5 ways the coronavirus is changing the legacy market and what this means for charities

30 March 2020
Legacy Fundraising
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A photo of a Will

Rob Cope, Director of Remember A Charity, looks at how the coronavirus outbreak is having an impact on the legacy market and what the future holds for this type of fundraising.

The coronavirus has thrust the UK charity sector into a funding crisis at a time when its services are most in need. Without doubt, the current pandemic is the biggest challenge the nation has faced in generations and it’s already having a huge impact on public fundraising.

When it comes to legacies, fundraisers are facing a unique set of challenges that range from communicating with audiences who are most at risk from the virus to the specific barriers that are preventing Will-writing and completion of charitable estates. Add to that an environment where fundraisers themselves may well have concerns about their health, finances and are worried or potentially grieving about their loved ones, and it’s clear that this is an extremely difficult time.

And yet, we’re seeing charities rapidly transform their approach to meet the needs of the market. Amid all this turmoil, fundraisers are stepping forward to do what they do best; to help communities, beneficiaries and supporters alike.

How has the outbreak changed the legacy market and what are charities doing differently?

1. Fundraisers are hitting the pause button

All the charities I’ve spoken with in recent days have reviewed and adjusted their strategy, with many – including Combat Stress, the veteran’s mental health charity – deciding to pause their legacy campaigns.

“This has been a very hard decision as 1 in 5 of the veterans we help are funded through this form of giving and, with 90% of our funding coming from voluntary contributions, legacy income is urgently needed.”

Sarah Seddon, Senior Supporter Care Officer at Combat Stress

Effective legacy marketing has always been about long-term stewardship, relationship building and, of course, matched values for charities and their supporters. As we acclimatise to life in lockdown, with supporters feeling uncertain about what lies ahead, fundraisers are sensitive to this new backdrop and are shifting the focus onto thanking donors and relationship building.

Taking the foot off the pedal on legacy marketing doesn’t mean that charities have stopped offering support and guidance for those who want to get their affairs in order. It has never been more important that relevant information about charitable Will-writing is easily accessible for supporters. When the worst of the virus has passed, there will surely be an even greater need for legacies than ever before.

So, while many are choosing not to promote legacies or free Will schemes, now is certainly the time for charities to ensure their websites, call-handlers, staff and volunteers are all geared up to help supporters that do wish to leave a gift in their Will.

2. Deepening the focus on supporter care

With news headlines giving hour-by-hour updates on the spread of the virus, it’s almost impossible to ignore the concept of our mortality, particularly for those who are most at risk or feeling vulnerable. Charities have been quick to recognise the importance of putting supporter care at the forefront of what they do.

I’ve seen some fantastic examples of exceptional stewardship in recent weeks, not least a campaign from the RNLI, which thanks donors for all their support, helping to save lives and communicates that they are part of the crew too. The campaign recognises that supporters may be feeling uncertain about their futures, telling them it’s the charity’s turn to give back and offers their support.

Stewardship is about more than making supporters feel valued, helping them feel that they are an integral part of our community, and of our work in making the world a better place. Legacies enable charities’ work to continue. So, deepening the focus on supporter care and reiterating the importance of their donations is perhaps the best investment charities can make.



For fundraisers that have traditionally met with legators, invited them to events, and taken them to see the charity’s work in action the inability to meet face-to-face means finding different ways of reaching out. This might include turning to the telephone, mail, email and video calls to reach out, using Facebook or WhatsApp groups and bespoke digital solutions to help supporters to feel part of the community.


3. Managing the surge in Will-writing requests

Despite many charities pulling back on legacy fundraising, charities and solicitors are now seeing a surge in demand from the public for Will-writing. Twice as many people are visiting Remember A Charity’s ‘Making A Will’ page as would do normally. One fundraiser told me that the charity – a small organisation – had had more Will-writing enquiries during the last week than over the past twenty years.

