Strengthening charities’ resilience with legacies

20 November 2020
Legacy FundraisingResilience
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An otter on a log

Following their new report looking at the role of legacies in building resilience within charities, Rob Cope from Remember A Charity looks in this blog at why legacies are more needed now than ever.

Just before lockdown began, I walked across the wetlands in Snape Maltings – home to kingfisher, snipe and otter – all of which has been preserved thanks to two wonderful women who remembered Suffolk Wildlife Trust in their Will. Not so long before that, I stood in awe as I watched a successful lifeboat rescue from RNLI Aldeburgh, again made possible (at least in part) through gifts in Wills. And, on my standard cycle to work (before my home desk became my current office), I would pass countless buildings gifted in the same way. 

Legacy giving shapes the world around us and this has been more evident in 2020 – during the coronavirus outbreak – than ever before. While many fundraising channels and activities came to a halt, gifts in Wills have sustained vital frontline services. We are all too aware how fast the world can change and how important longer term income streams really are in times of crisis. What’s more, with a predicted £40 billion legacy boom in the next decade, according to data provided by Legacy Foresight, and a sizeable uplift in interest in charitable Will-writing, legacies are likely to play a critical role in the sector’s recovery

So, together with Legacy Foresight, the Institute of Legacy Management and Smee & Ford, we set out to explore the role of legacies in building resilience, and what this might mean for fundraising in a continued uncertain economic environment. 

In a new collaborative report, Strengthening Charities’ Resilience with Legacies, we share this thinking, collating insights from interviews with legacy experts and findings from a survey of over 120 charity representatives, identifying several key themes.

Importance of legacy giving

Above all, the report articulates the significance of legacy income to charities during an incredibly tough year. Almost two thirds (65%) of the charity representatives we surveyed identify legacies as a top fundraising priority. Over a third say it brings in more than 30% of their annual voluntary income, with 11% saying it raises more than 50%. The sheer scale of this largely unrestricted income stream has given charities greater resilience and stability within a highly volatile environment.

While legacy income will have taken a knock in 2020 (estimated at £3.1 billion, down from £3.4 billion in 2019, data from Legacy Foresight shows), the impact is likely to be much less severe than we may have feared, largely because the housing market held up so well. The main cause of that drop is believed to be the backlog at probate. 

Concerns over probate backlog

Delays to probate were already a concern for the sector in 2019, slowing the release of income to beneficiaries. But the pandemic put further pressure on the probate system, creating a bottleneck, which has made it difficult not only for charities to access funds and to anticipate what other income might be tied up in the system. At a time when charities have had to cut back on staff and services, these delays are a real concern. 

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. We’ve been working with HM Courts & Tribunal Service behind the scenes to help resolve the issue and, since publishing the report, we’re delighted to see new measures put in place to increase capacity and speed up probate. It’ll take a few months to get through the backlog, but by March of next year, we’re hopeful that the situation will be resolved. Together with ILM, we’ll continue to monitor the situation, so please get in touch along the way to share your experiences.

Legacy fundraising in times of uncertainty

During the pandemic, legacy fundraising and marketing teams haven’t stood still. Charities continue to review and adapt their approach to reflect the challenges facing their supporter base, with legacy fundraisers emphasising the need to deliver exceptional supporter care, particularly in times of crisis. They highlight the unique and ‘life-affirming’ nature of relationships with legators and their families, and how deeply those relationships are valued at both ends of the table.

What does this mean for the legacy ask and broader promotion around legacy giving? Every charity’s approach differs. Many held off from making the ask during the height of the pandemic, while others continued, adjusting their messaging, tone and channels used. The report highlights the importance of being agile and of engaging the whole organisation in understanding and supporting legacies, particularly when it comes to trustees and senior management.

The need to protect and grow legacy budgets

And if there’s anything that’s likely to get the attention of trustees and to secure legacy budgets for the future, it’s bound to be future projections for legacy income – the £40 billion legacy boom I mentioned earlier. Anticipating significant growth in the market, it’s clear that charities are working hard to protect their legacy budgets.

While these income figures tend to grab the headlines, it’s growth in legacy behaviour that is critical and will ensure income continues to climb over the long-term. Over the past twenty years, we’ve seen 24% growth in the proportion of Wills at probate that include a legacy, figures from Smee & Ford show. We’re working hard to continue that growth trajectory and reports of an uplift in demand for charitable Will-writing strengthen confidence in future growth. 

Sure enough, the baby boomer generation offers huge potential. But it also carries a sense of urgency; a limited window of time in which charities can act to maximise returns. To meet that potential, fundraisers will need to communicate their charity’s legacy messaging, but also to collaborate to continue to grow the legacy market as a whole. 

Above all, this year has shown how quickly the world can change. Charities are in the impossible position of having to plan for the unplannable; to ensure resilience in the most difficult of times. Against that backdrop, the need for legacies will be greater than ever.

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