By Kimberley Blease

The most common question I hear among fundraisers is “What are the new and evolving trends in fundraising?”

Most people are focused on finding a new “ice bucket challenge” or new ways to find new supporters. And everyone is looking at digital.

It might be hard to believe that the first place I go to is legacy giving. It’s the trend in plain sight, given how long we have been marketing and fundraising legacies in Canada and around the world and how entrenched many organizations are in legacy giving strategies.

So, you might ask, why are we turning to legacy when we talk about an emerging trend and new opportunities?

The reasons are simple and profound
First, the market is changing. Huge demographic shifts are taking place as Baby Boomers age. Over the next 30 years, people will live longer, there will be many more of them and they will be wealthy. Plus, as is widely publicized, this will be the largest generational transfer of wealth in human history.

Second, this generation is the most “reachable” ever. Technology and integrated channels are abundant, and these new and existing donors are embracing these channels.

Lastly, their behaviour and motivations are better understood, and legacy giving has better insights on these drivers today than ever before. And more people know about legacy giving. They are considering it and they are actually doing it. This is the primary trend that we need to understand and maximize.

Against this backdrop, our approach to fundraising is developing and changing. We want to be ahead of what our donors want, not catching up. We are seeing our world move from service-based engagement to one built on experience (and frankly we find that donors are not loving the current experience with many organizations).

But while donors are changing our marketing isn’t always matching their needs or behaviour. Baby Boomers want more from their value-based giving. People want to leave a lasting legacy and make the world a better place through the alignments of their values and connections with you: the organizations doing the work they care about. This trend and need will only accelerate.

Experience matters more than ever
For these donors, experience matters, and it impacts legacy gifts long term. One bad experience might be forgiven, but ongoing negative experiences means donors are looking for other options.

A strategy and a mission to build an integrated and powerful experience over time will be the transformational difference in our ability to attract and keep donors long-term. Our new insights are challenging the way we do things. What we say and how we say it will matter more, so we need to challenge ourselves: is it about us or about them?

Inspiring people differently
Here are some truths we need to grasp. People don’t want to be driven to tell you about their wills early in the engagement process. They may not ever tell you that they have included you in their future planning. Not everyone wants to sign the form your CFO is insisting upon, to demonstrate that they are committed. They definitely don’t want to be seen as cash machines where all we ask for is money. And our experience (and donor behaviour) tells us that donors often want more from you than the content and experiences we are willing to deliver.

Experience will determine feeling and feeling will determine gifts and longevity. Donors want to connect and be inspired, they want relevant content about your cause and the outcomes their gifts can make, and they want communications to be relevant and authentic.

There is a big opportunity to connect with supporters differently and meet their needs in a different way by truly giving donors what they want in order to engage in a deeper way with your organization. This will also allow for it to be delivered to more supporters than is possible using major gift strategies of one on one personal solicitation.

It sounds easy, but clearly, it’s not. The truth is you can do more for the success of long-term legacy revenue by creating great experiences now for your core donors: annual, tribute, mid-level and monthly all included!

Engagement challenges
We’re finding that organizations are struggling to see the opportunities to shift to a wider engagement of supporters using legacy giving as a driver for long-term relationships. Here are four examples.

First, there is managing cause and effect. Legacy giving is in many ways a long-term high-value relationship program and because the income is long-term, people don’t understand or trust the relationship levers that can influence giving in the future. But we need to take action today that will create connections and long-term engagement. In short: we are not investing enough now.

Second, we are measuring legacies in a way that often only focuses value on confirmed expectancies, which is just not the only way legacy outcomes are driven. We need to shift our focus to hand-raisers (that group of people who ask for more information, say they will be interested in the future, look information up or ask a question on wording) who are key to our success. These people need to be highly valued and we need to measure their value differently in order to influence investment.

Third, many donors who we nudge, excite and inform will never tell us we are in their wills until we receive a gift. Your own metrics support this reality. Some of our organizations have up to 90percent of actual fulfilled legacy gifts that come from people who are either not on file at all OR who are on the database as a donor, but who have not told them about the gift in the will (the lowest we have seen is 63percent and that is exceptional).

Last, and perhaps most important, we are not recognizing the incredible opportunity to use legacy fundraising and engagement to bridge between general awareness and direct response marketing. We need to use legacy marketing to engage people, align with their values and build a lifetime of giving, which is something very special and enduring. It’s something major gift fundraisers have been doing forever: but we need to do it with greater numbers of people.

Real growth opportunities
We have the opportunity to do all of this and more while realizing immense growth in our organizations but not with old thinking, old measurements and old strategies. We need organization-wide involvement and leadership, full integration of the legacies into everything we do, and we need brave creators and innovators. In fact, we can see a world where legacies can lead on the relationship connections, not follow, and we need people to understand what truly drives their donors and turn everything they do to that.

Some people make trends. Some follow. Some miss them completely. Some don’t care. We believe that legacies, long-term relationships and great experiences are the trend that we can put fuel in and take to another level. It’s going to take brave new approaches to realize the potential. And we couldn’t be more excited to be on this journey. What about you?

Kimberley Blease is Executive Vice President of Blakely.

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