Legacies and the National Trust

Legacies and the National Trust

On 11th February myself and the nine other London and South West fundraising fellows were lucky enough to be invited behind the scenes of one of the UK’s largest and best loved charities. The National Trust.

The fundraising team at the headquarters at Heelis, Swindon were kind enough to share their wisdom with us on everything from legacies to community fundraising to major giving, all crammed into only four hours. After such a wealth of information it would be easy to write a whole blog dedicated to each topic, but for now I have decided to focus on an area which intimidates even the most experienced fundraiser: legacy giving.

The National Trust’s success with legacy gifts has always left the rest of the charitable sector in awe. As the 7th largest charity for legacy income, it is their 3rd largest source of income bringing in an astounding average of £40-50 million a year.

We met with Jen Waldron, the National Trust’s Senior Legacy Administration Manger, who helped to answer three key questions that trouble many of us in the charitable sector:

Should we be thinking more about legacies??

Currently only 30% of the UK population has a will, and whilst 58% of the population give to charity in their lifetime, only a tiny 7% actually leave a charitable donation in their will.Many of us think of charitable donations after death as an action reserved for millionaires and celebrities. Organisations like ‘Remember A Charity’ (a consortium of over 140 registered charities) are determined to change this viewpoint, hammer home the idea that you don’t need to be rich or famous to make a significant contribution and establish legacy giving as a social norm.

Previously, legacy giving was an area the majority of charities shied away from, a somewhat unknown territory difficult to get trustees on board with, with an unpredictable and delayed payoff. But with the average legacy bequest far exceeding those feasible for the average living donor, organisations are beginning to see the promising return on investment.  This rise in the number of charities exploring legacies means more competition in one sense (the National Trust were previously the 6th largest charity for legacy income) but more critically, it furthers awareness of the benefits and possibilities of charitable legacies ultimately encouraging even more people to leave gifts. A rising tide lifts all boats!

Is stewardship appropriate in this context?

Once someone has pledged a gift in their will do they really want to be reminded of this again and again?

The National Trust believes that stewardship plays just as key a part in dealing with legacy pledgers as for any other donors. Many of the same rules still apply; pledgers need to feel engaged, informed and valued. The National Trust’s programme of events exclusive to legacy pledgers is hugely successful. Donors want to see behind the scenes, meet those involved and most importantly see where the money goes. Although the majority of gifts are untied, The National Trust promises that the whole of all legacies will go into the ‘project pot’ and are not to be used for overheads. They appreciate that gifts are unique to each donor and are able to reflect their own interests and backgrounds by designating funds to a particular place or exclusively gardens or the outdoors, whilst still addressing the greatest current needs.

How do we broach a topic so intrinsically linked with death??

No one likes to talk about dying. Add ‘money’ into the same sentence and you’re particularly at risk of making people feel uncomfortable. But no one needs to feel like a vulture when it comes to legacies. Done tactfully we can convey the positive and long lasting impact that legacy giving can have on both the charity sector and the donor.

In a survey by ‘Remember A Charity’ 35% of the UK population said they would happily leave a charitable gift in their will once family and friends had been provided for. The problem was they were never asked!

We need to get everyone comfortable about having this conversation. The National Trust is putting great effort into developing this mindset amongst members of staff on every level of the organisation, both local and national. They advocate a drip feed approach, using stories and subtle messages throughout tours, marketing and interpretation to gradually introduce people to the idea.

The motivations behind legacy gifts are as complex as any donation, and many would love the opportunity to make a lasting difference to an organisation, which they feel an affinity to. Because of legacy gifts charities we know and love such as The National Trust can continue to benefit future generations for years to come – and surely no one can argue that isn’t an amazing thing?

Finally I would like to say a big thank you, on behalf of all the fellows, to Jen Waldron, Amy Ryan, Rachel Harris, Richard Watson, Hannah Clarke, Amanda Callard and all of the staff at the National Trust Heelis office.