We had the honour to speak with Franck Sarriot, working for 12 years in legacy fundraising in France as a strategic consultant, speaker, and coach.
Franck, thank you for making time for us. Can you tell us something about yourself?
Coming from a social work background, I worked with teenagers and delinquents before switching to the NGO world. Since I approach various persons naturally, someone approached me to manage legacy relationships. Now, I am at a point in my career where I coach fundraisers, managers, and volunteers about legacy fundraising: relationship management, marketing communication, and strategy.
It is fantastic to see that the market in France has shifted. A decade ago, we had to convince charities to build a legacy program. Nowadays, charities approach me: ‘We want to do it, but how do we start?’
Like in the interview with Carine and Jan, ‘We expect a friendly tsunami’; also in France, many organisations feel ready but at the same time reluctant because of the subject. Dealing with this shyness is what I love most in my work; To help charities to gain confidence and comfort to talk about legacy giving as if it is the norm already.
Can you tell us something about the situation of legacy giving in France?
For centuries, legacy giving to the Catholic Church was normal. Some charities would get legacies from the small group of prosperous members of society as part of their normal charitable behaviour towards the less fortunate: children in need, the sick, the elderly, etc. Medical research would also get this kind of support to remember lost ones. Then, around twenty years ago, charities started to invest in communication to inform their donors about the possibility of remembering them in a will. They understood these donors wanted to get heard and cared for. As a result, they started to recruit relationship managers.
In 2010, legacy fundraising was still in the quiet zone: many organisations would be uncomfortable about it, would not talk about it, and would not even communicate about it. Now things are changing rapidly. Organisations understand that they have to communicate about legacies. Otherwise, donors may not be aware of the possibility of leaving a gift to them. So we see legacy fundraising advertisements in the press, legacy fundraising events, campaigns on social media, TV ads, websites, etc. The French legacy fundraising market has, in that sense, grown more mature.
In 2019, the total legacy fundraising income was more than 1,5 billion Euros. 7 to 10 larger charities concentrate most of the French legacy fundraising market. Smaller charities are now starting too. So there were some early adopters, and other organisations followed in their footsteps.
French bequestors are mainly childless, and they remember around one to three charities in their will. People used to include more charities in their will, but the number became less. The average amount of gifts to a charity is around 40 to 50k Euro.
What are the main challenges for legacy fundraising in France?
French organisations are often too distant in their approach. I recently spoke to an English couple living in France who considered remembering one or several French charities in their will. During our meeting, they offered me a piece of pie. When I said, “yes, please”, I was surprised the woman enthusiastically thanked me. The couple had met with several legacy fundraisers, and they all refused a piece of pie.
It is often considered unprofessional in France to accept a piece of pie or any other gift. But we are meeting real people. It is ok to say yes, thank you, and welcome a friendly gesture from donors. It is essential in building mutual trust. So we have to make a mind shift to take the risk to build authentic relationships.
Secondly, there is a challenge to go beyond the taboo around death and legacies. We are not stealing money from the elderly. We welcome their gifts and facilitate their gesture to make shared philanthropic dreams come true. Therefore it is important to build internal communication and support for common values around legacies.
Also, many boards and managements of charities still think it is possible to get quick results from legacies. They need to be aware that it is long-term income. Smaller organisations may not have the budget but can start their legacy fundraising by writing down their case for support and integrating it into their communication.
Last but not least, we should collaborate more together: In France, we don’t have a national legacy campaign like Remember a charity in the UK or toegift.nl in The Netherlands. We still consider other charities competitors; therefore, we are not ready for that synergy, but we will probably be there in a few years. We have universal truths and rules that work for everyone. So we should understand that sharing experiences and working together for the good of bequestors will be a win-win situation.
Do you have any additional tips for legacy fundraisers?
Many people still say: ‘I had no idea I could write a will for your charity!’ So it is crucial to inform your audiences about the possibility of remembering your charity in their will.
Next, be what you advocate: your organisation needs to determine how far to go in stewardship. My view is that if pledgers want to be visited, they have to be visited. I went to visit people in the hospital when they were sick. I cared about them, and they wanted me to care about them. It is essential to ask yourself as an organisation: what am I prepared to do for my donors? What are my boundaries?
The other thing to keep in mind in legacy fundraising is that you don’t have to be comfortable with the idea of death to be in charge of legacy giving. However, you have to be comfortable with the idea that somebody in front of you may be talking about their own death. So to do this job, it is not necessary to be “older,” but it is essential to be a nice, open-minded person who is proactive in creating bonds with people. I am talking about ‘empathy’, building a real connection with people.
Don’t forget: meeting legacy donors is fun! Your relations have so many insights, stories, and life experiences to share! We should use more of their testimonials in our communication tools, brochures, websites, etc.