Are we ready to really embrace supporter-centricity?

13 May 2021
Legacy Fundraising
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Allan Freeman, Chair of Remember A Charity, says that the pandemic has given us an opportunity to really embrace supporter-centricity, but are we brave enough to take the next step? He looks at what this means for legacy fundraising.

The last 12 months have shown us how much charities care. Not only about their beneficiaries, their cause or mission – those things go without saying – but about their supporters. As we think about how fundraising moves forwards, we have a real opportunity to embrace supporter centricity and to double legacy income.

Turning the supporter model on its head

Cast your mind back to this time last year. Although fundraising teams were desperately worried how they were going to make it through the uncertainty of the pandemic, their concern for supporters shone through. Yes, they asked for funds. But they also took the opportunity to demonstrate that they were there for their donors.

Charities reached out, offering reassurance, warmth, guidance, much-needed distraction and even entertainment. Their actions aimed to make supporters (often living alone and afraid) feel part of something special – that they were cared for, valued and needed.

At the RNLI, the fundraising team increased its strategic focus to engage with supporters and their communities, conveying the sense that they were all part of ‘the crew’. Others took a similar approach – from the RNIB to CHAS in Scotland, hospices to air ambulances – fundraising teams allocated vital resources to open up conversation and engage. Ultimately, there was the sense that looking after supporters and these longer-term relationships was as important – perhaps in the long term, more so – than the bottom line.

There’s no doubt that the loss of events, retail and probate delays hit the sector hard, but we can see from the 2020 Charity Benchmarks report that actually, if we exclude those areas, charities raised an extra £20m compared to 2019. All things considered, this was pretty remarkable and a testament to charity supporters and fundraisers across the nation!

The road to supporter-centricity

We’ve talked about supporter engagement, relationship fundraising, the supporter journey and experience for many years, but the pandemic accelerated that shift to supporter-centricity in a way that no change in regulations could have done. But are we brave enough to take the next step which could be hugely exciting, particularly when it comes to growing future legacy income?

The more engaged supporters are, the more valued and connected they feel, and the more likely they are to leave a gift in their Will. Research from About Loyalty shows that supporters with high loyalty are three times as likely to give again and five times as likely to leave a legacy.

Individual drivers may vary – whether it’s greater passion for the cause or deeper trust of the charity – but a more supporter-centric model has the potential to lift all those drivers; passion, trust and satisfaction; all of which has a considerable impact on income. When you think that even 1% growth in legacy giving equates to over £30 million annually, the potential is considerable.

How brave are we prepared to be?

The truth is that if we really want to take supporter-centricity seriously – if we recognise the value and want to make it a genuine part of our culture – we should be writing it into our business models and targets, not just job titles or department names.

Organisations often invest in tracking supporter engagement and this is key. But these measures need to be part of the KPI set in a balanced scorecard. We need to make sure that there are conversations not just about gross income, net income and ROI but also about engagement scores with clear and agreed actions, plans and strategies to drive these higher.

By doing that we’ll actually improve short-, medium- and long-term income and create a step change opportunity for legacies.

But we also need to challenge our perception of our supporter base. After all, every charity has supporters that lie beyond our financial databases, from volunteers to employees, to beneficiaries’ and their families or friends. These supporter journeys will often start long before anyone actually makes a donation. Could we be doing more to reach those beyond the donor database and make them feel valued? And why is this so important for legacies?

What this means for legacies

If we take a bigger, broader approach to our supporters, if we truly focus on developing supporter-centricity the legacy potential is dramatic. We can be truly proud of how the sector is working together to grow the legacy market, but we are still only scratching the surface of what can be achieved.

The data consistently shows that around 40% of people are actively open to the idea of leaving a legacy and yet a much smaller percentage actually do – often because they haven’t been asked or haven’t been asked in the right way or at the right time. Theoretically, that means we could double the market, and even if we achieve only half of that we will increase legacies by an extra £1.5 billion.   

Certainly, a legacy donation can have the potential to make a sizeable difference to charities’ futures. But it’s not just an ask for that should be reserved for the few. We have a great opportunity to broaden those discussions and ensure everyone feels that they can play a role in shaping the world they leave behind.

The pandemic has given us the potential to open up conversations about charitable Will-writing and revolutionise supporter relationships in a way that no government or sector-driven reform could. And, as we move closer into a recovery phase, strengthening supporter communities is going to be all the more important and help to drive financial resilience for whatever comes next. So, now’s the time to take the reins and ensure that our business models, strategies and plans really do have supporters at their core.


Allan Freeman is Chair of Remember A Charity
Allan Freeman is Chair of Remember A Charity
Chair of Remember A Charity
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