Legacies: Do you know your enemies?

Legacies: Do you know your enemies?

Guest Bloggers | 29 November 2018

Richard Radcliffe looks at the possible “enemies” of a legacy fundraising campaign, and how fundraisers can overcome these barriers – as well as revealing the results of a poll he conducted at the IoF Legacy Conference 2018 on threats to legacies.

All is not perfect in the sector. There are both people and donors who are unhappy with us, with levels of trust and confidence in the sector still low. And in the wonderful world of legacies there are other problems.

We have to face unhappy professional and lay executors and unhappy next of kin. According to the Royal Courts of Justice, the number of disputed wills appearing before the courts has been on the rise, from 116 in 2015 to 158 in 2016 – a record high. While my own “undercover” research has shown that around 50% of solicitors are trying to stop their clients leaving legacies to charities.

The media are often not our friends, and contested Wills can end up causing harm to both a charity’s reputation and brand with unknown but potentially scary results.

But do we know who our enemies are? And how can we turn them into friends?

To quote Winston Churchill: “You have enemies? Good! It means you have stood up for something, sometime in your life”.  To take the advice talented leaders even further, let’s quote Abraham Lincoln: “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends”. 

Setting the scene

I delivered a session at the Institute of Fundraising Legacy Conference last month where I looked at this topic and asked for the input of delegates in the audience.

I wanted the audience to consider how to defend themselves from potential threats to their fundraising. To engage the audience we did a written multiple choice questionnaire, as well as getting them to raise their hands in case they did not complete the questionnaire – 32 delegates completed the questionnaire, while approximately 180 took part by raising their hands to answer questions.

Barriers to legacy fundraising

The audience were asked to consider all the possible threats of a legacy campaign and to suggest solutions. The two main questions were: “what is the biggest ‘enemy’ or threat to running a campaign overall?” and “what is the biggest internal threat?”

The results were as follows: in joint first position as the biggest threat overall were communications staff and the media.

While, by quite a long way, the biggest threat internally were Trustees. On the paper questionnaires, they got three times as many votes as other segments.

But there were some discrepancies – those who raised their hands to answer voted communications staff as the biggest internal barrier, not Trustees.

Below are the results of the written question in full:

What do you think is the biggest threat, or barrier, internally to investing in a legacy campaign?

  • The whole subject is all about death and dying - 13%
  • Lack of accurate evidence -15%
  • Lack of willingness of donors to respond - 3%
  • Lack of evidence of ROI - 3%
  • Trustees are only interested in short term ROI and will be dead/retired before legacies come in - 45%
  • Senior Management Team - 13%

Below are the overall enemy questions and results:

Who is the biggest “enemy” or threat to your campaign overall?

Please choose only the biggest threat.

  • Media - 20%
  • Solicitors/prof executors - 9%
  • Next of kin - 9%
  • Volunteers - 0%  
  • Trustees - 13%
  • Service Providers (staff) - 16%
  • Fundraisers  - 9%
  • Communications staff - 20%


So why was the poll of those raising their hands in the room so high for communications staff, while the written one so clearly named trustees as enemy number one?

In my view, this is due to the high levels of frustration experienced by legacy fundraisers to get access to the channels they need to promote this way of giving – which is growing faster than other voluntary income sources.

But it might also be that those present did not want to be seen to be criticising their trustees in a public forum!

Ignorance and fear

The audience told us what the most common problems they faced were, and they all had a theme – ignorance and fear.

Some of those mentioned included:

“There is a fear of putting their heads (trustees and communications) over the parapet”

“They (trustees) do not understand data”

“There is no accurate data”

“Lack of proof/evidence”

“Trustees have conflicting priorities”

“Lack of skills” (communication staff)

“Legacy coaching is really needed”

“Legacy education – why they are worth investing in despite not seeing short term ROI”

Audience Solutions

Suggestions from the audience to turn their enemies into friends included:

“Give Trustees training”

“Get a donor who has included a legacy in their Will to talk to the board”

“Persuade all trustees to write the charity into their Will”

“Trial before activation”

“Get external expertise to help”

“Involve next of kin whenever possible”


Over half of responses defined “training” (for everyone) and also “more understanding of data” as high priorities.

Maybe none of the results make you pass out in surprise, but it is depressing to see the same old problems. Despite greater levels of evidence (from both Smee & Ford and Legacy Foresight) more internal training, these issues prevail.

The evidence issue

Perhaps the evidence issue is the hardest one to tackle. Sector evidence is fascinating, but each charity, each cause and each region has different average legacy values, average cash values and average residuary values. If a charity has attracted little or no legacy income then what evidence should they pick for bench marking?

In my view the most important evidence I’ve come across is that that baby boomers are the most interesting and legacy-interested generation ever. Out of 5,000 donors and volunteers I have met in recent years, an increasing amount of people are putting their favourite charity in their Will – miss the baby boomer generation and the future of your charity could be unnecessarily financially constrained.

Perhaps charities newer to the world of legacy fundraising feel the likelihood of gaining legacies is low? But in the last 10 years the annual number of benefitting charities has risen from 1,700 to over 2,500 (source: Smee & Ford).

So, it seems the fatal combination is trustees suffering from short term syndrome followed by communications staff who feel they do not have the skills to talk or write easily about this way of giving which is: life driven and only death activated.

Richard Radcliffe FInstF Cert, is the Founder of Radcliffe Consulting and winner of the Lifetime Contribution to Fundraising at the National Fundraising Awards 2018.