From summer job to lifelong passion – reflecting for success

Legacy Fundraising
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Steve Law

Steve Law, Senior Legacy Promotions Manager at Macmillan Cancer Support reflects on how he got into fundraising and how his career has led him to Legacy fundraising.

Early days on the frontline

Like most people I fell into the fundraising sector. I was at university doing my Masters in Marine Engineering and Naval Architecture, and wanted to be an engineer. A friend persuaded me to take up a summer job working for the RNLI as a face-to-face fundraiser. That summer, age 20, I got absolutely hooked.

And so it got to the end of my degree and I was at a crossroad – do I enter the engineering world or do I take a punt on this thing I’d been really loving? I think at the time I made a bit of a heart over head decision and decided to pursue fundraising full time. I started at the RNLI as a manager leading teams on the east coast of England. It was challenging and rewarding in equal measure – motivating people, hitting targets, and making a difference, all whilst learning lots.

Stepping into legacies

After six years I moved into high level philanthropy, this time asking for millions, not just a few pounds. Just like in face-to-face, it was all about achieving a target, albeit on a larger scale, and I found I was using many of the same skills. The RNLI occasionally offered secondments, and I got offered a placement in the legacies team, and once again, I fell in love.

I am now Senior Legacy Promotions Manager at Macmillan. The reason I love legacies is because to me it’s a huge challenge yet to be solved by the sector. We don’t know all the answers, but once we have them figured out, we can generate millions more and continue to make a massive difference. It’s still problem-solving, as in my engineering days.

What makes a good fundraiser

With every move that I have made in my career, I've tried to strike that balance of being able to learn new stuff and add value to that role. And moving into a new role, one of the things you have to figure out is the best way of doing things. Is it the way you’ve always done it, they have always done it, or a new way? Self reflection is critical, and something I really encourage my teams to do at a personal, team and charity level, because it enables us to find paths to grow and improve. One of the biggest challenges the sector is facing at the moment is recruitment. It’s hard to get great people in. During lockdown I had a geeky moment and ran a survey looking at pathways into fundraising. What I found is that the best, most impactful, and successful people were self reflective, and knew who they were and what they offer to a team - so that’s what I look for in everyone. The ability to take a step back, and think both big and small.

Supporting our supporters

Legacy fundraisers in particular have to be aware that what they are doing is seriously impacting people's lives at the time they make some of the biggest most important decisions that they will ever make – deciding who they want to leave their estate to. Whilst we say as a sector that legacies are about celebrating life, considering them also means considering your mortality, and not everyone feels comfortable with that. Equally, poorly written wills and complex administration cases can be distressing for the family and friends left behind. It might be very emotional and confusing for them, and good legacy fundraisers are supportive and understanding of that. There are also technical skills involved, but it’s that supporter care and doing the right thing at all times that is so crucial.

Hopes for the future of legacy fundraising

In five years’ time I’d hope that the sector has solved some of the knotty challenges and questions we’re asking today – such as the 1% debate. I’d love to see legacies, wills, death and money become more comfortable for people to address, as that will unlock legacies for so many more charities. Still people aren’t always sure what we do, and we need a more open culture where people are used to the idea of leaving a gift in their will. To encourage more people to leave a gift in their will to charity we need to find ways to reach and inspire the whole of society. We can only do this by working together which is why Macmillan are so proud to be a part of Remember A Charity – we can’t do this alone.

I hope that smaller charities find the headspace to get on board with legacies, and more charities benefit from generosity of a wider pool of supporters. At the moment it’s big charities such as Macmillan who benefit most, but if smaller charities are able to invest in their legacy giving strand, even on a small scale, they too will reap rewards.

And as a sector we need to work to be more diverse and inclusive. If people see themselves in the people they are giving to, the communications and marketing charities share, they are more likely to give. So not only is EDI the right thing to do, but it will also have an impact on charity income and thus charity impact.

I continue to love legacies. The legacy sector has so much to give, and so much to offer, and really can change the world we live in.

Steve Law
Steve Law
Senior Legacy Promotions Manager, Macmillan Cancer Support
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