Dispelling some of the myths associated with charitable legacy giving

I’ve worked as a charity fundraiser for more than 15 years. A large proportion of this time has been spent promoting legacy giving. It’s a job I love. I get to highlight another way for people to help causes they are passionate about. I also get to see the difference their gifts make.

The vast majority of Probate Solicitors I’ve encountered during the course of my work are equally committed to helping people take care of everything that’s important to them. They give their clients the best possible advice and provide a Will that reflects their personal needs and wishes.

However, over the years, I’ve come across many stereotypes and myths about our two professions. Some stereotypes can be amusing, especially when they result in exaggerated caricatures with a hint of truth. But for both legacy fundraisers and Probate Solicitors, myths that arise out of atypical experiences, hearsay or prejudice can be extremely damaging. After all, we work in professions where sustainable success is not possible without trust.

I therefore want to look at and challenge three myths I’ve heard in relation to our work together. I also pose two simple questions: are we also guilty of being willing to accept these beliefs and if so, what can we do to challenge poor practice without perpetuating the myths?

Myth 1

  • Charities want Solicitors to do the fundraisers’ job!

It’s true that some Solicitors feel it’s not their job to act as fundraisers. The good news is that charities don’t want them to!

It’s a charity’s job to make the case for supporting its work and of course, it would be inappropriate for Solicitors to exert any influence over their client’s choice of charitable beneficiaries.

Myth 2

  • Solicitors don’t even want to mention charities to their clients

It is not true that there’s a lack of willingness amongst Solicitors to give their testators the option of including a charity in a Will. Remember a Charity’s annual benchmarking survey suggests more Solicitors than ever are ‘always’ or ‘sometimes’ informing their clients of the option of including a charity in their Will. Hundreds of firms, individual Solicitors and Will writers have also joined Remember a Charity’s campaign supporter scheme.

Why is this important? Solicitors whose Will writing processes include a reference to charities write more charitable Wills than those who don’t. This is not only crucial to the work of many of the UK’s best loved causes — the gifts the NSPCC receives in Wills could help thousands of children by funding our ChildLine service for an entire year — it also highlights the significant gap between testators’ desire to help charity through their Will and their awareness that this is an option.

I’d therefore like to take this opportunity to thank all Solicitors who routinely present charitable giving as an option. By giving your clients all the options, you are helping their values live on through the causes they are passionate about. In the case of the NSPCC, the outcome is more children getting the help and protection they urgently need.

I also encourage my fellow fundraisers to be similarly positive about Solicitors. Yes, there may be some Solicitors who have strongly held views and resist the idea of proactively mentioning charity when drafting a Will. But this is a view to which they are fully entitled and, in my experience, is not representative of the majority of Solicitors.

Myth 3

  • Charities are aggressive in pursuit of legacy gifts

The Charity Commission makes it clear; a charity must take action to receive all gifts to which it has a legal entitlement, the only exceptions being cases where a gift cannot be used for the purpose specified by the donor or the costs associated with the gift (financially or reputationally) could be greater than the value of any benefit received. A charity’s trustees are obliged to ensure their organisation is efficient and effective with its finite resources, and there is also a moral duty for charities to deliver on behalf of their beneficiaries and those who kindly choose to support our work.

It’s vital that charities don’t lose sight of the fact that legacy management communications are often received by people who are bereaved, anxious or vulnerable. Individuals who may not have known of their loved one’s wishes and may not know why specific information or action is being requested.

I’m therefore proud of some positive feedback we’ve received from both lay executors and professional advisors in the course of our legacy management work, but does this mean every communication sent by charities in relation to estate administrations is perfect? Of course not. Is there room for improvement? Without doubt. Sensitivity and due process do not need to be mutually exclusive.

There are more than 160,000 registered charities in the UK*. Many of these charities won’t regularly receive legacy gifts and very few will have in-house legacy administration or Probate expertise. In charities who receive more regular legacy gifts, the reporting lines of individuals responsible for legacy administration can vary throughout the charity sector. This can also have an impact on the style of individual charities’ legacy management communications.

I know the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM) and the Institute of Fundraising, amongst others, are proactively working to maintain and increase the high standard of legacy management practice throughout the sector. I have no doubt they will succeed.

However, in the minority of cases where the communication or advice received slips below the standard to which we rightly aspire, I ask my colleagues in the legal professions to kindly extend the same courtesy I urge of my fellow fundraisers and refrain from judging the entire sector on the basis of a small number of less positive experiences.

By constructively challenging poor practice, celebrating positive examples and working together, we can help more of the public pass on their money and values in the most efficient and appropriate manner possible. We can also maintain the confidence and trust in our professions that neither of us can afford to take for granted.


* Charity Commission, September 2014.

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