Five minutes with … Ligia Peña CFRE MInstF

FIA Conference speaker demonstrates will-power

Greenpeace International’s Ligia Peña is co-presenting a masterclass on gifts in Wills at FIA Conference 2020, and she’ll also deliver a presentation on measuring, evaluating and reporting on your bequest program in the individual giving track. In this interview, the Montreal-based global legacy manager and doctoral candidate talks about the challenges and joys of setting up a gifts in Wills program and why GIW is still the least understood area of fundraising.

Where there’s a will: Greenpeace International’s global legacy manager, Ligia Peña, is presenting at FIA Conference 2020.

Tell us a bit about your background. How did you come to specialise in gifts in Wills fundraising?

I started fundraising professionally in 2002. Little by little, I started learning and dabbling in planned gifts (as they’re called in Canada). With time, I started understanding the big potential that gifts in Wills represent for non-profits. Fast forward a few years, I opened a boutique consulting business that focused on helping small and medium-sized organisations. The bulk of the work I did with my clients was setting up their fundraising program with a long-term view in mind, notably gifts in Wills.

As the years went on, I continued honing my skills in this area until I got to the point in my career where I no longer wanted to be a generalist, and I wanted to specialise in gifts in Wills. Then along came this amazing opportunity at Greenpeace International. I haven’t looked back since!

What does your work as Greenpeace International’s global legacy manager entail?

The bulk of the work I do is developing the capacity of the offices that currently run a gifts in Wills program. Working with the local legacy manager and the fundraising director, we look at their strategy, identify tactics that will help them grow their gifts in Wills pipeline and do training if needed.

It’s a lot of “change management.” The simplest way I can describe it is it’s like being a consultant where my sole client is Greenpeace offices around the world.

Another part of the job (which is what I love most) is to develop gifts in Wills programs in new markets. Sometimes it can be simple and easy, and in other instances, it may take years to bring the office to the level of integration and collaboration that will enable gifts in Wills to flourish.

Is gifts in Wills still the least understood area of fundraising?

I believe fundraising, in general, is still incredibly misunderstood, but gifts in Wills are the worst! The biggest issue is that management often look at and evaluate a gifts in Wills program the same way that they would with a direct mail program. So, what happens is that if they can’t see an immediate return on investment, they either get cold feet or scared they won’t make budget.

The reality is that gifts in Wills are like running a marathon and other forms of fundraising are like a sprint. Training strategies for sprinters will be different than from marathon runners, so we have to look at relationship fundraising (which includes gifts in Wills) differently than transactional fundraising (like digital, direct mail, street fundraising, etc).

Then add the fact that legacies have not been normalised in many markets. Thanks to Include a Charity, this is changing in Australia. Remember a Charity in the UK is astounding but on the flip side, Leave a Legacy in Canada is in the process of being rebooted after years of being so-so. By the way, I’ve started my PhD at the University of Kent on this exact topic!

There are lots of reports suggesting that the current wealth transfer is going to be huge thanks to the baby boomers. How big is it now? Is it because the baby boomers are the wealthiest generation yet?

Yes, that’s true; however, putting an exact number on this wealth transfer is extremely difficult to do. I’ve seen lots of numbers thrown around – suffice it to say that yes, baby boomers are the wealthiest generation that has lived, thus far.

They benefited from socio-economic advancements and political stability that other generations have not enjoyed. Having learned from their parents’ experience of living through the Great Depression, they’re a generation of savers and wealth accumulation.

Are there any caveats around the baby boomers that charities should remember?

Don’t take them for granted. Baby boomers are smart, savvy and very well educated. Treat them with respect and they will support your cause.

Who else should fundraisers be thinking about when planning their gifts in Wills strategies? For example, Generation X members are now hitting their 50’s…

While it’s essential to focus most of our energies on the baby boomer generation (after all, the Pareto Principle applies here), let’s not forget to normalise gifts in Wills with the next generations. Gen Xers (like myself) are right around the corner, and they have probably already written their first Wills.

Because deciding to leave a gift in a will can take so long, we should start marketing to the next generation.

What the joys and challenges in setting up a gifts are in Wills program?

