We talked with Simona Biancu, fundraising and strategic philanthropy consultant, about legacy giving in Italy – a work field that she describes as ‘work in progress’. With more than ten years of experience in helping and training NGO’s Simona sees which barriers still need to be overcome and share’s also best-practices of great Legacy fundraising of Italian organisations with us. Read here the entire interview:
Simona, how would you describe the current situation of legacy fundraising in Italy?
In September we celebrated International Legacy Giving Day in Italy and I can share some interesting facts and figures about legacy giving. In general I would describe it as a ‘work in progress’ situation. €800 million to 1 billion is left through bequests annually to the Italian nonprofit sector, due to a survey run by Fondazione Italia Sociale in 2018. A new research by the Italian Comitato Testamento Solidale (the national campaign of 24 charities to promote legacy giving) shows that after the pandemic the willingness to make a will decreased. It shows that 42% of the respondents do not consider making a will, compared to 34% in 2020.
Italians are open to leave a gift in their will but less people are willing to make a will in general?
The number of those who prepared or intend to do a gift in their wills is growing: among the over-50s, it is 22%. But the propensity to make a will is generally reduced. To leave a bequest to charities is called a ‘solidarity will’ in Italy, in which there is a so-called “available quota” that can be used for a gift in favour of a good cause.
About 50% of the respondents think that gifts in a will to charities is for those without descendants. In Italy the law strongly protects family assets and heirs. There is a general perception that nonprofits are trying to overcome: if you leave a legacy to a nonprofit, you deprive your descendants. It’s a question of culture and knowledge. Italian law makes sure that you can leave a legacy to a nonprofit without depriving your descendants.
Would you say that in Italy, legacy fundraising has a challenge to overcome negative connotations?
It’s not negative; it’s simply a question of not knowing what the Italian law secures. Not everyone knows that leaving a gift to a charity next to giving to the family is possible. They think that leaving a legacy to a nonprofit is something only for people without any heirs. And 40% of the respondents believe that legacy giving is something only for rich people. Only 13% of respondents believe that everyone can leave a legacy to a nonprofit organisation. So it’s just a very small percentage. This is why I described the situation as a ‘work in progress’.
Yes, that’s very interesting. The awareness of legacy giving differs in European markets. In the UK, for example, it’s well known that it is possible to of leave a gift in a will for a good cause, whereas it is sometimes more unknown in other countries.
Recently we had an interesting discussion on how to set up an international certificate for fundraisers at the EFA (European Fundraising Association) symposium. I was there on behalf of the Italian association, and what I noticed is that the discussion was mainly about translating fundraising handbooks from English to other languages. The question is not just about translating knowledge into other languages; you have to translate content into different cultural backgrounds. It’s not about simply copying and pasting something across the borders. You have to adapt it to the culture of specific countries. Only in context, can you use fundraising vehicles. What nonprofits should do is disseminate a culture of legacy giving.
I have noticed in my years working as a consultant that often the nonprofits are afraid or reluctant to start a conversation, a dialogue on legacy giving. A few years ago, I delivered a training on legacy fundraising, and on every slide of my PowerPoint Presentation, I included the quote ‘legacy giving is not a taboo’. Often this is what nonprofits still believe. Sometimes I see organisations that avoid using certain terms, and they avoid the topic. Not talking about legacies, but vaguely talking about ‘something for the future’. Many donors are aware of this topic and are very proactive in talking about it. Nonprofits should be more open, more courageous and bolder in having conversations about legacy giving.
Are they afraid to talk about legacies and not realize that the donor would be open to having that conversation? Do organisations limit themselves?
Yes, I think so. I have noticed that some organisations still believe that talking about legacies is equal to talking about death, while donors want to change the future. So when I work with organisations, we focus on the mission, on the cause; that’s important. That’s the most effective.
Some years ago, I ran one of my first focus groups on legacies. In one of the sessions, I met two special people. One was an older lady. She was 85 years or more, but she was so full of energy and very active. One of the most amazing ladies I’ve ever met. She listened to the idea of the campaign and analyzed the materials very carefully. And then she said: “Okay, you have not mentioned the word ‘death’ at all. But I’m perfectly conscious about the fact that you have called me here today because I’m an old person, and that’s okay with me. You need to be practical, to be very basic. So don’t worry about talking about death with me. I am perfectly aware of being in the last decade of my life.”
The second person was a man who told me during the same focus group: “I’m delighted to be here today because it’s the anniversary of the death of my wife. I’m here to celebrate her anniversary because her life was a gift to me. And today I will decide on our legacy. We have two houses. The first one is for our son. The second is for a nonprofit. So I’m here to decide if I will leave a gift to your organisation.”
