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This article takes a practical look at legacies and explores ways that charities can encourage legacy donations.

Legacies are gifts of money, property or other assets left to an organisation in a will. Charitable legacies are exempt from inheritance tax.

Did you know?

  • Legacies are a major source of income for many voluntary organisations.
  • Effective legacy marketing and promotion can pull in legacies quicker than most people think ( in as little as two years) but it is a medium-term strategy.
  • In a dynamic organisation legacies are immensely useful for building and maintaining financial reserves, and for providing investment in service development.
  • But in a static, conservative organisation they can encourage complacency, overblown reserves and hinder other fundraising efforts.

Over 10% of the income that charities receive from individuals is in the form of legacies, though only a relatively small number of charities benefit, and only a small proportion of people leave a legacy in their will. More smaller organisations could access legacy income, and make donors aware of the opportunity.

Two kinds of legacies

Pecuniary legacies are where someone specifies in their will that say, £2,000, should be left to a person or organisation. Residuary legacies are where, after all the pecuniary legacies have been paid out, the remainder (ie residuary) of the deceased person’s estate goes to a person or organisation. In legacy marketing residuaries tend to be more valuable but pecuniary legacies are easier to achieve.

The codicil is a short, simple legal document which can be added to or amend an existing will to include a fixed sum to be donated to a voluntary organisation.

Getting started with legacies

Start with your supporters and service users

If you are at the beginning of seeking legacies, the best place to start is with your existing supporters and service users. You might feel that asking supporters and beneficiaries for a legacy could cause offence. In the UK, it has been a cultural norm that it is improper to talk to a person about their death.

Views on this have changed, partly because death is no longer a taboo subject and partly because charities like RNIB, Cancer Research UK and others have successfully promoted legacies among supporters and beneficiaries without adverse effects. We all know we are going to die one day and doing a little planning is sensible. If you are sensitive in your approach, and target active donors who  already support your organisation, you are offering them another way to donate to your organisation.

Make a case for support 

Legators want to know how their legacy will be used, at least in general terms. So describe your needs well and use examples. Think about what your potential donor is familiar with and why they might relate to your cause.

Build a relationship

Clearly tell them how they can mention you in their will and encourage them to share this with you, which will help build your relationship.

You won’t always know that someone has included a legacy for your organisation in their will, but if you do, make sure you thank and keep in touch with them. More dynamic voluntary organisations invite potential legacy donors to small receptions where they can hear about their work personally,  building a relationship with the legator.

Promote legacies 

If you want a comprehensive guide to constructing legacy leaflets and a legacy marketing pack to help you get started then:

Research who has left you money and why

This is easier said than done when the donor is no longer with you. But often friends may know why – your organisation may know links to the legator or sometimes the solicitor or executor will be able to help. 

Target similar people for legacies

Target more people who are similar to your existing legacy donors. Chances are that there are more people like your previous legators out there and, if you can find them and ask them appropriately, they will also be sympathetic. How you ask them is for you to judge, but common methods are by letter (initially), adverts, at events,  through leaflets in your annual report or as an option on your website – making it as easy as possible.

Legacies, data protection and GDPR

In legacy fundraising, keeping records and data on the relationship with a supporter has always been important – especially if there is ever a dispute about the legacy gift in the future. But with GDPR requiring that data isn’t kept forever, getting the balance right on data retention is a really tricky area. 

The Instutute of Fundraising has produced a guide to help charities and fundraisers navigate the issues surrounding data retention and legacies, and to put forward options for how charities can appropriately record and retain personal data so that it can beaccessed in the case of a contested Will.

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Page last edited Jun 19, 2019

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