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How to ask for legacies

A charitable legacy is when somebody leaves money to charity in their will. In 2009 it was estimated that around 6-7% of the total charity sector income in the UK came from legacies. This HowTo looks at ways of approaching the subject of charitable legacies, and increasing giving potential within your charity.



Understanding the psychology of legacy giving

Charitable legacies have been in decline over the past few decades. It has been suggested that this is due to a change in lifestyle - people spending their money and 'living for the now' rather than bequeathing to the next generation. This is certainly part of it.

The other part is simply that people don't like to talk about death. It's a depressing topic to broach.

In 2010, the NSPCC came up with a high-profile legacies advert that paved the way for a new approach.

Check out the NSPCC 'What Will You Leave?' advert on YouTube.

It really is the perfect example of a legacies 'ask', because:

  1. It takes the emphasis off dying, and focuses on living.
  2. It nurtures people's desire to leave not just a financial, but a social, legacy - 'what will you be remembered for?'
  3. It highlights the bonds that matter to us: family, friends, loved ones.
  4. It uses uplifting music and imagery to make us feel good about what we're doing.

Essentially, it's not depressing, it doesn't make us feel as though our mortal end is pending, and it doesn't solely focus on the financial or material aspect of giving.

If you wish to run a successful legacies campaign - that's the psychology you need to follow.

You also need to think about the language you use. For example in a quick straw poll of 15 UK charities, only three were using the word legacy on their websites. Think about the words your supporters use and make these prominent.


Consistent exposure

Legacies are a little like organ donation - you don't want to leave it until the moment of crisis to ask. Instead, you want people to be aware of your legacies programme well in advance. People tend to write or update their wills at significant life points (marriage, birth of children, retirement and illness). Think about how you can incorporate awareness of this into your promotions.

Don't approach people by saying: 'By the way, when you die, could you leave us some cash?' Make your members aware that the option is there,  let them know how it will help, and make it look like an attractive thing to do.

Like the NSPCC advert, you need an advertising campaign. A message. Useful tools include:


This doesn't need to be a high-profile BBC campaign costing hundreds of pounds in production. If you have a volunteer with a camcorder, Movie Magic and a bit of initiative, it's perfectly possible to put a decent advert together and post it on your website, YouTube and social media sites.


Audacity is a free audio editing programme. You can record interviews for podcasts and your website. Try approaching your local radio station - some do discount or free advertising slots for charities.


Pop articles in your newsletter, on your website, in local newspapers. Tell stories about what legacies have achieved for your organisation.

Pick a message, make it consistent, and keep it in the public eye.


Make sure legacy fundraising is included on your website. This usually lives in the donate section and is called something like 'remember us in your will'. Look at how other charities are writing about legacy giving online for some inspiration (there are lots of examples in this blog post about online legacy fundraising). Get the balance right between giving information which helps your supporters include you in their will and persuading them to do this in the first place. The value of a legacy gift can be significant so it is worth investing time in getting your web pages about this method of giving right although the traffic levels may be low.


Legacy pack

As with any form of fundraising - it's not just about telling people that you need the money. It's about making it extremely easy for them to give you the money.

Once someone decides to leave you a legacy - how do they do it?

Get a pack together that members can request. Pop one in the newsletter when you launch your legacies scheme. Make it available to download from your website.

Include any information members will need in the legacies pack. For example publish the legal text which legacy givers include in their wills (see example from Age UK). Keep information simple, use bulletpoints and provide contact details for more information. Above all, make sure that you know the law surrounding legacies.


Follow up and transparency

As already mentioned - the subject of death is not a pleasant one to have to broach. So it's important, when dealing with legacies, that your accounting process is extremely transparent.

Commonly, small donations will be swallowed into the core costs of the organisation. However, people may bequeath to specific projects or functions within an organisation. It's imperative that the wishes of the donor are carried out, and you must be able to show this in your accounting.

You also want to keep track of legacy generated income, so that you can monitor it over time to see whether your awareness campaigns are working.

Finally, try approaching members who have expressed an interest in leaving a legacy. Why do they wish to do this? There must be a reason. Something about your organisation that they feel is important. Many charities ask people who have included them in their wills to let them know (see Legacy pledge form from RNIB). Their testimony will add a very real, human touch to your campaign. Far more engaging and persuasive than a faceless organisation.


Legacies, data protection and GDPR

In legacy fundraising, keeping records and data on the relationship with a supporter has always been important – especially if there is ever a dispute about the legacy gift in the future. But with GDPR requiring that data isn’t kept forever, getting the balance right on data retention is a really tricky area. 

The Instutute of Fundraising has produced a guide to help charities and fundraisers navigate the issues surrounding data retention and legacies, and to put forward options for how charities can appropriately record and retain personal data so that it can beaccessed in the case of a contested Will.

Further information

Some examples of charity legacy asks:



Page last edited Sep 12, 2019 History

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