Don't talk about death

I worked with Kingston University to talk to 6000 alumni over 60 years old about their deaths and the results have transformed their legacy fundraising.

Based on some interesting research about what inspires people to put charitable gifts in their will, we shelved their glossy promotional legacy booklet and sent a question by postcard instead "When I`m gone, I hope my legacy will be..."

Stop talking about yourself

The Research: undertaken by Remember a Charity and the Cabinet Office's Behavioural Insights Team, it shows that when solicitors ask Will clients if they would like to ‘make a charitable bequest’, the number of donors doubles. BUT when they ask what causes they care about, the number of people who leave a gift to charity triples.

Asking people to articulate what they are passionate about leads them to actively support that cause.

But what fundraisers usually do is tell them about our work. This campaign was designed as a big conversation amongst alumni about their legacy aspirations: "when I'm gone, I hope my legacy will be..."

We knew that understanding their ambitions would open up some conversations about how we could help them achieve their vision. 

Make it easy

The postcard went without an envelope, removing the need-to-open-your-mail barrier. It was part of an integrated online and e-mail campaign, to remove the return-response-card barrier.

Have face-to-face conversations

The results have been transformative for legacy fundraising at Kingston University. Every postcard response was followed up personally and less than a year on they have 2.5 times as many confirmed legacies. Three quarters of these conversations were triggered by the campaign from cold.

With their face-to-face legacy fundraising training in place, they continue to have proactive legacy conversations, which is totally new for them.

Campaign metrics: the response rate, click throughs, visits to the website and time spent on each page where impressive, but the bottom line has been the legacies and the halo effect of having a two-way conversation with your prospective supporters.


  • 250% increase in confirmed known legacies

  • A one-off £29,000 major gift from a new legator “because I don’t expect to die very soon”

  • 2 new legators telling us that this conversation has helped them to solve a problem – who to leave their estate to.

  • Several legators revising their pecuniary gift to a residuary

  • A 4% increase in regular donors from this donor pool

By triggering conversations first, the fundraising and engagement opportunities have been vast and rich. Kingston are very pleased that they took a risk and tried something different*. Happily, a postcard is far cheaper than a booklet.

One of my current projects is a participation campaign across all Kingston alumni to understand where the greatest propensity lies amongst this pool of cold prospects.

You too can use the power of conversation with cold pools of donors to unlock new supporters.

Ilana JackmanComment