The Art Of Gifts In Wills: Five Tips To Drive Your Legacy Fundraising

The following is a guest article for AIM written by Valerie Harland. Valerie has over 30 years of experience as a fundraiser in the UK and New Zealand and is a Trustee at AIM members, the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, where she chairs the Heritage, Engagement and Development Committee.

Valerie is hosting ‘The Art of Gifts in Wills’, a masterclass in legacy fundraising for the cultural and heritage sector, in central Bristol on 9 May, along with fellow legacy specialist Dr Claire Routley (who has a PhD in legacy fundraising). To book your place, please visit here.

The Art Of Gifts In Wills: Five Tips To Drive Your Legacy Fundraising

While the bad news is that museums and arts organisations in general are lagging behind in legacy income and promotion compared to the wider voluntary sector, the good news is that very little effort is required to get started or give your existing activity a bit of a boost.  Here are five tips on how to do just that.

1: Start with the ‘why’

Your supporters and regular visitors know what you do and how you do it (or most of it at least). But do they know ‘why’?  By that I mean your organisation’s purpose and why you were founded.

For example, I was intrigued to read on the British Museum’s legacy fundraising web pages “Sir Hans Sloane’s will was the document that triggered the foundation of the British Museum in 1753.”

But to find out more I had to navigate through the website’s About Us section to The Museum’s Story.  Here I discovered that: “In his will, Sloane bequeathed his entire collection to King George II for the nation in return for the payment of £20,000 to his heirs, and on condition that Parliament create a new and freely accessible public museum to house it. Parliament accepted Sloane’s terms, raising the money through a national lottery and on 7 June 1753, an Act of Parliament establishing the British Museum received the royal assent. Sloane’s collections, together with several additional libraries and collections, thus became the foundation of the British Museum.” And there was more. To me this is fascinating stuff that adds to the legacy message.

Don’t get me wrong, the British Museum’s legacy pages are extremely well produced and make a strong link between their founder and the museum today by adding, after that intriguing sentence, “The British Museum is a charity that relies on funding from a wide range of sources and so legacies are as important as ever in helping us keep the Museum’s collection freely accessible to the world.”

If you’d like to explore the ‘start with the why’ approach, check out its creator Simon Sinek (my apologies to him for any misrepresentation).

2: Be prepared – do the basics

Even if you’ve never received a monetary legacy and have yet to start promoting gifts in wills, it pays to be prepared. If you were to receive a call from a solicitor requesting your ‘suggested wording’, so that their client could include your organisation in their will, what would you provide?  If you’ve got this all prepared, well done, you’re ahead of the game.

For everyone else, make sure you know your museum’s official name (sounds strange, but some museums have different brand names or group names), your registered address and registered charity number. The latter should prevent confusion with any similarly named museums when the time comes for the legacy to be paid. Then insert these details as follows:

For a share of an estate (residuary legacy), “I give [state proportion e.g. one third] of the residue of my estate to the Trustees of [Your museum’s official, registered address including postcode, and Registered Charity Number], to be used for their general charitable purposes and I declare that the receipt of their Director or other proper officer shall be a full and sufficient discharge.”

For a set sum (pecuniary legacy), “I give free of tax to the Trustees of [Your museum’s official, registered address including postcode, and Registered Charity Number], the sum of [amount in words] (£____ [amount in figures]) to be used for their general charitable purposes, and I declare that the receipt of their Director or other proper officer shall be a full and sufficient discharge.”

If you want to talk about the opportunity to gift an artefact to the collection then check your acquisitions and disposals policy.  You don’t want to give the impression that you can accept anything that is offered. And there are other types of legacies too, such as reversionary and conditional, but no need to be concerned with those for now.

 3: Contact local solicitors

Next double check your suggested wording with a friendly solicitor who specialises in wills and estate planning.  To find someone near you, visit STEP (The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners), select Estate Planning/Administration as the Practice Area, the UK, and put in your town.  By the way, don’t go down the road of trying to influence solicitors to promote your museum to all their clients as that‘s not how it works. However, it’s always possible that one day a solicitor could have a client who wanted to support local heritage and then knowing your organisation is seeking legacies could be beneficial. Like the rest of the public, solicitors are also less likely to think of museums as charities in need of support.

