Interview with Chris Millward, new Chief Executive of the ILM

The Institute of Legacy Management (ILM) has appointed Chris Millward, currently Head of Legacies at Save the Children UK, as its new Chief Executive, starting full-time on 20th July 2015. Chris has been on the board of the ILM since August 2014 and worked one day a week as interim Executive Director for a three-month period from November 2014.

It’s been a turbulent year with a proposal for a merger with the Institute of Fundraising rejected by the membership, but Chris told ILM members at its annual conference in May: “It seems as though, somewhere along the way, we lost sight of our purpose, lost our confidence and stopped fighting for the things we believe in. We have an opportunity to reconnect with our proud history and to breathe new life into our Institute.” He talked to Jane Common at Today’s Wills & Probate about how he plans to do that…

What are the main functions of the Institute of Legacy Management?

"The Institute of Legacy Management, established in 1999, represents 350-plus, not-for-profit organisations and charities and the people working within them administering the gifts that have been left to them by benefactors in their wills — that’s worth about £2.2billion every year, according to Legacy Foresight. And because of the increasing death rate over the next 15 to 20 years — that’s down to the baby boomer generation — the number of gifts left to charities in wills is going to increase, even if the proportion of people doing it stays at the same level, so our role at the Institute, as the foremost providers of information and training on legacy administration, will become even more important. We also work with bodies including the Law Society, HMRC and the Law Commission to ensure that the legal environment supports and promotes charity legacy giving."

What makes legacies so important to charities?

"The importance and uniqueness of legacies is that the donations are generally unrestricted, so the money is left without condition — it’s not for a specific project. The reality is that legacy giving underpins the work of a lot of UK charities — we would not be able to continue without legacy gifts as they allow us to be agile, spending where and when the need is greatest. To get an idea of how important legacies are, take the charity Guide Dogs — two out of three guide dogs wouldn’t exist without legacy gifts. And Cancer Research UK raises a third of its funds to find a cure for cancer through legacy gifts."

What challenges did you experience in your three months at the ILM from November 2014?

"The wider context was that there was a proposal to merge the ILM with the Institute of Fundraising last summer — it was proposed by the directors but voted against by the membership. And clearly that’s provided the backdrop to a very interesting year. Afterwards, we had to think about how we could take the institute forward and better serve our members and their interests. I became a director in August 2014 and then took up the position of executive director in November to run a project called Future ILM, looking at engagement with our membership and gathering members’ ideas and feelings about the institute — how they felt as members of the ILM and the key challenges they believe we as a sector and therefore as an Institute face.

"The other directors and I then examined how we could become the Institute that our members wanted us to be, best serving their needs, and I do believe we’re in a better place now — we have established a stable board and, at our annual conference in May, the mood was much more positive than it was a year ago. I think — I hope — that our members are now feeling more enthused about what the future holds for us."

And what are the current challenges in legacy fundraising in general?

"The last few years have been tough with the recession — they’ve been difficult for everybody. The heyday of legacy giving was in 2008 — it was all looking very, very positive and then the recession hit and had an impact on people’s financial planning and levels of consumer confidence. On top of that the slump in property prices meant the value of estates went into decline as well. But there’s a sense of light at the end of tunnel now and of things looking a little brighter."

Have you enjoyed your time at Save the Children?

"Yes I’ve had a great time — four really good years consolidating its legacy programme and changing some fundamental things around our proposition and how we talk to supporters. We found compelling ways to do that, unique to Save the Children — some off the back of work that Remember a Charity did on stages of consideration and behavioural economics and others based around Prochaska’s Model of Change. And that, to me, is where legacy marketing and fundraising can be very exciting — taking insights from other areas of expertise and applying them in our world with interesting results."

How did you get into legacy fundraising?

"I fell into this field completely by accident — I was lucky. I used to work in marketing and communications — I was a brand manager at Sainsbury’s. Then, thanks to a foresighted recruitment agency and a very open-minded recruiting manager at Macmillan Cancer Support who took a bit of a punt on me — I’d never worked in the charity sector before so was a bit of an unknown — I ended up in legacy fundraising and marketing. And it paid off, probably because I had a background in communications and marketing and at its heart legacy fundraising is all about building relationships with people and understanding their lives."

Why do you find it such an interesting area to work in?

"In legacy fundraising, we really do see the best in people. We’re celebrating everyday heroes here — people who have left substantial gifts from their estates to a good cause that they’re passionate about. For somebody to reflect on their life and decide what they want to do is to try to make the world a better place even when they’re gone — well, I find that greatly humbling."

What are some of the misperceptions around legacy fundraising?

