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Hospice Online Legacy Fundraising - Could do Better

A recent review of the legacy pages of 25 hospices has not been an inspiring experience. Hospices do well for legacies (as you might expect) but visiting many of their websites makes you wonder if they deserve to, given the uninspiring and frankly dull content to be found on many of their sites.

I am currently working with a hospice to review its legacy messaging and so conducted this research to see what propositions other hospices were using and whether anything could be learned before we run a focus group for the client.

The results were quite shocking. Of the 25, only a handful made a strong, clear case for legacies. Many were stuck in a 1990's timewarp, still banging on about the mechanics of will writing rather than setting out an inspiring vision or making a convincing case for their charity. The best that many could do was to trot out a lame argument that legacies were very important to them and helped them continue their services. Two made absolutely no case for legacies at all.

In summarising the content of the 25 websites, the arguments for legacies can be boiled down to 10 common themes, as follows:

  1. "Help us continue what we are doing". Not the most inspiring case I have read, but probably the most common theme in the sample.
  2. "Legacies are a gift for the future, so you can be part of it". This was probably the strongest case made by several hospices and at least gave some positive focus.
  3. "XX% of our income is from legacies," which gives the donor a sense of scale, but does this really motivate me to give? (and one hospice quoted different percentages on its webpage and in its downloadable leaflet!).
  4. "If you can't give today, leave a legacy. It won't cost you anything now". OK, a point worth making maybe, but is that the best argument we can make?
  5. "Any gift large or small is welcome". Yes, we want to dispel the idea that legacies are just for the rich, but we also need to be careful not to under ask, as the bulk of the money of course will come from those big residuary legacies, not from the many tiddlers.
  6. "Save inheritance tax". This one is now be seriously undermined by the reforms announced by the Chancellor, which will soon take the vast majority of estates out of inheritance tax.
  7. "Make a difference". This has some semblance of a case, especially if it is linked to patient care or areas of work. But it is so well worn that it has to be done really well to be effective.
  8. "Your legacy can do X". This is a tricky one, as of course all charities need to strike the right balance between helping the donor imagine what their gift might achieve and not binding the charity to spend the money on restricted items. However, if done well, this can be quite powerful. There were a couple of good examples in the sample.
  9. "Every year we help X people and it costs Y. This is only possible with your support". A fairly standard argument which could be part of a general case for support.
  10. "Many people like to support our work by a gift in their will". It was good to see this evidence of behavioural science starting to filter through. The aim is to make people feel everyone else is leaving a legacy, so it is the normal thing to do and maybe I had better join them. This was a bit more encouraging. The jargon for it is "social normalisation".

Alongside these core arguments and amongst the dross there were a couple of items that stood out. One was a powerful case study of a pledger whose father had been helped by a hospice, which made for a strong and emotional appeal. The other was a celebrity piece (not usually my favourite), but one where the celeb in question was also pledging a legacy to the charity (not just making a vacuous appeal for his favourite cause). This was an engaging piece that worked well. However, these two items only stood out because the overall quality was so low and so dull that any half decent case was memorable.

Sadly, there was only one example of a really inspiring, well executed legacy page that made me want to give (this was admittedly for a children's hospice, where it is easier to use emotion). Many other sites read like they had been cobbled together by a committee or someone from finance.

The acid test of course would be to see what impact these pages have on legacy income. Sadly of course, this is not possible, as the hospices concerned will have to wait years to see the results and any legacies arriving today will be the results of past activity, when the legacy messages may have been very different.

Clearly, many hospices are being successful in securing legacies, but the impression gained is that this is despite, rather than because of, their online cases for support. Imagine how successful they could be if they were to develop powerful, inspiring propositions that really connected with their donors!

No doubt many of these hospices are conducting other legacy related activity, which I hope is more inspiring than their web pages. But their websites are their shop windows and if some donors do not find something to inspire them there, they may well move on to other causes.

So what is the lesson for other charities? Check your online legacy materials. Do they inspire? Are they powerful? If you wrote them, get other people to read them and comment. Better still, run a focus group and ask a selection of people (donors, volunteers, beneficiaries etc) to tell you what they think. Anything you can do to beef up your case for legacies will feed through into extra income down the line. And we all know that will mean big money for those who get it right.

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