For all legacy fundraisers, legacy events can be among the most rewarding experiences of your career. When planned and executed correctly they can inspire supporters of your charity who have not even previously thought about doing so to leave substantial and heartfelt bequests.
I have been fortunate enough in my career to manage and run many legacy events for a number of charities in a range of causal areas. There are a seemingly endless number of variables to consider when hosting any event, but in this article I will talk through 6 pointers (both creative and practical) which can help you create the perfect legacy event.
Legacy events offer charity supporters a truly unique opportunity, which is to be brought as close as possible to the cause and the work that they support. Legacy events should offer them the chance to have access to content and information, and possibly staff members and beneficiaries, that they simply cannot get from other forms of marketing (like DM or your website, for example).
Think about the elements of your cause that really inspire your audience, what areas of your work they are most interested in, and build the content for your event around them. Think of the staff members or beneficiaries of your charity who are best able to communicate these elements, and use your event to get them in front of your supporters.
The crucial point is to make your supporters feel as close to your cause as possible and to leave them feeling deeply inspired about your work. Think carefully about how is best, and who is best, to communicate this to them in person.
Also, legacy events offer a unique opportunity for legacy fundraisers, which is to speak directly, and in person, to your wonderful supporters. Do not miss out on this. At any event that you are hosting always allow more time than you think you need for questions (there will be more than you think) and make sure you are visible and accessible throughout the event, such as during lunch and tea breaks.
Legacy events are wonderful. But, on the flipside, they remain a relatively expensive way of talking to relatively small numbers of supporters. With this in mind it is crucial to make sure that you are inviting the right people. Remember, the purpose of most legacy events is to inspire or enhance legacy consideration, so focus your invitations on the supporters most likely to be receptive to legacy giving.
Think carefully about data selections for invitations. Make sure that you are inviting people of the correct age (55+) and who have shown support and affinity to your charity. Also think about who the event is most suitable for. Is it supporters who have already told you they would consider a legacy, supporters who have pledged, or supporters whose legacy consideration is unknown?
If inviting a mixture of legacy pledgers and other supporters make sure the content is suitable for all and that, crucially, any legacy ask is made with the knowledge that pledgers are in the room. The right people must be in the room, but they also must receive the right messaging.
The Code of Fundraising Practice (Section 15.3.1) states that any invitation to a legacy event must reference the fact that legacy giving will be mentioned. This is a mandatory for all invitations and, by extension, the events themselves. However whilst legacies must be clear they should not dominate the content of your event.
The unique opportunity offered by legacy events is to bring supporters as close to the cause as possible and to leave them as inspired as possible. If your event achieves this aim there is no need for a hard sell of legacies, which can irritate attendees. I have found the best approach is to mention them briefly at the end whilst wrapping up the event.
Also, give consideration as to who is best to deliver the legacy message. Is a legacy fundraiser always appropriate? A legacy pledger can bring real gravitas to the legacy message and can often communicate it in more human fashion than a marketing professional. Or, even better, a beneficiary of your charity who can speak passionately about the impact legacy gifts have had on them personally.
Whilst it is important for legacies not to dominate proceedings, it is important to make it as easy as possible for the supporter to act on their inspiration. Be available to speak to people, exchange contact details for further conversations, and provide goodie bags containing information about how to leave a legacy for them to pick up at the end of the event and consider in their own time.
You can deliver as inspiring and brilliant a programme as possible at a legacy event, but this will be forgotten if the visitor experience is poor. Think about it from the perspective of any event you have attended where you have had a poor experience – you are as likely to remember this poor experience as you are any content of the event. These impressions matter immensely.
The supporter experience begins when they receive the invitation. Your audience is likely to be older (many attendees will be 70+). Therefore, make sure all invitations and information are in large, easy to read font. Also make sure the invitations are sent at least 2 months in advance of the event – you will be surprised at how busy the diaries of retired people especially can be.
Make sure you provide crystal clear information on how to get there and ensure there isn’t a long walk between the car park and the venue itself. Ensure toilets are all on one level and easy to get to. And also it is crucial that disabled access is flawless at the venue, and that the attendees have the opportunity to tell you about any access needs they have.
If you are serving food – make sure it is food that that older people can eat. Simple soft foods like sandwiches and rolls are ideal here, there is no need to be too flashy (I have to credit Richard Radcliffe with this particular piece of advice, which has served me very well). And, of course, make sure you collect dietary requirements for all guests in advance.
The supporter experience also continues after the event. Make sure you thank attendees as soon as possible, by post or by email, afterwards. Follow up promptly on any connections you have made and questions asked. And also consider a specific supporter journey for event attendees afterwards, especially if you have enough specific content from the event to make this worthwhile.
It is essential to measure the impact of legacy events based on your audience and the objectives of said event. If you are hosting a prospecting event, with the aim of inspiring legacy consideration, has the event led to an increase in this? If it’s a stewardship event, with the aim of moving legacy supporters to active pledging, has the event led to an increase in their propensity to do so?
A simple way of measuring success is through a feedback form. Ask supporters about their experience of the event to gain knowledge of how to improve them, but also ask directly if the event has led to them considering or leaving a legacy. Input this information into your fundraising database and track legacy engagement and movement over time. You may find that legacy supporters acquired via events are more engaged than via other fundraising methods.
Legacy events can be the most expensive activities within your annual budgets and therefore it is essential to make sure they are worthwhile. Do not forget to measure their impact in order to justify their place within your legacy marketing programme.
It is important to remember that whilst most employees of UK charities live and work in London, most of your supporters (unless of course you are a London based charity) do not! I have heard many stories of supporters of charities being invited to legacy events in London even if they live in Penzance or Penrith. Do not make this mistake.
When I have hosted legacy events across the UK, it has been very apparent that attendees are grateful that a national London-based charity is coming to visit them in their local area. Make the most of this opportunity and host events in as many varied locations as possible, and as your database allows. You will really notice the benefits of doing so.
I hope that the above 6 points have been useful and informative and have given you some ideas of how to enhance, or even start, your legacy event programmes. And I hope that you enjoy hosting and running your own legacy events as much as I have done throughout my career.