It was a delight to have spoken with the ever-energetic Richard Radcliffe, global legacy fundraising specialist, about his view on legacy giving in Europe nowadays. A fascinating talk about influencers, inheritance laws and cultural and generational differences. But most of all about the huge potential that lies ahead of us. Read below the entire interview:
Hello Richard, how are you doing these days?
Good! It’s just fascinating times. Of course, I have missed traveling, but in the 35 years I’ve been doing legacies, never have I been so excited in my life! There is the most incredible shift in legacy giving; In America, over the last 15 years, legacy income has grown from 23 to 37 billion dollars. In the UK, in the same period, it doubled from 1,7 to 3,3 billion pounds. And if you look at other countries, France was 15 years ago one of the worst fundraising countries in the world. But now we see they give a billion euros in legacies every year. Canada and Sweden have grown by 50% in the last five years. The only problem is the accuracy of numbers for in Europe not all wills are counted. Spain is estimated at 140 million, but I think it is in reality around 300 million per year, around the same level as the Netherlands.
What are, according to you, the main differences between the UK and the European mainland?
To me, the UK is weird and different. We have very flexible inheritance laws. If you want to leave everything to a charity, you can do it. We have a history of legacy giving that goes back about five hundred years, mainly to the church. But legacy campaigns have been active in the UK for probably just about 75 years. We know that the main person who writes a will is a solicitor. Also, in Britain, the legacy campaigns are simple, for the mindsets are already there; it is doubling every 15 years. But if you cross the border into France or Germany or Belgium and the Netherlands, there are different problems:
For example, in Belgium, you already have three different languages and three different cultures, making it a real challenge to compare each part of Europe to the United Kingdom. For example, which channels work in legacy promotion? In Sweden, most fundraising is done by telephone, which is the most brilliant form of legacy fundraising. It is also loved in the UK because it is the first opportunity for a two-way conversation, especially during Covid. But in Germany, telephone fundraising isn’t as popular.
Looking at similarities, I have read this fascinating research about social media in Europe. We know that it’s common to use Facebook to post legacy messages. Still, our evidence is that nobody remembers any of them because if you look at a post on Facebook half an hour later, you’ve forgotten it. For us in Europe, paper is still critical. Everything we do with every client is based on paper because it is far more effective. The real problem we have is that some organisations minimize newsletters and print because of cost reduction. In contrast, research shows that paper recall is like 20 times higher than a social media post.
The culture of sharing information is crucial. We are launching now a new campaign in Brazil, which is almost 100 percent Facebook, next to direct mail, which works well. Brazilians don’t look on websites, use Instagram or LinkedIn, or other social media, only Facebook.
From your global experiences, what is your view on legacy fundraising throughout Europe?
The biggest problem is fundraising itself. Simply because many board members don’t understand legacy fundraising or focus on short-term results. By the time they reap the benefits of a legacy campaign, they will have left and moved on to another charity. I believe it is the same in Germany, Austria, and even the Netherlands, that decision-makers in fundraising are using reluctant arguments like: “I can’t be bothered to do it, there’s no return, it is not in our tradition to do a legacy campaign.”
But legacy fundraising has the best return on investment. More European countries can do this when France can get up to a billion euros a year in legacies. The donor’s mindset can change quickly but changing the mindset of board members is much more challenging.
In my view, we should divide Europe into three parts. In Southern Europe, legacy giving to the Catholic Church was very ordinary. Eastern Europe is entirely different because philanthropy in itself is only around 30 years old. Fundraisers have a hard time convincing boards since they lack examples from other organisations that legacy fundraising pays off. That is one of the many reasons I work on global research, to show the proof of legacy fundraising growth worldwide.
Looking at Southern Europe and Central Europe, there is this extraordinary mix. In these countries, national inheritance laws make most of the population automatically discount a legacy because they don’t need to make a will. So we have this terrible situation where only 5% of Italians have a will, 7% of Spaniards, and around 14 % of the French. The major problem here is that everybody assumes that you cannot leave a legacy if you have a family. This misconception is the biggest disaster in Europe.
