As a relative newcomer to the charity sector, I look back on the past eight years of my working life and can safely say I never anticipated landing a role in legacy fundraising. In fact, it was an area I didn’t realise existed until a short time before applying for my role at Guide Dogs.
At the time, a friend commented that it seemed an appropriate match for me – I had the same urge to do something good which drives so many other people into the sector – but in terms of legacy marketing, I’d always been fascinated by the apparent taboo of death and how, in British society, it was often labelled as a negative topic to be avoided at all costs.
Coming to Guide Dogs, and having the chance to interact with our supporters made me realise that this taboo is unfounded and it’s only certain peoples’ discomfort of addressing the topic that makes talking about it difficult. On attending my first Legacy Reception Day, I will never forget the supporter who approached me with a beaming smile only to tell me that he would be ‘meeting his solicitor next week and making sure that Guide Dogs are included in his Will.’ His honesty baffled me and I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. But that’s all part of the beauty of working in legacy fundraising – you get to know your supporters so well, and even those who you don’t speak to on a one-to-one basis, offer the most amazing stories of why they support the charity through responses to mail communications.
They have such a strong connection and they are not afraid to share it.
To go into any kind of fundraising requires a level of empathy but this is particularly true for legacy fundraising. It requires an understanding of how truly important the cause is, but also how this affects the supporter – sharing that deep understanding that leaving a gift in your Will is one of the most positive and inspiring actions a person could take. Making a difference to the world and honouring the causes and people closest to their heart by leaving a gift in their Will can mean so much – it’s a true sign of commitment to, and investment in, their charity.
Legacies are at the heart of many charitable organisations, not only can they bring in a significant amount of income, but for Guide Dogs in particular, the supporters who give in this way enable us to continue the great work. As a result we really do our best to treat them as part of the wider Guide Dogs family. It’s so important they feel valued and that our gratitude for this special support is continuously reinforced.
Developing relationships with these people is a wonderful opportunity and one that brings the personal element to the forefront of why I am here. Amidst the busyness of the campaigns, talking to your supporters really brings home the meaning of what you do. I can safely say that even if you don’t have the passion within your own heart, it is impossible not to catch it from your supporters.
I have talked at length about the merits of working in legacy fundraising but that is not to say it is without its challenges. Keeping the personal element is an incredibly important and enjoyable part of my role but in a large organisation it can be difficult maintaining this when you have multiple campaigns to deliver. That’s why we have the Legacy Engagement team working alongside of us to ensure personal relationships are nurtured and that they meet as many of our supporters on a one-to-one basis as possible.
Trying to keep up with the demands of direct response marketing is another challenge - it is only natural that you want to see the results of your labour but measurement is a tricky area for legacy fundraisers. There are always ways that you can monitor levels of awareness but engaging the right target audience via direct response is an ongoing challenge.
The area of legacy fundraising has come a long way and although there are some who still believe that legacies will come into a charity regardless of marketing efforts, time has shown this to be wrong. I was lucky enough to come into this area at a time when Guide Dogs were already very active. It has been the most inspiring and challenging experience of my career so far and has enabled me to develop my skills more than I thought possible. I would most thoroughly recommend it to anyone considering it as a career path.
Find out more about The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association.