Becoming a Legend After Your Lifetime

willSo, soon the government will allow us to draw down the funds from our pensions instead of investing the money in an annuity, which would give us money every month for life. The unintended consequence of this is likely to be that we all look at the poor returns from the current low interest rates and decide to splurge the money instead of being sensible and investing it, which means our old age – when we really need that steady income – will be blighted by poverty, and we may have little money to leave in our legacies when we sell our houses or use equity release which depletes our capital.

For charities almost exactly the same future is lining up as they see extra gifts coming in when people retire, draw down their pension and feel generous; but then when the legacies – which in quite a few cases provide a third of the charity’s income – dry up, the effect will be a dramatic reduction of services just when many more impoverished and elderly people join the market for the help of those charities.

One solution is that if people die without making out a will, 50% of their legacy will go to charity. There are various processes that could be used to determine which charities will receive the gifts; which maybe in the form of a relatively open fund to which applications need to be made, like the national lottery, or there may be a more closed fund(s) with certain goals like say the Sainsbury’s trusts. This will hopefully have the effect of hugely increasing the number of people who make out a will and benefit charities from that increase too. Today about one third of people over 55 currently die without making out a will, which means the government decides who gets the money and none goes to charity. Of course, this solution could be adopted regardless of the legislation on legacies and is one I would advocate, though of course it would push huge numbers of people into making out their wills, but that is no bad thing.

Legacies work for all charities, and with many more people making out wills, the net result could be spectacular. Even small charities can discuss legacies in their communications with members (newsletters etc.) and will be rewarded perhaps quicker than they imagine, and the time between making out a will, adding to a will or changing a will and the charity receiving money seems to be averaging about three years. With the constant rise of house prices, legacies can be a game changer for many charities.

Talking about legacies is not a problem and asking a few charities for their info on legacies will give you the right language very quickly. Usually marketing legacies to a donor-base tends to concentrate on articles thanking people who have left legacies; soft approaches like discussions of the times in one’s life when making out or changing a will is important and pointing out a friendly solicitor etc. Getting together a small focus group to consider the language in which legacies and death can be discussed is a very useful idea.

The key to successful legacy campaigns is to approach everyone steadily through the time they support your organisation. As well as the soft approaches discussed above, this may use direct mail or email and may involve a legacy leaflet or request for people to return a form letting you know they have left a legacy. The next most important thing is to ask for a percentage of the residue of their estate not a single sum gift. The former is often fifteen times the latter, because a part of the proceeds of a house sale (where the house has probably grown in value over the years) is far greater than a single sum, which might seem large when the will is written, but may be shrunk by inflation and dwarfed by the sale of the house.

The Solicitors Journal and The Law Society Gazette were the key publications in which to advertise, but there has been a spread of publications all vying for legacy ads. My opinion is that hard copy ads are rarely worthwhile and social media is a much better bet – but that is another article entirely.

Should you have a visiting officer? Yes, in my opinion once your supporters retire they often cease to donate regularly and are often then cut off from the charity after a couple of years, but after supporting you for many years they still love you and a personal visit to see how they are can make a huge difference to their perception of the charity. This may lead to further occasional visits or one visit on its own may be the trigger to a legacy, and obviously the supporters to be visited are carefully chosen and the visiting officer needs a high level of emotional intelligence.

So, if you wish to become a legend, leaving a legacy to your favourite charity is my recommended route.

John Baguley
CEO, International Fundraising Consultancy

Image courtesy of Mister GC at

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