Opinion: Donor-centric thinking is key to driving legacy income

Written by Andrew Wilkinson
30/05/18

Charitable organisations rely on donations from members of the public to fulfil their role, with many charities becoming increasingly reliant on donations people leave to them in their will. Is this a missed opportunity and could charities benefit by striking up conversations with potential legacy donors at an earlier stage?

There has never been a better time for charities to raise funds from legacy giving. The transfer of assets between generations has never been greater and is expected to increase sharply over the coming years. In 2016, gifts in wills were worth £2.82bn to UK charities. The completion for those legacies is ever-increasing.

The key to driving income from legacies is a long-term approach. The average time between a legacy being included within a will and the monies being received is seven to eight years, and can be much longer. Even when someone has passed away and left money to a charity, there is usually a delay of 12 months or more before the money is paid to the charity.

Sometimes the delays are unavoidable, for example, the executors might be waiting for the property sale to go through. However, sometimes delays can be avoided, and a firm approach can assist in ensuring early payment.

There is also growing awareness among charities that it can be beneficial to start conversations with potential legacy donors at an early stage. Rather than appointing a dedicated fundraising team for legacies, they are increasingly treating potential legacy donors as a core audience for all of their fundraising and marketing activities.

By adopting donor-centric thinking, charities can ensure they are communicating with this group of donors openly and honestly; presenting them with a vision of what their legacy could achieve after their death and establishing a long-lasting relationship based on trust.

Strong marketing campaigns that demonstrate donor-centric thinking can help to ensure that an individual charity is top of mind when donors are deciding where to leave their money. A thought-provoking advertising campaign, such as the NSPCC’s recently-launched legacy TV advert about ‘guardians’, which addresses the notion of posthumous giving in a direct and aspirational way, can have a bearing on decisions made during the will-writing process.

Equally, TV programmes such as Paul O’Grady’s ‘For the love of dogs’, which focus on the work of a specific charity, can influence legacy giving. The role of solicitors in choosing a particular charity cannot also be underestimated, so charities should consider engaging with solicitors in the community, as their input may make a huge difference.

As well as ensuring a charity is visible in the marketplace, it is important to make the process of legacy giving as easy and hassle-free as possible. Information should be easy to access and answer common questions about the charity’s goals and how legacy gifts are spent. These conversations may also help to prevent disputes in the future.

The Illot case has underlined the importance of being able to prove that there is a link between the legacy donor and their nominated charity. This is another reason for charities to encourage an active dialogue with potential legacy donors during their lifetime, which addresses the subject of legacy giving openly. Documentary evidence of that link can help reduce the risk of disputes arising after the donor’s death. Seeking professional advice during the will-writing process is also recommended.

Legacy disputes can’t always be avoided and some charities may be reluctant to defend legacy claims in court for reputational reasons. However, as long as this is approached sensitively and respectfully, making it clear that the charity wants to ensure the testator’s wishes are enacted, such action can be taken, with proper legal advice.

The golden age of legacy giving is a real opportunity for all charities – large and small. By starting conversations with potential donors early and encouraging a free exchange of donor-centric information, there is much to gain in the years to come.

Andrew Wilkinson is partner and charities specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau.



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