Why I Love (And Feel Uncomfortable About Loving) Legacy Fundraising

Published by Margaux Smith on

I’m writing this on the one-year anniversary of my move from Toronto to London, so you’re reading this one year after I started my career as a professional fundraiser, and what a lot has changed during that time. I’ve gone from fundraiser in theory, to fundraiser in practice; blogger, to paid writer (ha!).

But there’s another difference that has been developing more recently and at the IoF National Convention last week, it finally hit me – I’ve fallen madly, deeply, head-over-heels in love with legacy gifts.

This may come as a surprise to those who knew me in Toronto because I used to be quite vocal about my distaste for this field of fundraising. I thought it was dull, cold, and frankly it bored me half to death when we studied it in school (pun intended). But that was because my knowledge of it only scratched the surface. I was just hearing about the tax benefits and the paperwork.

I’m an emotional fundraiser. That’s no secret. Before I was a fundraiser, I was an emotional person. And I believe giving gifts to charity is, and should be, an emotional experience.

So you can understand why listening to a bunch of facts and figures, tax-speak, propensity models, and jargon really turned me off. I knew, logically, that legacy gifts were incredibly important to charity work. We rely on that income to save and improve millions of lives. But I said it loud and clear (as I’ve been known to do); someone else can ask for those gifts because it doesn’t interest me one bit. Give me direct mail. Give me individual giving. Give me stewardship. Leave the rest.

So how, then, did I fall in love?

In the past few months I’ve starting writing legacy letters and for the first time, I finally understand what it really means to make that kind of gift. It’s absolutely incredible. I still have a soft spot for individual giving but asking for £20 is such a different experience than asking for someone to look back on their life and reflect, to think about the change they want to see in the world, to define who they are as a human being…I get to try to speak to the donor’s soul. (I finally understand what Fraser Green’s been talking about!)

I have had that moment of discomfort while I’ve come to terms with this. Is it morbid to love ‘death’ gifts?? But of course not. Because these are gifts that represent the joy of living. People who write you into their Will are not doing that because of an emotional reaction, they’re doing it to fulfill a life long desire, to do something bigger than themselves. I’m a fundraiser because I want to change the world, but everyone wants to have that kind of an impact and for many people, their end of life gift is the way for them to do that.

So our job is not to convince them but to prove ourselves to them. We have to show donors that we can help them achieve the change they want to see, that leaving a gift with us will make the difference they long for. You care about your cause. You believe it’s one of the most important issues in the world (hopefully). And there are other people out there who agree with you; who feel that same passion and anger and hope. Find them and connect with them.

I’ve realized that legacy fundraising is the ultimate fundraising challenge, but it’s one I’m excited to spend my career on. Deep human connection? Bring it on.

Margaux Smith

Margaux is currently living in Sydney, Australia, working closely with incredible clients at Flat Earth Direct, creating digital and direct mail campaigns with them to help change the world. This Canadian fundraiser misses her compatriots in London and Toronto, where she learned almost everything she knows, but is enjoying the Australian sunshine a little too much to leave any time soon.


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