By Oliver Asha, Solicitor (in-house), Make a Will Online

Make a Will Online lets charities to offer free wills to supporters who are interested in leaving a gift in their will.  Our partner charities receive monthly reports and up-to-the-minute data on who has left a gift, how much that gift is worth, and when that gift was given.  This allows fundraisers to finely hone their messages to supporters and give accurate data on the success of legacy fundraising campaigns to Directors, CEOs and Trustees.

These are our top five tips on what you should do before starting your gifts in wills fundraising campaign.

If you have any questions or feedback, or if you are interested in hearing more about our service for charities please contact me either at oliver (at) or on 020 7193 2747/ 07860 764 961.

Know what you want

Get your charity clued up about why the charity want gifts in wills.  What are the “never never” projects that you’d love to deliver but can’t for lack of funding? What are all of the “like to haves” on the wish-list?  Having a clear idea at the start will help with organisational buy-in both internally and also with the supporters thinking of giving.

Have you received gifts in wills out of the blue in the past?  What were these funds used towards?  This can give you a good idea what you might do in future, be it re-opening a facility, saving an at-risk programme, or reaching out to new beneficiaries.

Get internal buy-in

So many benefits come from having a well briefed and motivated people.  Engage with everyone at the charity: volunteers to CEOs to trustees.  Throw ideas out there, and ask for some back.  Everything from what gifts in wills could/ should do in the future, to the best kind of messages to share.

Also: show everyone how easy it can be to make a will, and ensure that everyone is on point with the agreed messages that are going out.  They could be asked about them by anyone, at any time.

The first point of contact for your gifts in wills donor could be anywhere in your organisation.  A volunteer at an event, a phone conversation with the legacy officer’s colleague, a chat with a trustee.  If the potential donor speaks to someone who is “on message”, the effectiveness of the conversation will be much greater.

Ask your closest supporters if they have left a gift in their will, and ask them: “why?”

Who is closest to your charity? Trustees?  Patrons?  Why not ask them if they’ve left a gift in their will to you, and, if they have: what were the motivations behind the gift.  Two things could happen here: you could get some great stories about what motivates people to support your cause.  You could also prompt the first wave of gifts in wills from your closest supporters who realise that they’d like to remember their favourite charity in their will!

Let them know why you’re asking: i.e. because you’re planning on doing a campaign and want to use their stories.  You could end up with some “legacy champions”.


You needn’t necessarily throw lots of money at a campaign, but you should integrate your message.  To get a gift in a will, you need to have your message in your donor’s mind at the point they make their will.  They’ll be thinking about a lot of things: their spouse, children, dependents, friends etc.  If they intended to leave a will but forget at the vital moment, they will have lost the chance to give, and may not get around to it in future.  If your message is well integrated (events, annual reports, newsletters, banners and so on) then you will be more likely to be in their thoughts at that crucial moment.


Once you start fundraising for gifts in wills, people throughout the organisation should understand that you will do in on a sustained, ongoing basis.  The gifts in wills drive should go to the core of the charity, become embedded in its culture and grow even after you, the CEO and the trustees have moved on and been replaced.  It is too easy to scrap a gifts in wills campaign: there’s no immediate payback, often success is not measurable for over 10 years, and when budgets and resources are squeezed, the campaign could look an easy target for “rationalisation”.

The industry is littered with stories of gifts in wills campaigns that follow these three stages:  (1) get started, receive a lot of internal attention and are then mothballed after 2 or 3 years; (2) legacies are received some 5-15 years later; (3) the powers that be realise they were onto a good thing and start fundraising for gifts in wills again.

The 5-15 years of lost fundraising could have cost the charity hundreds or even thousands of gifts in wills.  With each gift worth thousands of pounds, the loss could easily reach seven figures.  It’s great that the powers that be have returned to gifts in wills fundraising, but the lost time will never be made back.

Make sure your charity doesn’t follow that path!