Testament.be, the national campaign to promote legacy giving in Belgium, is one of the oldest national legacy campaigns in Europe. The experts behind this successful campaign are Jan Rachels and Carine Coopman. In our latest interview, they shared insights on successful legacy fundraising, tips on setting up a good legacy program and why they chose a unique set-up for their joint campaign.
How would you describe the current situation of legacy giving in Belgium?
Carine: There are some useful parameters. We have figures from the Flemish government, but only for Flanders, not for Brussels or Wallonia. These figures show a clear increase in gifts in wills for charities. In 2017, Flemish charities received 1,080 legacies and the latest figures for 2020 show that this number increased to 1,410 legacies. The income for 2019 is around 330 million, with an increase to 434 million in 2020, so legacy giving is on the rise. We also have the Koning Boudewijnstichting barometer which researches the fundraising income of charities every four years. In 2016, one in ten people indicated that they were considering including a charity in their will. In 2020, no less than one in four wanted to include a good cause in their will. And then we also have our own legacy barometer that we developed in collaboration with HoGENt, and there, we also see a clear increase in income for charities. Every year we do a survey with 132 Flemish, Walloon and Brussels charities and 16% of their total income comes from legacies. 85% of the legacies are handled very well and without any problems with family or relatives. That is important to mention because it is often said that including a gift for charities in wills can cause problems, but that is clearly not the case. It is also striking that almost 47% of the testators were not previously known to the charity. In 70% of cases, the organisation did not know that they had been named in the will. This also shows that there is still some reluctance among organisations to communicate about legacy giving. Ultimately, the figures can demonstrate the impact of an awareness campaign. Our group campaign, which will soon be 15 years old, must be able to prove in one way or another that all the investments have paid off.
Has the way charities communicate about legacy giving changed in recent years?
Carine: We notice that the taboo has gradually been broken among donors, while that is often not the case with charities. I find it very striking that we still have to convince charities to actively communicate about legacy giving. In the past, a number of organisations did not have a support page on their website – but that has changed. All of our members have support pages and explicitly mention legacies there, so it is now possible to communicate about gifts in wills on websites – but via the donor magazines or via testimonials? Not everyone dares to do that yet.
Would you also describe this as a challenge for legacy fundraising in Belgium? Could organisations communicate about legacy giving even more confidently?
Carine: Yes, for sure. We also provide internal legacy support training in which we screen an organisation and get to work together with the various people involved in the organisation. One of our conditions is that we want someone from the board of directors and management to be present at such training. We convey that everyone is a fundraiser and everyone is also a potential testator, so we always try to make legacy giving visible at all levels.
Jan: There is a difference between the Netherlands and Belgium. In the Netherlands, the market and income are much more significant. But that means there are also opportunities for a group campaign like ours because many charities in Belgium do not have the capacity to set up legacy programs themselves.
Carine: When we look at challenges, we now also focus very strongly on testimonials. At our information sessions, we systematically ask whether people want to testify that they have included a good cause in their will. We see that not daring to talk about leaving a legacy is wrong, because almost everyone responds positively to our questions.
And what we still see is that we also need to develop tools for drawing up online wills, such as those that have been around for some time in the U.K. So how can we integrate such a tool within testament.be and make it available to our participants?
So, Carine, you describe challenges that can also be great opportunities.
Carine: Exactly, these are challenges and opportunities that we should not miss as a group campaign. As a group campaign, you have to be a frontrunner for certain things. Look at online advertising. We were the first to do this and dared to try, and now individual charities are slowly following.
Do you see a different ‘tone of voice’ in legacy communication in Belgium compared to other countries? Or perhaps also between the two cultures (Flemish and Walloon)?
Jan: When we set up the campaign, we decided to keep the tone of voice away from death. The approach is: make this in order; it will make you happier – but above all, live happily ever after. Keeping death out – several experts have confirmed this – is essential for successful communication.
That is why we add something Burgundian when we organise an event. Something to drink and eat – perhaps that’s typically Belgian. We organise events that really attract many people, where you meet the potential pledgers. We are actually creating a community.
Carine: In the tone of voice, we focus on the potential pledger. That’s not much different to what other countries do. I think you do that in the Netherlands too, and there are no fundamental differences between Flanders and Wallonia.
Do you have examples of organisations that set up legacy fundraising successfully?
Jan: The best student in the class is GAIA (Global Action in the Interest of Animals). They also prove that small organisations can set up legacy fundraising very well. GAIA’s director is really convinced about legacy fundraising. She is an ambassador for this type of support and has also included the organisation in her will. GAIA already uses their communication channels for legacy communication too. They are highly efficient and have everything very well organised. For example, if someone calls in the morning with a question about legacy giving, an appointment with a lawyer has often already been arranged by the afternoon. If you have a pet and you leave a gift in your will to GAIA, they will take care of your pet.
Another organisation is Vétérinaires Sans Frontières Belgium. They made a virtue of necessity and called all their pledgers during the first lockdown with fantastic results. You often hear that donors do not want to be called, but many people hardly ever get phone calls. Just because some donors (or we ourselves) are tired of being called, we can’t assume an older target group is also tired of it. Sometimes older people are lonely, and a phone call can be much appreciated and deepen the bond with the charity.
