working internationally and transferring fundraising ideas from one market to another, legacy fundraising will probably grow there too. It’s surprisingly difficult to gain information on the markets of countries like Germany or France. Some smaller countries like the Benelux seem to be much more proactive in legacy fundraising.
Looking at different European markets it could also be that religious backgrounds – i.e. Catholicism versus Protestantism – affects legacy giving. In Catholic countries families are bigger and people may leave their possessions and inheritance only to their children and not necessarily to a charity.
Yes, and alongside family, perhaps the church is equally important; Family and Faith. I spent some months in Portugal to develop a legacy program for Amnesty there and we interviewed donors about legacy giving. Respondents mentioned that it was common in their culture to also leave a gift to their church. But not everyone resonated with this idea, mainly because they did not feel a strong connection with their church anymore. Respondents were surprised when they heard that it was also possible to leave a gift in their will to a charity. They simply did not know and had never considered it.
Meg: Yes, I think this is changing with the baby boomer generation, who have a different mindset and a different type of spirituality. Not that they don’t have a faith but they prefer less organized religion, so will give in different ways.
And you are so right about awareness, that is crucial. If people don’t know about giving legacies to charities they will not consider it. That’s also another advantage of the UK market. We have Remember a Charity, our national campaign, which has been running for almost 20 years – longer than all the other national campaigns. It’s a result of many charities combining their effort. Back in 2002, charities which were already active in legacy giving got together to set up a national campaign. Remember a Charity creates its own publicity and momentum and more and more charities are joining. Even if they don’t join directly they do more legacy marketing because of the campaign. Every September we have Remember a Charity week and a lot of charities run their own legacy week at the same time, so that way they create momentum together.
Does that mean that investment in legacy communication will result in growth of income out of legacies?
Meg: It probably will do, although it’s hard to prove that if you spend budget that this is having a direct traceable impact. But if you don’t raise awareness that people can leave gifts in their wills, they are simply not going to do it. The more publicity you can create, either as a charity or as a sector, the more impact in the long return. It’s not going to change people’s minds overnight but it’s going to gradually have an impact on the psychology of making a charitable will.
Via your work you have insights into different markets. Is legacy fundraising carried out everywhere in the same way or are there differences across countries?
Yes, I wrote an article in 2017 about some of those aspects. A lot of the market drivers are the same but the way legacy fundraising is done tends to be different. I think in the Netherlands and also in Australia, you are more focused on the stewardship and building relationships with existing donors and supporters. In the UK there was a shift to mass marketing; acquisition, raising awareness and reaching out to a much broader audience. That has declined recently, because of the GDPR (data protection) restrictions and also some negative reactions from the public. Many people do not appreciate such mass communication.
I often think that the Netherlands and Australia are quite similar in their audiences and marketing. I love our Dutch and Australian clients because they are straightforward, to the point and honest. There is not the same sort of artifice that sometimes British fundraisers have, wrapping things up a bit more in mystique. A lot of the interactions and relationship building with individual donors that Dutch fundraisers focus on is really valuable. Perhaps what could be developed further is that umbrella of broader communication to convert that next group of people into giving.
Knowing the market for decades, how did legacy fundraising develop? What did organisations learn?
Meg: Certainly in the UK it evolved a lot. When our Legacy Monitor benchmarking work first started, there were probably ten or twelve charities that received most of the legacy income. Over time, the market has become a lot more competitive. There are many more charities actively marketing gifts in wills and a lot more sectors coming on board. As I mentioned before, universities, hospitals, art organisations or for example, air ambulances have embraced legacy fundraising. So the big brands are no longer as powerful as they once were. Local has become really important. People are much likely to give to a local cause whereas before they were more giving to big national organisations.
Another element is as I mentioned, that for a while marketing became less personal and more mass marketing. It seems like the focus is shifting back to more personalised messaging. Charities now understand that it’s not guaranteed that if someone has written your organisation into a will ten years ago, you will be in that will, ten years later. Looking after that donor and maintaining the relationship during a long period is crucial. We know that stewardship is very important.
