Special focus: Insights on legacy giving across EuropeDecember 13, 2023
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This month, as part of Fundraising Europe’s Special Focus on legacies, Annabella Priester, legacy fundraiser at VIER PFOTEN in Austria, shares how the nonprofit has increased legacy giving, revealing five key secrets to success.
A global welfare organisation for animals under direct human influence, FOUR PAWS was founded in Vienna in 1988 and now has offices across the globe.
In Austria, where it is called VIER PFOTEN, the nonprofit has built up its legacy fundraising from next to nothing six years ago, to a programme of activity that includes regular communications across multiple channels, events, pledger stewardship and more.
Now delivering 10-13% of its total income annually, legacy gifts are playing an increasingly important role in supporting VIER PFOTEN’s work to reveal suffering, rescue animals in need, and protect them, which it does through campaigns, projects, and sanctuaries.
So what’s the secret? In fact, there are five. Fundraising Europe talked to legacy fundraiser Annabella Priester to find out more.
- Joining a consortium
VIER PFOTEN has been a part of Austria’s national legacy initiative Vergissmeinnicht (Forget-me-not) since 2012 while its own legacy fundraising programme has been in place since 2017, when it started with just one person – Annabella.
When she began working at NGOs in the 1990s, Annabella says, getting public acceptance for legacy giving was a challenge but thanks to the work of Vergissmeinnicht attitudes have changed in the country. She has also found the support it provides members to be invaluable:
“There was never a question for us of not joining Vergissmeinnicht – it’s really important to be part of it. It provides so many opportunities and resources that you can take and use for your own legacy fundraising, and members all work together and share their knowledge, which helps everyone. It’s also thanks to the work of the initiative that it’s possible today to discuss legacy giving. People now contact us for information about it – the public has accepted this giving opportunity and it’s become totally normal for them.”
- Having someone dedicated to legacy fundraising
For the best chances of success, legacies must be part of a nonprofit’s overall fundraising strategy and, Annabella says, they also need someone dedicated to the task. This is essential for successfully championing the legacy message both externally to supporters and the public, and internally within the organization itself.
“Active legacy fundraising is really very important, so you need to have at least one person who can concentrate on this, who can go out and join initiatives like Vergissmeinnicht, and who can focus on communicating the legacy message to supporters and within the organisation. But also it needs to be someone who isn’t doing it as one of many tasks because it’s not like other forms of fundraising – it has very different targets.”
- Having a named & visible contact for supporters
For VIER PFOTEN, having a named and visible person for people to contact has made a huge difference to the success of its legacies programme. Annabella is featured on the nonprofit’s legacy webpage with a photo and her direct contact details, so anyone with a question is able to come directly to her.
“Having a dedicated legacy webpage with a named contact for legacy giving has been invaluable. People know me, they can call me, and so they trust me with every question and problem they have.”
- Taking every opportunity to promote legacy giving
Before joining Vergissmeinnicht, VIER PFOTEN had just a legacy giving brochure, which people were sent if they got in touch, and there was no proactive activity. Now, to promote legacy giving, Annabella says: “We do as much as we can.”
“We have our webpage and brochure, we post on Facebook and Instagram, and we hold events at least twice a year, in the autumn and spring within the international legacy weeks. We’re also using every opportunity to publish something – from including a story about legacy giving in almost every donor magazine, to taking up the opportunity to be in the press as part of Vergissmeinnicht’s memory events, which focus on remembering legacy donors.”
VIER PFOTEN’s own legacy events are also proving a good way of raising awareness of gifts in Wills. While just a small percentage of those invited attend, Annabella says that sending out the invitations always results in multiple requests for the nonprofit’s legacy brochure.
“We have a really nice brochure, which I’m very proud of it, and our events are very useful because not only do we get to meet people but the invitation itself is a valuable way of increasing awareness and interest. Every event, we get about 20 attendees but another 80 or so order the brochure.”
Looking after pledgers
From the time of making a pledge it can take many years to a gift being realised, so stewarding pledgers is essential to keeping them engaged and feeling valued. At VIER PFOTEN, two successful initiatives are the nonprofit’s engagement activities for supporters, and its memory signs that publicly honour pledgers and legacy gift donors.
“We organize activities like trips to our bear sanctuary in Austria. This is really, really successful because members get to know other people who are also interested in our cause and in leaving a gift in their Will to the charity.”
VIER PFOTEN’s memory signs have also proved popular:
“If someone tells me that they are going to leave us a gift in their Will, I ask if they would to have their names on a wooden paw that is permanently displayed on the wall in our bear sanctuary in Arbesbach in Lower Austria. For some, it’s not important for them to be publicly acknowledged but most of them love it and are thankful for the opportunity.”
Building for the future
VIER PFOTEN’s focus on legacies has had a very positive impact in raising awareness of this valuable way of giving, and bringing in more vital income to support its work. And importantly, it’s also building stronger relationships with supporters and pledgers, which means the nonprofit now often knows when pledges have been made, helping it to plan for the future.
“Before, legacy gifts came in without us knowing in advance or knowing the reason why,” Annabella says. “But this is changing – we now know when people are leaving us legacies, which gives us the opportunity to meet them and to speak with them. We have about 300 people who have already told us that we will receive a legacy gift from them – and this is all since I started our programme in 2017.”
About Annabella Priester
Legacy fundraiser at VIER PFOTEN, Annabella studied biology in Vienna, then worked in marketing until 1997, since when she has worked for nonprofits in Austria, including as fundraiser and team leader at Greenpeace, and later focusing on legacy fundraising for Kindernothilfe and VIER PFOTEN.