So you see that donors are willing to talk openly about their legacies. Having conversations on legacies allows nonprofits to really discover who their donors are.
I agree with you, Simona. Organisations can learn so much from having that conversation. Do you think that there are also other barriers to legacy fundraising in Italy?
Some barriers are connected to cultural backgrounds. Italy is a catholic country, and some topics are considered sacred or very personal. That is something that we inherit from the past. The influence of the catholic church has been decreasing in past years, however. Starting a discussion about legacies can lead the sacred, personal context into something related for the community, to take care of others. I think there is a bit of superstition concerning legacy fundraising. t’s connected to the history of the country. We had a very strong, very important history in terms of philanthropy. The centrality of philanthropy as a driver for the development of communities seemed to decrease as the structured organisation of the State took shape (from 1861, unification of Italy as a State, onward). We have a tradition of public-funded health system, culture, education, etc. The decreasing in public funding we have seen in the last decades brought the crucial role of philanthropy again in the spotlight as a way to integrate public and private forms of funding”.
You also have a national campaign for legacy giving in Italy. How is this working?
We have the Comitato Testamento Solidale, which is made up of 24 nonprofit organisations. They have a survey and arrange an event on the International Legacy Giving Day in September. To tell the truth, I would say that one of the difficulties in Italy is seeing the nonprofit sector as a whole system. Not seeing other organisations as competitors, but rather thinking that the others somehow share the same approach to the world. I believe joint actions are difficult in Italy because we tend to think in silos. It’s challenging to bring all the organisations together, to build something bigger together. The committee is trying to do its best but still has a low impact on the general audience.
Can you share some best-practice examples of Italian organisations that have had great legacy campaigns?
Save the Dogs and other Animals is one example out of the field of animal welfare. It is an Italian based organisation that works internationally, especially in Romania. I worked together with them to develop their legacy strategy. They now have a dedicated section on their website where you can download the brochure, find stories of testimonials and gain practical information on how to leave a legacy to the organisation. They have been involved with the National Council Of Notaries to support their campaign. For example, one notary made a video to share the importance of giving a legacy. The video showed her in her office together with her own dog.
The second example is an organisation from the cultural sector. It’s the Fondazione Archivio Diaristico Nazionale. This organisation collects personal diaries from people all over the country in order to tell the story of Italy. It’s an amazing place to visit. They have this very little but absolutely fascinating museum. They focus all their fundraising strategy on personal relationships. Their legacy brochure is the most beautiful brochure I have ever seen. It’s made from quite expensive materials. So it’s something exclusive that they only share with prospects that really consider leaving a legacy.
It sounds like this approach fits the organisation’s cause perfectly. A personal fundraising approach for a museum full of personal stories.
Yes, my first visit to this museum was exceptional. I describe it like there was a life before and then after that visit. I have written a personal diary since my early childhood. I really love writing and love to hear stories from other people. This museum is a magical place.
Simona, do you have any advice for fundraisers who want to start or want to develop more in legacy fundraising?
I think that training is a good starting point because you need to have a strong comprehension of what legacy fundraising means. Legacy fundraising needs to be embraced by the whole organisation, including the senior management. Then being open minded is important because like I mentioned donors are sometimes more open to legacy giving than the organisations themselves. Be bold and have conversations. Talk about your work that is crucial for the future and that the donor can make happen.
If you want to read a book in Italian: Fundraising con lasciti e testamenti. It’s a practical handbook written by Stefano Malfatti, the director of communication and fundraising at Serafico di Assisi and the President of the Associazione Festival del Fundraising. A platform like Sofii is a very useful platform to read and see what happens in fundraising.
An international conference on legacy fundraising would be great, to have a place to share and discuss learnings and insights with each other.
Simona Biancu is a fundraising and strategic philanthropy consultant and trainer, founder and CEO of ENGAGEDin, a consultancy firm that works internationally in fundraising and strategic philanthropy. With more than 10 years of experience on fundraising and philanthropic strategies, Board development, major gifts, individual and corporate fundraising, strategic philanthropy with Trusts and Foundations, legacy fundraising, she works with nonprofit organizations and institutions both in Italy, where she currently live, and abroad. She is also the co-author of the book “Board in prima fila” (2020), focussed on Board development, and the blog “Welcome on Board”, focussed on experiences in consulting with nonprofits governance and development.
Interview by Lena Vizy, december 2021