Coronavirus and legacies: Why now is the time for stewardship

28 April 2020
Legacy FundraisingSupporter Stewardship
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Michael Clark, Head of Fundraising at St Nicholas Hospice Care, says that this pandemic has shown us that stewardship within fundraising is more important than ever before. This blog forms part of a series curated by Remember A Charity, the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s long-term campaign to grow legacy giving.

There is no doubt that we have all, as charities and as individuals, found ourselves in unprecedented times over the last month. Five months after joining St Nicholas Hospice Care, the world looks very different from when I joined.

The simplest things, and the most enjoyable things – walking around town, spending time with friends, visiting pubs and cafes – are now not available. The London Marathon was postponed, as have charities’ community events. For many charities – particularly perhaps those within the hospice sector – there is an even greater public understanding of the need to ensure our work continues. And yet, our ability to fundraise is heavily limited.

Stewardship is always a two-way relationship. But perhaps this pandemic has given us all thought about how we can ensure this is a reality, as we re-evaluate our priorities.
For us at St Nicholas Hospice Care, it’s meant a real shift in strategy, where fundraising has to take a back seat as we focus on strengthening our services, looking after our supporters and the wider community. I have never believed that ‘legacy asks’ in isolation have been best practice or fruitful, and neither has St Nicholas Hospice Care.

We trust the relationships which have been formed over the last 35 years with our supporters will continue to provide benefit to the community we serve, both now and in the future. Those relationships allow us to ensure our lottery and regular giving programmes produce regular income during this time, but our emphasis is very much on supporting that community, whether individuals or businesses.

At a service level, we’re doing everything within our power to continue providing end of life care and support for those struggling with death and grief. The nature of the coronavirus means that we’ve had to anticipate more people dying locally. Our local hospital will need beds and so we’re working even more closely with them, offering to take more end of life patients to free up their capacity.

Supporting our suppporters

When it comes to fundraising, we are looking at our long-term proposition rather than short-term fundraising goals. Our emphasis has shifted firmly to stewardship: our supporters are at the centre of what we do and we really want to ensure that they feel that. They understand what the hospice does within the community, far beyond the auspices of the building itself, and they want to be – and are – part of that. So, we are looking at ways of making them feel even more closely connected, exploring what we can do to support them.

This has meant picking up the telephone, emailing, and exploring new digital communication channels. Rather than sending post, which we know some of our community are nervous about handling, we’ve started sending thank you videos via WhatsApp to remind them how much they are valued.

A few weeks in, and of course we are looking at virtual alternatives to our normal fundraising portfolio, seeking to engage and steward our supporters, and to generate income. Our offering will adapt to make sure our community are safe and well, and provide them with new ways of interacting with us during these times.

We set up a virtual Easter egg hunt – quite possibly something we’d never have done without the virus – and it’s been a great way to engage with and provide some entertainment for families who have been stuck at home in recent weeks. Particularly for those that couldn’t get out and do a real hunt, this was really popular. It was fantastic to see how many people took part. We included the option of donating, reminding the public that we do need their support, but the focus was very much on giving them something fun to do over Easter.

It won’t bring in the £380,000 of event income we estimate the hospice will have lost as a result of the coronavirus, not in the coming weeks at least, but we hope that the relationships we are continually building now – at a time when the community needs our support most – are what will really matter in the long run. And, in many ways, the changed circumstances, with children being at home, gives us an opportunity to offer more virtual activities for local families.

Gifts in wills

When it comes to legacy promotion, our annual Wills Weeks takes place throughout June and beyond and, as usual, it doesn’t include a specific request for a gift in their Will. It is part of our hospice strategy to ensure that we encourage people to consider all their end of life planning, which of course ensures encouraging them to have a Will. So, our Wills Weeks enable us to offer our supporters a Will-writing service that is of a high quality in return for a donation they want to give. As there’s no legacy ask, our strategy isn’t dramatically changed.

Ultimately, I believe that any changes that charities make to their legacy strategy or Will-writing services now really does have to be in the best interests of supporters. We should be asking ourselves, how does it help them? Are we offering a high-quality regulated product?

An integrated gifts in Wills strategy will likely need very little amendment. After all, we should always be looking to showcase how supporters can help our cause, offer them the information, the means to do so, and have clear short-, medium- and long-term propositions.

The fruits of the labour are in these long term relationships. And this can be evidenced by many means – notes of thanks, notes of support, and donations sent unprompted, simply because people wanted to send them. At a time of uncertainty, our supporters continue to support us.

Remember A Charity run the Chartered Institute of Fundraising’s long-term campaign to grow legacy giving. Find out more about the campaign here. 

Michael Clark
Michael Clark
Head of Fundraising at St Nicholas Hospice Care
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