Richard Radcliffe: Legacies suffer from LOL - lack of leadership

Legacies are too often on the back burner at charities, which is not good enough for a £2.5bn source of income, writes the consultant

Richard Radcliffe
Richard Radcliffe

We are fast approaching a general election. Within weeks a leader of one of the political parties will become Prime Minister. It is a simple leadership structure that permeates through parliament.

Legacy fundraising, however, in most charities, does not have a simple leadership structure – or often no leadership at all. It’s suffers from LOL: lack of leadership.

Most small to medium-sized charities have a "dustbin fundraiser" who has responsibility for direct marketing, major donors, communications, trusts or even corporate fundraising. Senior managers hand them responsibility for legacy fundraising in the belief that they do not have enough to do or because they think it’s the same as major donor fundraising.

This leadership practice is alarmingly common and deeply frustrating, especially when you consider that legacies provide £2.5bn to the sector every year.

Legacies are usually on the back burner because boards don’t focus on long-term investment; decisions are focused on the here and now. It is entirely possible that thousands of legacies are being lost because of inaction, delayed action or the dumping of legacy fundraising on fundraisers who have yet to understand them or have any enthusiasm for them.

We need to identify more fundraisers who have an enthusiasm for legacies and nurture them. We need to make trustees and senior managers realise the benefits of having a balanced fundraising portfolio that includes a source of income their charity will receive way beyond their own tenure.

The current lack of leadership is driven by doubt: when will the return on investment happen? How much will it be? How can we evaluate success or performance?

Lifetime giving is so easy to measure. You get a response and you can evaluate success. A return on investment is sitting there in front of you.

Death-time giving is different. Nobody leaps out of their chairs to phone their solicitor or tell you what they are doing. And later in life their legacy decision might change.

In addition, most legators, if they are thinking of a residuary gift, will not have a clue about the value of their estate or their gift to you by the time they die.

There are too many doubts to list.

With the exception of the dedicated legacy leaders in some of the largest charities, the lack of focused leadership is a disaster, and one that will affect many future balance sheets and statements of financial activities.

The Charity Commission and others feed this inaction. For example, the only phrase relevant to legacies that I can find in the commission’s CC20 guidance about trustees’ duties says: "You [trustees] must set or agree your charity’s fundraising strategy – this is your plan for what funding your charity needs from its fundraising, now and in the future."

When you add the internal barrier that "legacies are deathly", great leadership is needed to dispel the myths. With one in three charity stakeholders considering leaving a gift in their will, the time to act is now. If charities overcome their LOL, then supporters will give with LOL – lots of love.

Richard Radcliffe is the founder of Radcliffe Consulting and author of Why Legacies are Brilliant for Charities – and How to Get Them

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