The Institute of Legacy Management, founded 15 years ago to help members deal with the sensitivities and complications of charitable bequests in wills, is usually a quiet backwater of the sector, not given to pyrotechnics.
But its annual conference 10 days ago culminated with a firework display set off by the board's recent proposal for the ILM to become part of the Institute of Fundraising. One after another, long-standing members stood up to denounce the plan.
"If we became part of the IoF, our credibility would fall straight through the floor," said Marco Ruggeri, the legacy officer of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. "It would kick us right back to zero and we would have to start again."
Before him had come Richard Sims, senior legal adviser at St John Ambulance, who asked for this year's interim ILM accounts to be published; Crispin Ellison (left), a consultant at Legacy Link, who wanted to hear the three core reasons behind the proposal; and Philip Black, also of Legacy Link, who declared: "Our interests are far from identical, or near to identical, with those of the IoF."
On the platform Helen Hoare, chair of the ILM and head of probate and legacy administration at Age UK, handled the revolt calmly. "We believe the proposal is in the best interests of the ILM, but acknowledge that the timetable was rushed and has raised concern and suspicion," she said. "So we have hit the pause button."
Jackie Batstone, legacy administrator of the Christie NHS Foundation Trust, responded that it was embarrassing to see the board stepping back like this after having presented the proposal as a fait accompli. "I can't believe you're surprised that people are so upset and confused by this," she said.
Hoare denied it was a fait accompli. The ILM had approached the IoF last summer, she said, and informal talks had been going on since December; due diligence and an outline agreement had been completed in April, when the proposal was made public.
She denied a suggestion by Ellison that the ILM was running out of money. "We have a £200,000 turnover and a £10,000 surplus," she said. The ILM would retain its separate identity as a special interest group of the IoF, she said, and the three ILM staff would transfer to the IoF.
But negotiations on other matters were still at an early stage and it was not yet possible to answer all the questions.
"We believe a joined-up sector is the way forward," Hoare (left) said. "We want to influence from the inside out. Legacy administration and management go hand in hand with legacy fundraising, and we will have an opportunity to strengthen our influencing voice."
Instead of a deciding vote by the membership in the summer, she announced there would be a series of information-sharing meetings between members and their elected representatives on the board over the next two months, one of them including representatives of the IoF.
The final decision was likely to be taken later in the year, Hoare said, and if the vote went against the board "we will consider whether to stand aside and let others lead".
Black responded: "Your concern makes it possible for me to dismiss for now the thought of a vote of no confidence. I respect your early recognition that you would go if necessary."
The only respite for the board came when one member asked to hear from anyone present who had voted in favour of the proposal in an informal poll of members, organised by the ILM shortly before the conference, which had, on a 40 per cent turnout, revealed 50.5 per cent against the proposal, 33.3 per cent in favour and 16.2 per cent undecided.
Samantha Reid, a senior legacies manager who works, like Hoare, at Age UK, said she had voted in favour because she believed that legacy fundraising and administration went together. "I have been on legacy marketing courses at the IoF and found them helpful, and this is a chance to share experience with a recognised organisation. Sometimes I think you have to move forward."
It seems clear that the ILM is going to have a torrid summer, with two main strands of debate. The first is whether the body will thrive or become less effective as one of a number of IoF special interest groups, which collectively choose one member of the IoF board.
The second is whether legacy fundraising really does go hand in hand with legacy administration, which involves special diplomatic skills and detailed knowledge of arcane areas of the law. There might also, however, be other aspects of the proposed deal that have not yet come to light.