The Stolen Recipe for a Legacy Event

Published by Juan Hendrawan on

This is my second blog post for 101 Fundraising and, just like my first blog, the inspiration was coming from a presentation that I attended late last year.  [Yes, I steal ideas from others! Don’t judge!].

My job in WWF is to build a knowledge system for WWF’s legacy fundraisers. One of them is to organise a virtual presentation about legacy fundraising. This presentation was one of them and it’s about the recipe of success for legacy event. It was presented by Sarah Cunningham who is legacy marketing manager for WWF UK. [I already have permission from Sarah to use her presentation as my blog sources. Thanks Sarah!]

So, let’s get cracking! Sarah presented how she prepared the legacy events as if she cooked a recipe for dinner. I like the idea of it since a legacy event is not a fast-food standardized product, but more likely to be a customized and adaptable dish. It needs to be personal.

Only few WWF offices are doing legacy event and WWF UK has been organising legacy events since 2009 with more than 600 attendees in total, and more than 1,200 cups of tea and coffee had been served!

First of all, Sarah’s first two ingredients are OBJECTIVES and DESIRED OUTCOMES of the event. What do you want to achieve in your event? Do you want to develop your relationship with your supporters? One to one relationship will gain their trust and understand their needs and an event is one way to do it. Do you want your supporters to engage with your cause and work? To justify why they should leave legacy to your organisation. Make a clear objective so you know what you need to prepare and to give your donors/guests a right message. Be clear! If it’s a legacy event, tell your donors in advance about it. Avoid being vague about the purpose of the event.

And the outcomes, I am sure you want the donors to keep your organisation in their will and even better if  they increase the value of the legacy! For those who don’t have a will yet, you want them to include your organisation in their will or add your organisation into their existing will.

If you get those things done, now start to prepare the fun part. After you grilled your objectives and outcomes, you add a LOCATION, or what I called a venue, to make a good package to your dish. Remember that your guests will be mainly 60+ years old so location is the key. You need to know where your supporters are, the travel time, the venue’s appeal to your supporters, and your shopping list requirements for the venue (for example: accessible for disable, public transport access, etc).

The atmosphere of the venue will play an important role on the mood of your event. Although, I think the weather is also playing a significant role too. [Start praying if you have your event in rainy place such as Holland!]. However, we cannot really pinpoint what makes a venue appealing for your donors. For WWF, a venue that related with wildlife can be appealing, such as a zoo, the wetland centre, a botanic garden, etc. But also a beautiful estate with historic touch can be appealing to donors (older people love history!). Pay attention to details. A funny yet useful advice from Richard Radcliffe is to make sure you have toilets nearby in the same floor.

Now after you grilled your objective, your desired outcome, and added your venue. What else do you need to make the dish ready? You need the PROGRAM as the filling and topping for your dish! You need to have some speakers and relevant content (for WWF is conservation projects) to achieve the objective and get the result. The speakers can be a member of senior management and (or) a field officer. Plus, you need other staff members to be part of the “welcome committee” and make the supporters feel loved. So, plan your event in advance and propose it to the program officers and senior management as early as possible to match their schedule [nowadays, everybody is busy!]. The program officer is important since there will be many smart-difficult questions and the supporters want to hear the “first-hand” experience.

Who should come to the legacy event? Pledgers, prospects, suspects (they just look like and in the same category as pledgers and prospects) and guests (friend, child, grandchild, or spouse). I think a mixed audience will work the best.

Don’t forget to ask the attendees to fill-in an EVALUATION form in the end of the event.  Feedback survey can help you to find out the reason they leave a legacy to your organisation, the status of their will, and how satisfy they are with the speakers and venues. It’s a way to improve your service to donors too!

Then you can start the finishing touch to your dish, it’s the FOLLOW-UP. Sarah is sending immediate thank-you letter and pledger stewardship program for pledgers and intenders.

For the enquirers, more likely to be prompted by invitation so if they cannot come but want to have more information, we put them as enquirers. And also put legacy information in the goody bag for those who can come.

Considerers are the biggest challenge. It’s a pretty small group so it’s difficult to have them for direct mail. So, how about telemarketing/personal call? They don’t expect the call and if we put a telephone opt-out in the feedback form, none will thick the box. Any ideas what to do? Please share it with me by posting a comment or send me an email. [Yes, I am trying to steal ideas again].

I think there is no right or wrong here. Maybe Sarah’s recipe above is not for your organisation and perhaps your donors need more or different ingredients. Just try and do a test and be creative! I don’t think you should be afraid to try something new. Because in the end, I think, legacy fundraising is about human relations and human is not a mechanical product.

One last thought from the presentation: a quote from Alan Lakein, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Good luck planning your next event!

‘Till my next spoils!

For further reading, Richard Radcliffe’s article about legacy event is available on www.civilsociety.co.uk about how to run a legacy pledge event.

