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The Latest Insights from Academic Research – Dr. Lucy Lowthian

Posted on 17th June 2022

We are very lucky in the legacy sector to have a wonderful group of practitioners working for a range of causes who are willing to share their experience and knowledge. We are continually learning and developing our legacy programmes by applying the most effective techniques and best practice from across the sector. However, we are also fortunate to be able to combine valuable experience with evidence-based research from some of the leading academics in fundraising.

Academic research is a scientific method which uses a wide range of research techniques – it often starts with a hypothesis (research question) which can be explored through surveys, experiments, or just understanding the lived experience of supporters. We can then use the data gathered to answer the research question. Academic research can defend against personal opinion (and speculation) by backing findings up with accurate and objective data so we can generalise results and apply them to a larger population. It can also help us create insights into behaviours and attitudes from a diverse range of perspectives. Academic research then strengthens our knowledge of legacy giving so we can continually develop as a sector. Publishing and putting this into the public domain means that we don’t have to keep repeating the same research to answer the same questions – instead we can look to the next set of questions and progress in our understanding together.

As a practitioner, I’ve learnt a lot from academic research that I’ve been able to apply in my legacy roles. We now understand the importance of symbolic immortality thanks to Dr Claire Routley (2011), the common barriers in legacy giving (Rowlingson & McKay 2005), the importance of life history to the legacy giving decision, illustrated in ground-breaking research by James and O’Boyle (2014) and the motivations of legacy supporters (Sargeant and Hilton 2005). We can then use this knowledge to effectively tailor communications and strengthen supporter experience.

A few years ago, I was inspired to conduct my own research to examine the psychological factors that drive the charitable bequest decision and move supporters on in their legacy journey. I wanted my research to help charities understand legacy giving from the donor’s perspective, giving a better understanding of the most effective ways to prime people about legacy giving, ultimately providing supporters with a more meaningful experience. I’m now really looking forward to sharing my findings at Legacy Future’s first in-person Masterclass in July which I hope can help to generate even more gifts in wills for good causes by linking the legacy prompt directly to the psychological factors which drive the charitable bequest decision These include feelings of connectedness, self-efficacy, identity importance and a sense of purpose in relation to the cause.

The Masterclass will take a deep dive into the latest academic research in legacy fundraising. Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from Professor Russell James, who will discuss how to ask for a legacy gift without fear or anxiety, and Dr Claire Routley, who will share everything research can tell us about legacy giving in 2022 from our updated legacy giving literature review, first published in 2018. The literature review brings together insights from over 150 academic articles into a single review of everything research can tell us about legacy giving. Participants at the Masterclass will be the first to see the updated research and will be the first to receive a digital copy of the second edition of our legacy giving literature review.