Chris Millward: What can small charities get from legacy fundraising?

14 Jun 2016 Voices


To mark Small Charity Week Chris Millward, chief executive of the Institute of Legacy Management, discusses the legacy programmes in small organisations. 

Small Charity Week (13-18 June) provides an opportunity for all of us to reflect on the incredible and often overlooked work done by some of the smallest organisations, and the unique challenges and opportunities small charities experience. 

Throughout my career, having worked predominantly for large organisations, I’ve looked on in envy and learnt a lot from colleagues who work for those on the smaller end of the scale. In general, small charities can be more agile and build stronger, more personalised relationships with their supporters.  A great starting point for legacy fundraising.

It’s a double-edged sword, however. From an administrative perspective, smaller organisations also often face the challenge of not having dedicated staff to undertake the administration of estates.  It is therefore either outsourced, delegated to an external consultant or added to the already long list of roles juggled by someone who can’t give it the time it needs, perhaps in the finance or legal team, or, in one extreme case I’ve come across, by the CEO.  All of which will see the estate administered, but it’s unlikely that the impact will be truly optimised, or that the brand messaging will be consistently reinforced, or that foundations for longer term relationships will be built. Legacy administration is about so much more than ‘thanking and banking’, and without dedicated staff many smaller charities are missing out on the wider opportunities legacy gifts present.

Legacy fundraisers have to combine practicality and emotion - they know the detail of converting a gift into real income for the charity (staying up to date on complex legal and accountancy issues), and yet also, at the same time, how to deal successfully and sensitively with family members who have lost a loved one. They also have to be good at championing their own cause, and negotiating the complex political landscapes of their organisations. At their best, they are more than legacy fundraisers, they are thought leaders.

As well as having the right staff in place, the success of any legacy programme is rooted in the culture of an organisation. Legacies need to be part of the organisational DNA, recognised and championed by senior leaders but also supported, through the appropriate tools and knowledge, by staff on the ground.

Smaller charities have another advantage here, in that the larger an organisation becomes the harder it is, as each team vies for a ‘moment in the sun’, to get and keep legacies on the agenda, and to connect up the fundraising and supporter ‘pipeline’, so judgements can be made as to when and how to shape a legacy conversation in the most appropriate way.  

There are interesting times ahead. We’re currently preparing ourselves for the effects of the baby-boomer generation - those with the ability and the motivation to leave more gifts in their wills than ever before. But we’re also expecting to see an increase in the number of restrictions on the use of that money, given that the baby boomers are also a more informed and ‘savvy’ group in terms of their relationships with and expectations of the charity sector. I think small charities are probably, on balance, in a better position than their larger counterparts to be able to respond to those restrictions, which might limit the use of the funds to a particular area, theme or project for example. Cumbersome internal processes mean larger organisations can struggle to be as agile. 

Organisations should be looking to develop a balanced approach to fundraising - given the longer lead times and the fantastic ROI I think legacy fundraising has a strong role to play, especially for smaller organisations where a secure pipeline of future funds and a cost-effective fundraising programme are essential.  

That said, smaller charities may struggle to access the support and information they need in order to fully understand their responsibilities when it comes to managing legacies in line with all the regulations. Having discussed this with the Small Charities Coalition, even the £100 fee for memberships of the Institute of Legacy Management (where they can access a network of legacy professionals, training, qualifications and support) appears to be a barrier for smaller organisations.  We need to think about how we can make this expertise available across the whole sector, in order to support these smaller groups, and to deliver upon our mission to ensure every generous donor’s legacy gift achieves its greatest potential.

Chris Millward is chief executive of the Institute of Legacy Management 

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