Oh, I love starting a program from scratch. Everything is an opportunity! It isn’t always easy, especially if the organisation doesn’t have an extensive database (although that shouldn’t hold you back); doesn’t have all the systems in place, or doesn’t have a big and recognisable brand.

Having said that, it can also play to your advantage if you’re the type of fundraiser who’s entrepreneurial and scrappy. In my experience, when you have limited resources, you may be pushed to think creatively, which is where innovation happens.

In 2016, I was asked to help our office in Japan launch a gifts in Wills program. The problem was they didn’t have a budget, so we set up a reactive program and took some small real estate on current marketing materials to start talking about gifts in Wills. After two years, the office had over 100 donors in their pipeline, and they had received two gifts in Wills. It was the office with the fastest growing pipeline globally!

This is just one example. I have tons of other examples in small shops I worked at where developing gifts in Wills was not possible, and yet, through thoughtful and emotive communication and no fear of picking up the phone, I was able to grow a pipeline in no time.

Many charities report receiving legacies from “out of the blue.” Is this a global phenomenon? While nice, isn’t it better if we know about them in advance so we can plan and thank people? 

Oh yes, this is indeed a global phenomenon. I’m part of a group of legacy specialists from most of the largest international NGOs. We have quarterly calls, and the trend we have observed is that between 55 and 65 per cent of legacy gifts come from people completely unknown to the organisation.

Of course, we would love to know in advance so we can steward and recognise donors, but we must keep in mind that older donors wish to remain unknown for fear of being over-solicited or harassed. Which brings forth another issue we have in the sector: that of negative public perception.

Do you have suggestions for icebreakers when approaching the gifts in Wills topic with potential bequestors?

Because a prospect would already be a donor to your organisation, I would think you already have a relationship with them, and you have already spoken to them about gifts in Wills. Much like a major gifts ask, asking for a legacy gift shouldn’t come as a surprise.

As a general ice breaker, I’d say talk about what other gifts in will pledgers have done, and why they have chosen to leave a legacy to your organisation – this is social proofing. It demonstrates that others, like your donor, are doing it. In the mind of your donor they’ll think “well if others are doing it, it must be good.” This reassures donors, and it opens the door to more conversations about gifts in Wills.

At Include a Charity here in Australia, we always say no gift is too small. Do you agree?

Absolutely! This is why I love gifts in Wills – it’s the most democratic of fundraising tactics. What I mean by that is that because it’s based on a person’s assets and not their current disposable income, just about anyone who has a minimum of assets can make a gift in a will!

At FIA Conference 2020, you’re going to be delivering a masterclass with local experts on making gifts in Wills work for you. And you’re also talking about measuring, monitoring and reporting on your gifts in Wills program in the individual giving track. Why is the latter an important topic today and can you give us one takeaway?

I’ll be co-presenting the gifts in Wills masterclass first with Ross Anderson and Roewen Wishart. We’ll be taking participants through everything they need to do to establish their gifts in will program.

Then I’m giving the session on reporting and measuring the program. I’m a data geek, and over the years, I was frustrated with the way gifts in Wills are measured. In 2017, we underwent an overhaul of our legacy KPIs, and as part of the project, we revamped our pipeline matrix and redesigned a new dashboard. It’s a thing of beauty, I tell you!

The secret message behind the session is (1) gifts in Wills programs are highly strategic and need good metrics to grow and succeed, and (2) no that gift in the will did not, in fact, fall from the sky, someone worked with that donor many years ago, but you forgot about that! Point 2 is meant for those working in non-profits who think that legacy fundraising is easy and that it doesn’t require any resources to get them! 😉

You’ve spoken at FIA Conference before. What’s the attraction in coming down under for you?

Australia…when it’s winter and cold in Canada, need I say more?!

All kidding aside, I enjoyed my experience at FIA Conference in 2017 on the Gold Coast. I learned so much about the Australian fundraising sector. There are a lot of parallels with the Canadian market.

Plus, as I’ve mentioned, I started my PhD studying national legacy umbrella campaigns, and I want to meet those involved with Include a Charity. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Ha, spare time!!

Now that I’m in school part-time, I’m reading a lot of geeky books. I’m also developing my side business where I’m launching an Online Legacy Bootcamp course.

But what relaxes me is cooking, knitting and when I’m not too jet-lagged, planning my own personal trips.