Juan Hendrawan

Juan Hendrawan

Juan is a member of WWF's international fundraising development department focusing on individual fundraising. As part as his job he is responsible for helping WWF's offices worldwide to build its legacies fundraising program. He also organizes workshops, internal websites and knowledge exchange within WWF fundraisers. He is based in Belgium and an avid dressage rider (loves horses and dogs).


Paul Nazareth ( twitter @UinvitedU ) · March 8, 2012 at 15:52

As a career-long planned giving specialist Juan, I have surveyed charities across Canada and incorporated reports from the USA on the topic of Legacy recognition. Just about to give a local and national presentation on legacy societies with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners so it’s very top of mind for me… but let me disclose my bias: I was looking for innovation, disruption and creativity.

What I found was kind of scary but comforting to know many of us are doing it “right” with regards to donor satisfaction. Those who did as you suggest, surveyed and followed up found that the “tea’s and tours” – essentially the recipe you mention in this post is the dominant model that donors like. Many have tried other formats, to satisfaction and engagement failure.

I like fun, different, interesting, innovation – but the lesson learned here is if you are results-focused you’ll focus on doing what works, well. After all, some chefs spend a lifetime trying to make the perfect souffle right?

Would love to hear thoughts from PG experts and enthusiasts, please disagree. I live to learn.

Paul Nazareth @UinvitedU

Juan · March 8, 2012 at 16:18

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your comment. I agree with you about being creative and innovative. I was just telling a standar “how to…” blog. But the (luxury) problem is that it’s working well with the donors!

Almost all WWF offices are doing more or less the same tea-tour event.

WWF Canada is doing a bit different legacy event. They are taking donors/supporters on a “project trip”. They visited a local project with the conservation expert. It’s usually a small group of donors so it’s an intimate event. They are walking/hiking around the project and slip a message about legacy here and there. We still don’t know the result of these events since it just started.

What do you have in mind about being innovative in legacy event? :-)

Thank you.
Juan @juanwwf

Christina Attard @GPtekkie · March 8, 2012 at 16:34

I’d like to note that one of the worst and one of the best legacy donor events I ever attended was given by Paul Nazareth (@UinvitedU) many years ago – at worst, half the audience was snoozing in a darkened lecture hall mid-afternoon, at best, a crowd enjoyed an amazingly creative and enjoyable breakfast reception complete with juice mocktails and breakfast-themed canapes. I agree that it’s about experimenting until you get the recipe right and will always admire and respect Paul for his boldness and commitment to working hard at getting this right for his charity.

I like to add some words about legacy societies for smaller shops that might only have a very limited number of members and not be in a position to host a larger annual event. Your advantage here is that you can either go small and intimate or you can integrate.

With 20 members or less, you might be in a position to host something simple like lunch with your President/CEO. It may not be flashy, but it will certainly be personal and really, that’s what legacy gifts are about. It’s a small enough number that you can send a nicer invitation and you can phone to follow up on RSVPs. Even those who are not able to attend will appreciate the personal touch. If you’re in a position where you’re the sole staff-member, this is a lot more do-able and you need not worry that the impact will be less than something more complex.

Another way to go (for the small shop) is to simply treat your legacy donors as you would your larger annual/major gift donors. Include them in the circles, invite them to the events – they deserve an opportunity to enjoy the expressions of gratitude and updates on your charity that major, lifetime supporters receive. You may be lucky enough to have these supporters share with other guests that they have created a legacy for your charity. Chances are that these folks are supporting your work now and it’s nice to be able to recognize that in a special way – recognizing passion for your cause rather than current-dollar commitment at special recognition events might be a worthwhile recipe to try!



Leah Eustace · March 8, 2012 at 19:01

Has anyone tried inviting bequest/planned giving donors (already confirmed) to speak at an event like this? In my mind, there’s nothing more powerful and inspirational than having a fellow donor talk about why they’ve chosen a planned gift.

In focus groups we’ve done with planned giving prospects, they often react most positively and powerfully to stories of donors just like them.


    Paul Nazareth ( twitter @UinvitedU ) · March 8, 2012 at 19:06

    Thanks for comments Christina and Leah –

    *snoozing legacy donors*, yes that was many years ago. But we test away!

    Forgot to mention Leah that many Legacy/Heritage Society/Circle events ( as did ours ) always started with a testimonial about a gift from a donor and if possible a thanks from a leader in the community who had made a gift too – thanks to donors, from a donor.

    Powerful indeed!

Michael J. Rosen, CFRE · March 8, 2012 at 21:12

As the author of book “Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing,” I of course must emphasize the need to be donor centered when planning legacy events.

Being donor centered, I did not find Richard Radcliffe’s bathroom suggestion the least bit amusing. Richard clearly understands the needs of an older audience, and I congratulate him on being focused on their very real needs.

Here are four other tips related to the needs of an older audience:

1. Do NOT serve spinach at a meal event. Spinach reacts negatively with a number of medications that are commonly used by older folks.

2. Do NOT serve grapefruit at an event. Grapefruit reacts negatively with a number of medications that are commonly used by older folks.