To make legacy giving more common, we are testing throughout Europe the proposition of leaving 1% to a non-profit and 99 % to your beloved ones. So if I want to leave 1%, subsequently, my lawyer will say: ‘Well, actually Richard, you could afford to leave 10%’. Brilliant, then I’ll leave 10%, which is by the way the limit in many European national inheritance laws.
So what we have is a fascinating situation where we can have this significant mindset change that everyone can afford to leave a gift in their will. Even if they are not that rich, and if you have excellent cultivation- and stewardship programs, you can quickly get the 1% up to 5 or 10%. Because, in my view, it’s so easy to change the will, no matter which country it is.
It is so fascinating to understand who the essential influential gatekeepers in Europe are. We presumed wrongly that those are the notaries. But most notaries are government officials and therefore not influential. The exciting thing is that from our international research, we found out, if you have any wealth or assets, you will get a wealth advisor to start your financial planning. So as a legacy fundraiser, you should focus on wealth advisors. The wealth advisor makes a plan and will go to a lawyer, not a notary. So the influencers are not the notaries, but the lawyers and the wealth advisors. We do not know a lot in Europe, as the percentage of wills written by notaries or lawyers, but we do know that wealthy people go to a wealth advisor.
Can services like free wills and online notaries help to increase legacy giving?
During Covid, I’ve spoken to 800 donors from 16 charities. Not one has taken up a free will or will that you can make online. Older people and those are the ones I am interested in, go to a trusted adviser. And that trusted advisor is probably a lawyer. Most older people see free wills as bribery and blackmail or untrustworthy. Your prospects are intelligent people with assets who need trusted advice.
On the contrary, young people see free and online will making as utterly brilliant and jump on it like meerkats. I don’t know if I’m old, but I am old-fashioned, think about it, and slowly take my actions like an elephant. I think very seriously, and the only thing we have in common between a meerkat and an elephant is that we will both go to your website and look at information about how it can be done. And the smart thing to do on your website is to make will writing look easy. Don’t put ten pages of legal advice that scares people off.
Another insight that you repeat in your articles and books is that more than 90 % of people don’t want to let charities know whether they are interested in leaving a gift in their will. What do you advise fundraisers, KPI-wise, dealing with this vast ‘blind’ gap?
In England, 90 percent of the people will never tell you whether they are interested in leaving you a gift by their will. In Europe, where it is less commonplace to give legacies, the only people who will tell you are people without a family because there’s nobody else to tell. So the real problem is that this sharing is regarded as much more private in Germany, France, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Belgium than in England. The mindset is: “It is private, none of your business, I’m not going to tell you any details because I don’t want to be asked how much the legacy is worth, and I might change my mind if my circumstances change….and then I will be letting you down.” So the KPI’s can only be activity-driven: How many legacy brochures are distributed? How many likes on Facebook posts? How many hits are on your legacy web pages? How long do they stay on the web pages? Because usually, they stay for about 20 seconds. Will they be getting the information they need in 20 seconds if they’re spending 20 seconds on the Web? How many embedded legacy messages are put in thank-you letters for donations? Email signatures? Those are the only KPI’s you should use.
Thank you, Richard, for this extensive information combined with your personal view. Do you have some last advice for European(legacy) fundraisers?
As a non-profit, you cannot give legal advice, tax, investment policies. As a non-profit, your only call to action is to get them to write a will. And what I see is that most Europeans still think they can’t. We should make a major mindset shift to change this. Legacy campaigns should be made easy and accessible for everyone. Also, be aware that thoughtful babyboomers only leave a gift to an organisation they love, trust and have confidence in. And what I said earlier, there is huge potential for people with families to create that mind-shift, especially for families to leave a residuary percentage to a good cause. Next, look at your influential gatekeepers, and most important in your communication: keep it very simple. Integrate your legacy message into your normal fundraising. I truly can see doubling legacy income every 10 to 15 years in Europe. If you treat your prospects with the respect they deserve, it can explode…