How can you ethically attract gifts in wills for your charity?

Why the future is digital

The rewards of gifts in wills fundraising are substantial, with over £3bn gifted through gifts in wills annually.  According to Remember a Charity only 6% of people who die leave a legacy but 1 in 3 people would like to put a charity in their will. Gifts in wills can come from existing donors, users and volunteers.  In the UK the average gift in a will is counted in tens of thousands of pounds.

There is an obvious correlation between the age of someone making a gift in their will and when a gift is converted from a wish into a will to a financial donation from a deceased estate into a charity’s coffers.  However, successful fundraisers play the long game.  A gift from a younger person will eventually be as valuable as an older person.  There are different things that a fundraiser should bear in mind though.

It is easy to overlook making a will or updating it when appropriate (e.g. upon marriage, a close bereavement, or just due to the effluxion of time).  The admin and hassle of making a will can be an impediment.  Getting past this block unlocks a large market of potential gifts in wills.  Consider what it would be like to be a donor: educate and inform potential donors that the charity wants legacies and how gifts in wills make a difference.  It might be something that a potential donor wouldn’t even know could be done.  With the advent of online wills, the process for making a will can become smoother and virtually hassle-free.

Decisions to leave gifts in wills are very personal.  Any campaign should be aimed as much as raising awareness as converting interest into immediate actions.  Many people may not have considered giving a gift in their will so any campaign should make them know that the gift is needed and give them the tools to make a will, and leave people to it.  There are ethical reasons to avoid giving too much “help” when generating legacies, and these have been picked up on by the Fundraising Regulator as discussed in a separate post.

Examples of opportunities to draw attention to gifts in wills giving would be:

  • An email footer,
  • Specific information emails,
  • Website,
  • Print media and leaflets,
  • Thank you letters for donations,
  • Events
  • Any other opportunity that presents itself!

You can make a direct ask for a gift in someone’s will.  A decision to do this should be made on a case-by-case basis.  For example, a high net-worth individual donating substantially to your charity during life may wish to see the work they support going ahead after their death.  People without families may also think more favourably on leaving a substantial donation to charities.

When marketing to an older person fundraising should be less direct than to the younger generation.  Also: it is important not to overlook more traditional means of contacting potential donors.  Consider using all media including print.

When marketing to younger donors it is again important to educate and inspire people to leave gifts.  The subject of a person’s mortality can always be sensitive but it is not a concern as immediate as it may be for people of more advanced years.  The aims for a campaign aimed at younger people will be to get them to make a gift but can also be to get them to make a will in the first place. Up to 1/3 of people die without a will, this proportion increases as age decreases.  A gift in a person’s first will is likely to carry itself forward into future iterations of a will when it is rewritten (e.g. upon marriage/ house purchase etc).  The first thing a solicitor will ask is usually to see the previous will and carry information forward where appropriate.

Either a younger or older donor could be turned into a mouthpiece for your campaign if it is well structured, and could lead to a “viral” effect, with an evangelist for your campaign (or legacy donations in general) informing and encouraging others to make a will and remember a charity in it.

Any  fundraiser will tell you that gifts in wills fundraising is tough.  It requires a lot of sustained effort and the fruits of the labour or effectiveness of a campaign can be very difficult to track.  A fundraiser typically does not know whether a gift has been generated, and will not find out whether a campaign has been successful for an indeterminate amount of time.  The system at has been tailored to provide a fundraiser with metrics vital to measuring success of effort put into a campaign.  A fundraiser will know who has made a will, when that will was made, and the amount of any legacy gift.