You coordinate the group campaign to promote gifts in wills. Why is a joint campaign so important?
Jan: Perhaps a joint campaign like ours plays an even more important role in Belgium than in the Netherlands or other countries because legacy fundraising in Belgium is less developed. And in Belgium, you have to deal with the costs and complexities of having to communicate in two or even three languages. The most important thing about testament.be is our neutrality. People who consider leaving gifts in wills appreciate the reliability of our neutral advice. Providing information and advice on how to leave a legacy to charity is one of testament.be’s core tasks. In addition, a joint campaign is appealing to charities because it saves costs, and together, you can achieve more and guarantee continuity. For small and medium-sized charities, it offers an opportunity to engage in legacy fundraising.
Charities alone may still act insecurely or reluctantly, and as a joint campaign, we can do much more. We can achieve much more visibility for charities by pooling the budget and by approaching the invisible legator. For example, we are now doing a huge poster campaign at bus stations. One charity alone cannot often realize such visibility.
What’s unique about your campaign is that you have a holistic approach. Where campaigns in other countries focus purely on publicity, you are a public campaign+ because you are also an agency that offers many services and added value for members. For example, you help with the settlement or advise potential pledgers.
Carine: Worldwide, I think we are the only group campaign that works this way and this is also our formula for success. Most other campaigns devote their entire budget to promoting legacy giving. We soon realized that our down-to-earth Belgian charities would not invest for long in ‘just’ advertising. In their perspective: ‘I’m investing money in it now, so I want to get something back immediately.’ We responded by offering additional services to offer a short-term return on investment. It’s a menu of services such as supplying the addresses of people asked for our brochure or who made use of our helpdesk. The charity then has a chance to get in touch with their pledgers.
Another success factor is that we run the group campaign independently. We are rolling out the campaign as a separate team disconnected from any charity. Of course, we have to account for our work or risks to our members, and if they think we are not doing our job correctly, they can always cancel their membership. With testament.be, you can withdraw every year – you are not obliged to contract for several years. But our charities are satisfied. We have 140 participants and more than 20,000 requests for our information guide; we provide legal advice to potential pledgers for more than 1,000 hours a year, more than 3,000 visitors come to Merci events, and more than 2,600 people sign up for our webinars. If we go back to your first question, we can really show that our campaign has impact. That is the most important thing.
Looking back, are there things you would do differently now?
Jan: Good question. It’s important to reflect. Yes, sometimes we could have done things a little faster, and then we could have grown faster, but I don’t know if that would have been better. For example, we could have set up our service for the potential pledgers earlier. And only later did we realise that our campaign brings directors and fundraisers together and stimulates exchange. Often, our meetings are the only times where the sector meets.
Carine: Our event, Le Salon du Testament, no longer exists. We now have a Merci event and information sessions: De Tournée Généreuse. So we separated the asking and the thanking and turned it into two separate events. The Salon de testament was a large event, often linked to a fair, where all participants had their booth and could present themselves to the public. On the one hand, it was fantastic that these were such large gatherings, but lots of charities tried to get in touch with the visitors. That was just too much, almost a bit too overwhelming for the visitors. They were lovely events, that’s for sure, but we had our doubts about whether it was the right way to persuade the potential pledgers. So now we’ve turned it around. We go to charity events with our testament.be stand, or if they organise an information session, we send our lawyer.
Jan: What remains a challenge is that we have not yet succeeded in building a good relationship with the federation of notaries. We have excellent contacts with many individual notaries, but the umbrella federation is more complicated. Communication was difficult from the start. This is funny because we actually promote the notaries’ work. We always say to potential pledgers ‘have your will registered with the notary because that gives you certainty that it will be executed’.
What does the future look like for legacy giving? Any trends?
Jan: We think, and research suggests, that we will see significant positive developments and legacy income for charities. We are expecting a friendly tsunami. Our own data and analysis show that the expectations are all positive, but research by Legacy Foresight substantiates this too. Developments such as more single households, the ageing population, or in-memory giving will also stimulate gifts in wills.
Do you have any tips for fundraisers who want to develop further in legacy fundraising?
Carine: Yes, we have three tips:
Tip 1) Communicate internally to make the potential of legacy giving as visible as possible. Map out which communication channels are available in your organisation and negotiate with your colleagues to integrate legacy fundraising. That won’t cost you money, just time and maybe some persuasion too.
Tip 2) Invest in expanding your relationship with your pledgers. Find ways that fit you and your organisation, but really try to meet them live. For example, invite them for coffee or organise meetings.
Tip 3) Do not be forced into making a return on investment in the short term. This should never be a goal because it doesn’t work. If management demand this, you should say no or find another charity to work for. Short-term income should not be the driving force behind legacy fundraising. But demonstrate what you do well. If I were a legacy fundraiser, I would submit a report to management every year. The information would clearly show what I had done that year. What contacts have I cultivated and built up? What have I done, and how did I do it? Supported by numbers and storytelling. You have to make sure that you can show results and be proud of them. And if you do this well, dare to negotiate about the future budget for legacy fundraising.
Interview by Lena Vizy, January 2022