It’s great to see that people want to get their affairs in order, although there are always concerns that a quick Will, incomplete or unsigned, may not be valid and could lead to more legacy disputes down the line. Unable to visit solicitors’ offices and keen to sort their affairs quickly, naturally people are turning to online Will-writing providers. But an online Will isn’t the right path for everybody.

I spoke to a lovely woman in her 90s the other day, who wanted to update her Will. She's been living alone for a long time now and the tragic humanity of this whole situation struck home even deeper. I want to do all I can to allay any worries and this would normally include a face-to-face meeting, but I certainly don’t want her to venture outside of the safety of her own home. In circumstances like these, it’s incredibly hard to help her finalise her wishes, unless she can make arrangements over the phone.

Clare Sweeney, Individual Giving and Legacy Fundraiser at St Ann's Hospice

The good news is that The Law Society is working with the Ministry of Justice to push through changes in legislation, urging Government to adjust witnessing requirements and to speed up registration of lasting powers of attorney.

In the meantime, it’s important to make sure charities are prepared and know how they will handle queries about Will-writing and what they can do to help supporters. This might include putting them in touch with reputable Will-writing partners and encouraging them to discuss their intentions with their family and friends.

4. Lowering expectations of the legacy cash flow

Today’s environment also means that charities are having to lower their expectation for legacy income – at least for the short term. While the reduction in legacy fundraising activity is unlikely to impact charities for some time and longer-term growth projections remain high, gifts that have already been bequeathed from many generous supporters are being held up mid flow.

Why? Solicitors, estate agents and financial advisers – like us all – are working to limited capacity, with legal documents needing signatures and witnesses, all of which is difficult to progress without face-to-face contact. And with stock markets having plummeted, few people are in a rush to sell. The housing market has come to a near standstill as estate agents and potential buyers are homebound. All of this is preventing Wills from being finalised and legacy gifts from reaching charities.

It’s impossible to know how long it will be before assets are unfrozen and estates can be fully executed in line with supporters’ wishes. The backlog is likely to be significant, putting further pressure on the already stretched probate system and on charities’ legacy administration teams.

Cash flow will be a huge concern in the coming months, and this is further reason why the Chancellor needs to extend emergency funding to charities to keep the sector alive, supporting our communities.

5. Growth in in-memory giving

As the public looks for meaningful ways to honour the memory of loved ones and the causes they care about, In Memory giving is on the rise. This may well build further in the coming weeks, while full-scale memorial services or funerals will be more difficult to arrange.

Promoting In Memory fundraising is again something that needs to be handled with great sensitivity at the best of times, let alone in the current climate. But, being receptive and equipped to support bereaved people by providing a fitting way to remember and celebrate their loved ones is a beneficial service that charities can perform.

Supporting a charity in memory of a loved one can really help supporters who are recently bereaved. This could become particularly true for those affected by ‘memorial deprivation’, who are sadly unable – in this current climate – to give loved ones the send-off they would like to, while limitations are still imposed on public gatherings. Our sector has expertise in supporting people who are grieving while living in isolation and charities are thinking creatively of how they can prepare to increase that support. This is a time for charities to connect with both new and recent in-memory donors, reaching out to offer kindness and support and extend their appreciation. Technology may help build communities at this time, but above all, it’s about charities showing that they care.

Kate Jenkinson, Head of In-Memory Consultancy, Legacy Foresight

What does the future hold?

The world around us has changed in a way that was inconceivable a few months ago. 2020 may not be the peak year for charitable legacies that we may have anticipated, but over the long-term, I believe that the legacy marketplace can come out of this even stronger and better.

Legacy campaigns and financial transactions may well be on hold for now, but not forever. It’ll be all the more important that the public sees the best of charities during this time, and that - when the green shoots of recovery emerge - we’re ready to work together collaboratively to inspire the nation once again to ensure charities’ work lives on by leaving a gift in their Will.

Rob Cope
Rob Cope
Director of Remember A Charity and a Director at the Institute of Fundraising
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