2021: Living and Giving through Covid

publication date: Nov 4, 2021
author/source: Richard Radcliffe

“I have plenty of time on my hands and in fact my Will is on the kitchen table as we speak!”

This was not the reaction I expected when I started my journey of listening to donors during the pandemic.

On 27th January 2020, the first case of Covid-19 was identified in Toronto, Canada two days ahead of the UK. The instant reaction from nonprofit leaders: stop all legacy fundraising. This is not a good time!

Next reaction: panic. Get money in now! At the same time, fundraisers began to be laid off. Resources shrunk. Those lucky enough to be employed were overstretched. The mental health of fundraising teams suffered. Isolation kicked in for everyone.

In July 2020, I start my donor conversations. Since then I have listened to more than 800 donors (all aged over 55 ish) on behalf of 21 charities. What did I find? That this was the perfect moment to listen.

Will writing in action during the pandemic

The writing of Wills has rocketed globally.

  • In the UK the rise is 40% (solicitor drafted Wills) in the last nine months.
  • Preliminary research indicates that extensive free time is enhancing inheritance and estate planning globally.
  • CNBC reported a 50% increase in Will-making in USA.
  • ABC News reported an increase of 142% in estate planning online since April, 2020.
  • In Australia there has been an increase of 265% in the sale of “make your own Will” packs (Source: www.Statetrustees.com)

So, donors have plenty of time on their hands and fundraisers haven't had the time or resources to connect with them. What a lost opportunity.
Key issues arising from these weird "new normal" times

In organizing my meetings, donors were offered the choice of a virtual group meeting or a phone call. Eighty percent chose the telephone. Why? It is easy to use compared to a virtual platform.

“I try to spend at least two hours on the phone every day to feel less isolated.”

The phone has gone from not being very popular to the most preferred of all communication tools.

Not one donor expressed negative feelings to my calls but my calls were not a sales call – they were care calls. The fact is, however, once the donor “thinks legacy,” they are on a journey of doing it. How often did I hear “I had never thought of a gift in my Will before, but now I will.” I wish I had recorded the number because it was huge.

For those donors who are now thinking about a legacy: what changed their mind?

1. That any gift of any size is welcome – whether it is an affordable sum or a small percentage.
2. Today's donors are intelligent baby boomers who need to be treated with respect. They often have assets which require professional guidance. Almost every donor I met with used a solicitor and did NOT make a Will online. The exceptions? Retired lawyers who know what they need to do and they go online!
3. Donors frequently mentioned “impact of my legacy,” something I wouldn't have heard thirty years ago. Thirty years ago, the decision was made without much thought at a time when 80% of legators were single females. Now, legators are 60% female and 40% male (Source: Smee & Ford in UK – they read every Will after probate had been granted).

Based on my conversations and research from 14 Research Centres around the world who specialize in financial decision-making in older generations, it takes over three years to finalize estate plans.

What do great prospects do in this time? They investigate their nonprofits by going online and reviewing the accounts. Specifically, they need to understand:

  • the financial and impact performance of their donation
  • your sources of income and the dangers of restricted funds
  • how easy it is to remember your nonprofit in their Will

Once these questions are answered, your donor can make a wise decision as to where to invest their legacy. After so many months of being isolated, donors also like "active communication" which is often a legacy video on your website.

Understanding the barrier to your legacy conversations

Fifty percent of the donors I have listened to said they have, or will, put a nonprofit in their Will.

This is the most amazing moment in my history of legacy promotion.

The biggest barrier to this legacy moment has been nonprofit leadership.

For the nonprofit, the pressure to gain support now through an instant transaction; a "donation" means that legacies are put on the back burner. Big mistake. Huge mistake.

Legacies are the ONLY source of funds which enable long-term financial health and security. They reap rewards after the tenure of current leaders.

This results in leadership having no incentive to act. Short-termism rules and it drives me to distraction.
Great leaders do not panic. They think and plan.

Legacies offer a security blanket, a treasure trove to dip into to grow or to protect your nonprofit in times of emergency.

• Individual giving does not build reserves
• Trusts and Foundations give for projects
• Statutory funding is project or service based
• Corporate funds are often largely restricted.

Since July 2020 I have presented, virtually, to boards the case for investing in legacies. On every occasion I asked them for a legacy to their nonprofit. I only came up against one antagonistic board member.

A simple PRO Tip: Ask your leaders to pledge a legacy. If they won’t, why should anyone else? At the Annual Convention of the Chartered Institute of Fundraising in September 2021 I ran a poll. How many charities have asked their board for a legacy? Result: 13%.


One last simple message for your supporters

Tell every prospect that everyone can afford a modest legacy even if they have a family.

An expression of financial support for a charity can affirm the donor's life beliefs and families will surely respect that. For many next of kin it is heart-warming to know that their loved one had so much passion and compassion. And, don't forget to give the donor your Registered Charity Number so they know you are a nonprofit! That is all their Will writer needs (plus the type/size of gift).

Legacies are one of the simplest ways of giving; the problem is that few realise it.

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word crisis. One stroke stands for danger – the other for opportunity. Always search for the opportunity.

2021 and beyond is the time of opportunity to raise a fortune and build a future for your nonprofit.

Richard Radcliffe founded Radcliffe Consulting 15 years ago but has over 30 years’ experience in promoting legacy giving. He ran Smee & Ford for 15 years, has met over 35,000 charity supporters and developed over 500 legacy strategies for every type and size of charity/non-profit on the globe. He has also trained tens of thousands of stakeholders to talk and write about legacies. He loves his work more now than ever before. www.radcliffeconsulting.org

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