Alongside, digital fundraising has become really important too. A lot of money is spent on digital but it’s crucial to know how you can personalize digital fundraising. How can you use social media, your website or email marketing in a way that is really relevant for the individual? How can you tell stories and engage with people on a personal level and not just provide information? It’s about connecting on an emotional level. Charities are still struggling with that but you can also see really interesting developments. Stories are being told with the use of videos, podcasts and virtual reality.
In the UK, free wills are also a big thing; personally I think it’s almost gone too far. There are so many charities making use of free wills now. I can see the point of it more in your country because a lot of people don’t write wills and you have to encourage them to do so. But in Britain most people who are relatively affluent have written a will by the time they die. You don’t need to make them write a free will. There is a concern that by promoting free wills, it’s just about doing it because it’s for free and people then include a small cash gift for a charity. Instead, I think it should be more about stimulating people to think about why they are leaving a gift in their will.
With your immense knowledge on research, would you dare to make a prediction on how you see legacy fundraising developing on the European continent?
Meg: I assume that most, if not all European countries, will see a rise in legacy income because of the baby boomer generation. Because of the sheer size and wealth of that age group but also their aspiration. Compared to previous generations, they have lot more money to give, and are more open to leaving a gift to charity. From the financial point of view it is a growth area and maybe that’s why there is much more investment in it now. This recognition is important for the future. I don’t know how legacy fundraising is going to play out but I think digital is very important in all of that, if it’s that personalized digital fundraising we discussed earlier. It needs to be tailored to help people to communicate and connect. To create a community. If you play digital right you can build up all sorts of wonderful ways to enable people to learn and connect with each other; to share stories and create interaction instead of one way broadcasting.
Do you think that the last year and the covid-pandemic, resulted in some fundamental changes in how we fundraise legacies?
Meg: It’s still evolving and quite hard to predict what’s going to happen in the future. Again, I can only refer to the UK. When the pandemic first struck, there was a sense of having to stop legacy fundraising, because it’s related to the topic of death and it almost felt inappropriate. However, a lot of people actually wanted to write their wills and online will schemes had fantastic results because people were not able to physically go to their solicitors. Next to that there was also a switch in communication by charities to donors. It was about ‘we are in this together’ and showing support and connection. Reaching out to donors to see if they needed help and if they were ok. The focus was centred around stewardship.
Community spirit and local spirit increased during the first year of the pandemic. People were looking out for each other and were really supportive. And there is still that recognition now, that we need and depend on each other. I think that is a really good development as far as legacy fundraising is concerned. It’s not only about protecting your family but also the wider world, because we have realized how connected we all are. I hope that this will relate to more interest in legacy giving in the future.
But it’s also about how charities will communicate with the public over the coming years. That’s critical as to whether all that goodwill will translate into a rise in legacy giving. British people are doing things together with other individuals, in informal groups and in their communities. And in many cases charities haven’t been directly involved. There is more of a community spirit but what is the role of charities, compared to initiatives of individuals, groups of friends, schools or churches? I think that’s still up for grabs.
Legacy Foresight is also doing specific research on certain subjects. Your research on the invisible legator and stewardship gave great insights. Is there some new research coming that we should be keeping an eye on?
Meg: We are currently doing some research into digital legacy fundraising, working with a pioneer group of British charities. That’s very exciting. I’d love to share some findings further down the line.
The other thing that is more developed in the UK, and that has not really hit in the Netherlands and Australia, is In-memory giving. People giving legacies but also making donations in connection to people they have lost. I think this way of giving is becoming even more powerful and is a growth area that has yet to be fully explored. Ten years ago in the UK, in-memory giving was something people rarely talked about, but now it has become much more high profile. A lot of charities have appointed one fundraiser dealing with legacy and in-memory giving; and in some cases, they have both a legacy and also an In-memory fundraiser. As an organisation you should recognise In-memory giving and respond to it in an appropriate way. The more you can encourage people to embrace In-memory giving, the more people will honour someone they lost in this way.
Do you have advice for fundraisers who want to start or develop their legacy fundraising skills?
Meg: There is a book of Directory of Social Change about legacy and In-memory fundraising that’s updated every few years. That’s a really good reference book about what’s going on, very practical and useful. And the legacy fundraising conference that we have in London, which is of course, is still focused on the UK, but who knows maybe we will see a European one in the future?
Interview by Lena Vizy, 5th of May 2021