"One of the real misconceptions is that legacy fundraising is a grim area to work in as it’s all about death. Of course, we’re British so we don’t tend to like talking about death or money and that is a big challenge in legacy fundraising. I went to the Mexico a few years ago for the Day of the Dead celebrations and they obviously have a very different reflection on life and death over there and I’ve learnt from that so now, for me, legacy giving is about life. There’s an American giving expert called Dr Russell James who’s a bit of a pioneer. He put people into an MRI scanner — it sounds crazy, I know — and asked them questions about legacy giving. And what he discovered was that thinking about making legacy gifts triggered parts of the brain to do with happy memories — photographs and snapshots of what had been important to people in their lives. So we can learn from that research and talk about legacy giving not so much in terms of the mechanics of will writing but of something much, much bigger — people’s footprint on the earth. It’s as if legacy giving is someone writing the last chapter of their autobiography and reflecting on what’s been important to them in their life and how they wish to be remembered."

Do you think that solicitors do enough to promote legacy giving to clients?

"Remember a Charity did some research around this, tracking on an annual basis the number of solicitors prompting their clients around legacy gifts in wills — and it was on the increase. It’s about asking the question: ‘Have you considered leaving a gift in your will to charity?’ That’s the most positive form of legacy marketing — allowing people to reflect and giving them time to consider for themselves.

"Remember a Charity also did some testing with the Cabinet Office and Cooperative Legal Services around prompting on the Co-op’s telephone will writing service which showed that when a solicitor or will writer does prompt, it increases the number of people who are leaving gifts in their will. So it works and the way in which the prompts are made is fundamental — prompts that are passionate but also have an element of social norm-ing are the most effective. One of the barriers to legacy giving is the perception on the part of clients that ‘people like me don’t do things like this’. But when people are prompted in a normalising way — so, for example, by saying: ‘other very generous supporters like you have considered leaving a gift in their will’ — that works."

Are there any incentives for solicitors to prompt clients around legacy giving?

"Not that I’ve been able to identify as yet, beyond being philanthropic themselves. And, to my mind, there’s an aspect of professionalism in there as well — if solicitors don’t mention the options around legacy giving to their clients, they aren’t pointing out all the options to them. So it’s about the solicitor doing a thorough job, I suppose."

Does the ILM work with will writers or just legal professionals?

"We aren’t actively talking to will writers at the moment, but that’s something I’d like to see happen. We have a close working relationship with the Law Society — we have a shared publication (Charities as Beneficiaries) and we’ve organised training programmes together in the past — and I think we need to think about similar ways of working with organisations like STEP and the Institute of Professional Willwriters. Given that we’re trying to raise standards across our sector in terms of will writing and charitable giving it certainly makes sense."

There have been quite a few negative stories about charities in the press lately — big wages paid to chief executives and the like. What effect do these have on your work?

"They have a massively negative effect as obviously there’s an erosion of trust. We as charities trade on our reputation and if that’s diminished our work is impacted. A number of people cancel their direct gifts, hampering our ongoing appeals, and if there’s an emergency appeal we see a detrimental effect there too. After a spate of bad press, it’s not uncommon for donors to change their wills and remove gifts they’d made to us — sometimes worth hundreds of thousands of pounds."

What would you say to counter that sort of negative press?

"We are charities — we exist to serve our beneficiaries and we strive to create the greatest positive impact we can for them. So obviously it’s not in our interests to be spending money unwisely. And as a sector we constantly hold ourselves accountable — I truly believe that we maintain the highest of standards and keep an open dialogue in terms of transparency and efficacy.

"There’s a school of thought that people who work for charities should do it for free and in my opinion there are some sections of the press who will never be wholeheartedly supportive of the work we’re doing. But the truth is that charities operate in a market and if they want the right professionals to make as much money as possible for them — so that some of the problems facing the people they’re trying to help can be solved — then those professionals have to be paid a competitive wage. I couldn’t do my job for nothing, but I’m exceptionally passionate about what I do and I believe I bring experience and a drive to contribute and achieve. I think that’s true of the vast majority of people who work in the charity sector. Maybe we need to shout about the positive outcomes of our interventions more."

What about the future of legacy giving?

"It’s all connected to our culture and society — the generation giving legacies at the moment were born pre-war and have a great sense of duty and responsibility. Giving is very personal to them — and very private. But legacy giving has to evolve continuously. The next generation coming through will be the baby boomers and there’s a groundswell in the demographic meaning that as they die, which is going to happen from 2017-2020 onwards, there will be more people leaving gifts in their wills purely because there will be more people dying — and so the legacy marketplace will grow organically. Then there’s the X’s and the Y’s and we will need to look, in the future, at different ways of making legacy giving attractive to them, perhaps around ideas of exchange and reciprocity. Generation X has more of a ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitude than previous generations, research tells us. So we need to reflect on how best to promote gifts in wills to them — to identify what compels them to give."

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