Ellen Coster on legacy giving for the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital
Ellen, since when do you work in legacy fundraising? What inspires you about this work?
Before I started to work in fundraising, I worked in banks for 17 years. My last position was as an administrator and executor in private banking. My best friend sent me a job description at KWF (Dutch Cancer Foundation) with the comment: this is you! And she was right. I already had a lot of experience in relationship management and had completed a course in marketing and inheritance law, so a perfect combination for legacy fundraising. I’d made a side step since then to project management at the National Elderly Fund, but I feel so much more at home in fundraising. Legacy fundraising is most appealing to me. I find the combination of strategy and relationship management important and very pleasant. For me, relationship management is the basis for the strategy. Combining knowledge and theory and using marketing techniques, but never forget that you are working on very personal subjects and must do so with integrity. Personal conversations with people and helping them in their search to arrange things as well as I possibly can gives me a lot of energy.
What makes your work for a hospital, such as the Antoni van Leeuwenhoek hospital (AVL), different from working for charities?
I work in the hospital; my office is directly above the central hall. So I see who I work for every day. I see people crying and laughing. They are all touched by cancer, themselves or their loved ones. That alone is a huge motivation to work very hard. But in addition, I hear beautiful and grateful stories almost every day from people who are so happy that they have been helped by the AVL. They praise their doctor, who is also often a researcher – and those are just direct colleagues of mine. I am very proud to be part of an organisation where people feel so safe and heard in a life-threatening situation.
“My colleagues often don’t realise that they inspire a patient to contribute“
It is important to share this with the doctors and nursing staff. Of course, only if patients permit to do so. My colleagues often do not or insufficiently realise that they are the ones who inspire patients to contribute. They don’t like discussing finances in a doctor-patient relationship. Of course, they don’t have to; that’s what I’m here for.
Finally, it is also easy for me to bring donors, or the loved ones of donors, into contact with the researcher who can do his/her job because of a gift in a will. Most researchers find it very inspiring to meet donors and want to explain what the legacy gift means for the research. For the donor, this is the most direct way of seeing how their contribution makes a difference. And if the donor can no longer experience it themselves, it is often very nice for the family to hear and see the impact.
How do you create understanding and support for legacy fundraising within a hospital? I assume this can sometimes be difficult for an organisation focusing primarily on making patients healthy.
Yes, indeed, I keep looking for a good balance between dealing with the awareness and emotion surrounding someone’s mortality due to cancer diagnosis and our request to contribute to cancer research with their legacy. I think this is one of the most important parts of my work, the balance between fundraising and integrity. There are certainly times when you can address someone about gratitude and if they want to express it. For example, I use telemarketing (TM). The agency has beautiful conversations with the friends of the hospital, and I always follow up personally. The results for the AVL Foundation are very good, and we receive no complaints about these calls. Gifts in wills are just one of the many ways to support the AVL. Often it has two stages. First, people show interest in contributing to the AVL Foundation and then also consider a gift in a will. The brochures about legacy giving to the AVL Foundation are now spread in the hall among all the other brochures. It is an ongoing process to subtly communicate this special way of support. The board of the hospital is seeing the increasing results of legacy fundraising and is therefore becoming more aware that this is a way that people like to give.
“The most important thing is to follow up, follow up, follow up”
Stewardship is an important part of legacy fundraising. Do you have tips on how to build and maintain relationships?
I think the most important thing is to follow up, follow up, follow up. All questions, emails, and requests for information need to be followed up personally. Listen carefully to what someone indicates or asks, and always answer. Say what you do and do what you say. In addition, it is important to set up your relationship management in such a way that it works well for small groups but that it also works when the numbers of requests increase. Think about very personal (standard)letters that you regularly check to see if they are still good. Ensure that certain information is worded and communicated differently in letters so that they do not feel like standard letters. I often add something in the first sentence that refers to conversations or emails I have had. And I also thank everyone on behalf of the researchers or ask the doctor/researcher to send a card or message themselves. Sometimes I give them a card with a stamp to make it easy. And the usual things, such as a thank you letter signed by the chair of the board, a personal e-mail with the annual report, and a personal sentence on the Christmas card. These things don’t take that much time and give a very personal touch.
How will the profession develop further? What trends do you see at the moment?
I now often hear that people are approached much more actively by multiple charities about legacy giving. I think we have to be a bit careful that we collectively do not give our donors the idea that they are already at the end of their lives by the age of 60. But it is even more sensitive if you are approached about your legacy a few times a year as an 80-year-old. So maybe it’s time to think about this collectively. We are so busy actively asking for gifts in wills that it might get a bit much for our donors.
I notice in conversations that many of our supporters look for something to remember their loved ones. A partner left behind wants to be more involved in how the legacy gift is spent and its impact. It is also time to look at in-memory giving, something not very developed in the Netherlands. At the moment, this is mainly linked to funeral collections.
And finally: prosperity and crisis always alternate. At the moment, it is difficult for people to estimate whether they will still have something left at the end of their lives. It is up to us to reassure them and to indicate in our conversations that they do not need to know that to write a will in the first place.