We explore some of the changes in fundraising that occurred in early 2020. In this brave new world a strong gifts in wills message secures the future of a charity. Improved acceptance of technology in all supporter groups shows how online wills and messaging gives ever greater success .

Gifts in wills. Where were we? A quick recap:

Gifts in wills form an ever more important income stream for charities of all sizes. Fundraisers have necessarily paid more attention to communicating with supporters about their wills. In 2019 the value of gifts in wills to charities topped £3bn for the first time – accounting for around a quarter of charity fundraising income (according to Smee & Ford).

The last year or two have seen seismic changes to fundraisers’ options. Will drafting used to be limited to solicitors. Organisations such as the Remember a Charity and National Free Wills Network improved access to solicitors for supporters. Online will writers have further revolutionised supporters’ access to will making services from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Supporters’ use of Online Wills

Since our launch in 2008 we have seen a steady year-on-year increase in the number of people making wills online. We started as a niche provider used mainly by younger, technologically savvy users. Since then we have seen our users consistently double year on year and the age range of our users spread. The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing lockdown has made online wills a necessity for many more users. We wait to see what the longer term effects of this on the online wills sector will be.

Supporters’ use of online wills between July 2019 and June 2020

Analysis of customer and supporter trends over the past 12 months showed the usual seasonal peak during September 2019. This correlates with the Remember a Charity Week and increased national awareness of Gifts in Wills. There is often a second seasonal peak in Spring. 2020 showed a much more marked upswing due to widespread concerns around Coronavirus. Volumes of wills made increased by approximately 450% compared with the annual average.

A comparison of two snapshots of our user base shows that during the pandemic the number of 35-44 year olds making wills increased. We can infer that this age group was the biggest driver for growth during the upswing in activity during the pandemic. The numbers of people in other age groups also increased during the pandemic but to a lesser extent (data on user age and gender taken from Facebook).

Anecdotally we can report more calls to our helplines from people in the 65+ age category. Users in this cohort have traditionally been technologically savvy “silver surfers”. The pandemic has forced a new set of older people to use the internet differently. People who would traditionally never do online food shopping, banking, video conferencing or will-making have had to learn how to do so. Time will tell whether they will revert to more traditional methods when the risk of coronavirus abates.

What just happened?

We don’t need to tell you: from March 2020 things… changed. Challenge events, community meetings and trusts and foundations have had to alter, evolve or cease. This has come at a time of increased demand on services and reduced income for almost all charities. For many charities this has been a perfect storm. Not everyone will survive.

This is an incredibly tough time to be fundraising in the Third Sector in any field. Fundraising for gifts in wills is arguably one of the most nuanced and delicate areas. Gifts in wills should focus care, compassion and philanthropic joy for a supporter. As Richard Radcliffe says: they are “Made in Life and triggered by death”. However, communications around the inevitabilities of life during a pandemic can be awkward.

Added to this it is much harder to see a solicitor and complete a will using the traditional channels. Supporters wanting to leave a gift in their wills are facing additional practical barriers.

A final kick in the financial ribs stem from the delays in Grant of Probate. These are caused by reduced court capacity and furlough of solicitors and accountantss who would otherwise be working these cases.

Where will the future lead?

Charities need to secure their futures following these seismic short-term and systemic shocks. A recession and unemployment could mean lower individual giving. A shock to the stock exchange and other investments could mean less money in trusts and foundations. Social distancing could mean less community fundraising. Economic shrinkage could lead to more austerity and fewer government and local government grants.

Fundraisers have faced challenges akin to this before. Charities that have consistently invested in their messaging around gifts in wills should weather a lot of the coming storm. Gifts in wills won’t be immune to a recession. Fluctuations in house prices and investments can depress the value of residuary gifts. Inflation can write off some of the benefits of legacy pledges. These changes will be finer though. Removing a gift from a will is a much bigger deal than cancelling a Direct Debit. It requires writing a whole new will. Gifts in wills can survive supporters temporary change in circumstances (including bankruptcy).

Charities that are just starting their gifts in wills journey can find greater successes in a post Corona-19 world too. A sustained campaign can bring revolutionary change to a charity. Current technology means that campaigns can be lower cost and more effective. Emerging consumer habits include a preference to use online services when making wills. The pandemic led to far higher online will making activity. During the pandemic a much higher number of traditionally off-line supporters have started using social media, video conferencing and shopping.

A typical gift can range from a few thousand pounds (for a legacy pledge) to tens of thousands of pounds (for a share of a supporter’s estate). A handful of gifts can transform the future of an organisation. Achieving an average of £10k worth of pledges for month is a realistic goal for a charity. This could come from just one or two gifts in wills. Sustaining this would see £1m gathered over 10 years.

Gifts in wills communications and delivery post-pandemic

Spreading the gifts in wills message to supporters need not be expensive or time consuming. Traditional messaging has taken a back seat during the pandemic. Expensive and time consuming events like tea afternoons and on-site will writing clinics are off the table for the foreseeable future. Direct mail and leaflets can be viewed as causing unnecessary risk to supporters too.

Video conferencing is “in” as is online messaging through social media and ads. An online event can be accessed by more supporters at lower cost. It will take less time to organise and prepare too. Focused online promotions can reach thousands or even millions of supporters and potential supporters for less than the cost of a mail shot.

Online wills

There has never been a better time to get gifts in wills through online wills. The cost per will is lower than with a face to face solicitor. We charge £29.50 for a simple will compared with a traditional solicitor’s £150-£250. People have become more accustomed to going online for vital admin tasks such as will writing, banking and shopping. Older users in their 70s and 80s are becoming habituated through the necessities of lockdown.

The other benefits of online wills also apply. A visit to a solicitor can take several hours or even a day’s precious holiday for a busy professional. An online will can be made in minutes. This allows a supporter to transform their intention to make a will into a reality with unparalleled ease.

Using cutting edge reporting and analytics tools you can see what messages your supporters react to best and when they choose to leave gifts in their wills to you. This will allow you to focus your efforts on what resonates with your supporters. This increases efficiency and reduces waste during this time of stress for your charity.

You can include a simple message around gifts in wills in all your online communications for free and experiment with a few targeted messages for little or no cost. Your supporters will then have the opportunity to make a transformative change to the future of your charity.