 4: Think about your legacy vision

Having thought about ‘the why’ and done the basics, it’s time to think about your ‘legacy vision’. You could start by imagining receiving a legacy of £4,000, the current average value of a set sum/pecuniary legacy or £57,900, the current average value of a residuary legacy, or an even higher amount. How would such gifts help to transform your museum?   Try not to be too specific in terms of what you might do this year or even in three years time, but in five or 10 years, how much could a sizeable gift help?

To go back to the British Museum, their legacy vision is expressed as:”Every gift can help us build and care for the collection, support special exhibitions and deliver innovative learning, research and conservation programmes.” This is very different from their Fundraising Priorities pages, where the donation ‘shopping list’ items include “£4,000 will fund the scanning and virtual unwrapping of one mummy in the collection.” That’s because they don’t want to receive legacies restricted to work that is no longer a priority.

To help you be creative, have a look at what other cultural and visitor centre organisations such as theatres, concert halls, and wildlife trusts are doing, as well as other museums. Once you’ve got the bare bones of a legacy vision, write this into an introduction to your A4 legacy sheet with a short version of your ‘start with the why’ and a thank you to the person who’s considering leaving a legacy to your museum.

And if you’re concerned that receiving an extra large legacy could affect your other fundraising, especially your grant-seeking, by swelling your reserves, fear not because your trustees and accountants should be able to separate it in the accounts by putting it into something like the British Museum’s ‘Fund for the Future’.  This is described as allowing ‘the Museum to build and develop its work for future generations. Your legacy gift will ensure that future visitors and scholars will continue to understand the past.’

5: Work with what you’ve already got

If you’ve got a legacy fundraising page on your website, and even a legacy flyer, that’s excellent. If not, and funds and time are short, think about your existing resources. Do you have a supporter newsletter, or does your Friends group regularly communicate with its members? (working with your Friends group on legacies is probably the subject for another article though).  You could select a very strong image of an object or other signature item, perhaps from the earliest parts of your collection, and accompany it with a short article that expresses your legacy vision and your ‘why’.

You’ve done the work on this, so now you can start pushing it out there. Have include your email so that readers can request further information. You can respond by sending your legacy A4 sheet with suggested wording  or legacy leaflet, plus your latest Financial Statement, a thank you card to the enquirer for considering leaving a legacy to your museum, and a friendly covering letter opening the door to a coffee if they’d like to find out more about your work behind the scenes. If you do end up meeting your legacy prospect, make sure you ask open questions such as ‘when did you first visit the museum?’ or ‘do you have any special memories of coming here…?’. Listen hard to the responses and also to what your prospect says about what they love about your museum. There’s no need for you to bring up the subject of leaving a legacy at this initial meeting. You want to get to know your prospect and open their eyes to the even more amazing work you do behind the scenes, even if it appears very day to day to you.

If you’ve got other materials such as a leaflet encouraging people to visit you, or a What’s On Guide or web pages listing your exhibitions and events, when you reprint or refresh online, add a tick box or a link for people to find out about leaving a ‘gift in their will’ (a term used more commonly now by charities as legacies doesn’t mean much to many people). All of these, and more, can include your legacy message, however brief.

And don’t forget to brief your volunteers and front of house staff about legacies. It’s important that if anyone asks about leaving a gift in their will, make sure they know who to refer people on to and how to refer them (or to have your legacy information with your contact details to hand).

 And finally…

Legacy fundraising – or raising money from gifts in wills – is just another form of fundraising. It’s not about rich people (many older people own a house and have savings) and it’s not about death. It’s about giving your core supporters and visitors the opportunity to express their appreciation of what they enjoy most about your museum, with the biggest gift they are ever likely to make.  Even with the cost of care, which may reduce the average size of legacies, there’s going to be more people giving in this way. So do get on with it, because baby boomers – who are much more appreciative of heritage and the arts than previous generations – are starting to retire en masse. The great legacy boom is about to happen, so don’t miss out!

About Valerie Harland

Valerie Harland has over 30 years’ of experience as a fundraiser in the UK and New Zealand, including working on the NSPCC’s first legacy campaign and managing national Mind’s legacy programme. Her experience of heritage and the arts includes a capital campaign for a Maori meeting house and establishing all the revenue fundraising programmes for the Bristol Culture’s museums and archives. Valerie is very proud to be a trustee of the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, where she chairs its Heritage, Engagement and Development Committee.

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