3. Recognize that many older people do NOT like to drive after sunset. So, if you want to attract an older crowd, make sure to schedule some events in the daytime.

4. Recognize that many older people no longer drive. So, be prepared to arrange car-pools or provide transportation. Your donors and prospects will really appreciate the effort you make.

Regarding the event program itself, be sure that the content is donor focused. In other words, the event should not be about “How to give to our organization.” Instead, the event should be about something like, “How to get an income for life while supporting your favorite organization.” The program must be promoted in a way that donors and prospects see the benefit to themselves. And, the event itself should deliver donor-centered content. Hey, donors and prospects aren’t stupid. They know you want their money. So, you don’t need to beat them over the head. Deliver content of value to them, subtly promote giving to your organization, and you’ll be successful.

Juan, your article contained some good tips. And, the comments have been terrific. The key is to always be donor centered. Toward that end, I particularly like the idea of showing folks the organization at work. Here’s a relevant story I share in my book:

“A hospital in the rural Pacific Northwest held an event to thank individuals who had made a planned gift commitment as well as to express appreciation to those seriously considering such support. The event involved a tour of the facilities, including the pediatric services wing, followed by lunch. During the lunch, an elderly gentleman stood up and said that he was very impressed. He was familiar with hospital, the only one in town. But, neither he nor his wife was familiar with the pediatric services wing. The gentleman
told those gathered that he and his wife have no children themselves. However, during the tour of the pediatric services wing, they realized that the community’s children were their children. He went on to announce that he and his wife would be leaving their entire estate, consisting of a rather large farm, to thospital for the benefit of the pediatric services wing. If the couple had not been given the opportunity
to meet staff, see those benefiting from the services, and better understand how the hospital is fulfilling its mission, they may very well have made a much less generous commitment.”

You’ll notice that this was a daytime event, it involved a tour and, I suspect, bathrooms were nearby and spinach and grapefruit was nowhere to be found. :-)

Book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0470581581/?tag=mlinn-20
Blog: http://MichaelRosenSays.wordpress.com

    Juan · March 9, 2012 at 11:27

    Thank you Michael. I will take a look your book and thanks for sharing!

    I agree with the approach that it needs to be donor-centric. Donors need to be loved!

    Have a good weekend!

Karen Osborne · March 8, 2012 at 22:08

I don’t know about you, but I like to have conversations with my pots, pans and ingredients. “How much salt do you need?” “You look almost ready, what is missing that will get you there?” Talking heads, talking at folks is never as effective as enrolling and engaging. Find ways to ask the participants questions, get them trying things, experiencing things. At the end of the event, deliver a strong, “do” message, letting them know you’ll be in touch and that you look forward to further dialogue. Every event should be engaging, not just entertaining or informative. You’ll get far further along the path to a joyful yes, by asking questions and listening to the answers.

Jill Nelson @Nelson_Jill · March 9, 2012 at 03:19

Should confess that we don’t do legacy events at this time. (Having read juan’s blog, I might like to try one.) I prefer engaging donors about the WHY of giving to our charity, i.e. Exploring their passions and their reasons for support, and then talking personally about the how. So rather than an event about HOW to give, we engage people around the exciting things we do. But we could be missing a whole opportunity here. Thanks Juan and Sarah!

    Juan · March 9, 2012 at 11:25

    Thanks Jill! Please share with us your experience with legacy event if you decide to hold one!
    Good luck!

Kimberley MacKenzie · March 10, 2012 at 15:00

What a great conversation. I completely agree with the key ingredients, not just for a legacy event but for any event.

My organization has made building the legacy program a top line priority over the past couple of years. The recipe for success hasn’t really been one thing but a series of small shifts in how we engage our more senior and most loyal supporters.

In addition to the events that we do as part of what is called a Donor Motivation Program (http://donormotivation.com/)

We are hosting other events that our members would have probably enjoyed when they were much younger and more engaged in our mission. However we tailor them to their current abilities. Smaller hikes, more volunteers to partner with them, less noise, encouragement that the event won’t be too strenuous, a follow up visit with those who are housebound so we can show them pictures and bring the event to them.

I’ll write more about details of the steps that worked for us beyond events another time. Primarily like Michael Rosen pointed out Legacy work requires a heightened level of sensitivity on our part. We need to understand some of the logistical challenges older people have. We must be aware so that make it easy for them to participate and ensure that they can maintain their dignity and self respect. Educating ourselves about some of the issues older people have to deal with daily is paramount.

For example I recently had a major donor who is a confirmed legator tell me that he just can’t attend events because his hearing is so weak the multiple noises make it impossible for him to participate. Every time I invited him to an event he felt guilty and sorry that he was unable to attend.

The main reason our legacy program has experienced the success it has though, is because of one thing: we simply started talking about it more – in all channels. This is my very favourite subject an I will be writing more about it soon.

Thanks for your post Jaun – great conversation folks.

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