Charitable legacies: a question of time

Many charities are currently understandably focused on short-term goals. A recent report produced jointly by the ILM, Remember a Charity, Legacy Foresight, and Smee & Ford suggests that when there is the opportunity, however, charities should take the time to look at their legacy fundraising.

The current situation

Legacies are reported currently to comprise sixteen per cent of all fundraised income, amounting to £3.4 billion annually, with more than 10,000 charities benefiting from legacies each year.

In 2019, 1,600 charities received a legacy for the first time, so it isn’t necessarily the case that it is only the same few charities benefiting each year.

Containing sector data and survey findings, the new report “Strengthening Charities’ resilience with legacies” provides some insight into the effect that the pandemic has had on legacy fundraising.

It also emphasises the importance of legacies, when in response to a question as to what legacy income has meant for their organisations this year, legacy leaders’ cite:

  • the significant reliable income stream,
  • a largely unrestricted source of funds,
  • a longer term income stream which allows planning for long term solutions, and
  • a unique offering for supporters who may want to help, but are not able to dig deep at present.

A backlog of applications for Grants of Probate has clearly caused some problems for charities reliant on legacies, both towards the end of 2019 and during the middle of this year, delaying notification and receipt of legacies.

A recent statement from HMCTS, however, explains that, as a result of an increase in staffing, it believes that it will now be able to both handle the increase in applications expected this quarter, and also to clear the backlog.

The future of legacies

There is a predicted boom of over £40 billion in charitable legacies over the next decade, and the “baby boomer” generation is likely to be passing on their wealth during the next 30 years or so.

Often, charitable legacies follow a lifetime of support from the donor, and the building of a strong relationship between the chosen charity and the donor over many years. 

In light of this, the new report argues the need for charities to take time now to seek to communicate the importance of charitable legacies both within their supporter bases, and outside of that group, with the aim of normalising legacy giving and benefiting from an increased and reliable income stream from legacies in the future.

The report sensibly, however, also acknowledges and emphasises the need for charities to remain sensitive to, and to adjust channels and messaging to reflect, the wider environment in which potential donors currently find themselves.

Next steps

So, what should charities be doing now to put themselves in a better position to benefit from legacies in the future?

The report offers recommendations for strengthening a charity’s legacy programme during such uncertain times, based on themes arising from interviews with those working in this area, including:

  • greater focus on Will-writing support,
  • excellence in stewarding supporter relationships,
  • investment of time, energy, people, resources and skills in the legacy programme,
  • awareness that many gifts might come from outside the usual supporter base, from beneficiaries, their families, or volunteers for example, and
  • collaboration to normalise legacy giving and so grow the market, rather than just maintaining the size of the current increasingly competitive market for legacies.

Not every charity will be in a position to act on all or any of these recommendations immediately, of course. But for any charity with the time to look to the future of its legacy fundraising, the report and its recommendations could provide a useful source of ideas.

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