How to manage donations left in wills: five tips for charities | Chris Millward

Every year, £2.5bn is left to UK charities. Our new guidance offers five ways to ensure they don’t lose out because of declining public trust in fundraising

Legacies – or gifts left in wills – are of immense value to UK charities, worth more than £2.5bn in 2015 alone. This figure has increased steadily over the past few years and without it many charities will struggle to continue their work. But damaging recent fundraising scandals mean this vital source of income may be under threat.

The problem is one of trust. Will people still be willing to donate if they don’t feel they can trust charities to fundraise responsibly? The whole sector has a role to play in improving public confidence, but charity professionals working with legacies are responsible for the sensitive and professional administration of donors’ final gifts – a delicate role that is absolutely dependent on integrity.

That is why we at the Institute of Legacy Management, the membership body for legacy professionals, are launching new good practice guidance this week, setting out five core principles to help share best practice and rebuild public trust in our decision-making.

1. Be sensitive

Legacy professionals come into contact with a donor’s family and friends at a very difficult time, so we must always treat them with compassion. This means being thoughtful about when to get in touch with executors, often family or friends who will not welcome being contacted on the anniversary of the donor’s death or another emotionally meaningful date, for example. Being considered and respectful in all communication sounds obvious, but it is so important, and requires careful thought and planning.

2. Be open

Legacy professionals need to be open about the work they do, making sure all parties, including executors, solicitors, families and friends clearly understand how the process of claiming a legacy works.

This means keeping everyone updated, and avoiding jargon and difficult technical language. Even after a charity has received the gift, it may be appropriate to maintain contact with the executor to tell them about the impact of the gift, or be clear if it has not been possible to use the gift as intended.

3. Be ethical

Ethical decision-making is at the heart of legacy management and integrity is vital, even in routine administrative tasks. Each decision can impact on an organisation’s wider reputation.

Challenging situations can arise, for example, if an executor refuses to engage with the charity. Once a notification has been received, the charity has a legal entitlement to that gift and the executor has a legal duty to ensure that the gift is made in accordance with the wishes of the donor. But after a set period of time some charities may decide it is not in their best interests to pursue the legacy, particularly if the cost in money, time and reputation outweighs the benefit.

4. Collaborate

Legacy teams have a very clear focus, but must establish and maintain regular dialogue with other teams in fundraising, marketing and finance. This works both ways of course. As well as keeping colleagues informed, legacy professionals must work to understand other teams’ priorities and how they can contribute to legacy management. By developing good processes for managing and reporting income, these tasks are made easier and more efficient for everyone.

5. Stay up-to-date

As legacy professionals work within legal and regulatory frameworks which are regularly updated, it’s important to stay informed, whether through formal training or networking with other organisations. Our guidance touches on the different types of tax that may be liable and their implications, and highlights key resources for further information.

Chris Millward is chief executive officer at the Institute of Legacy Management.

Talk to us on Twitter via @Gdnvoluntary and join our community for your free fortnightly Guardian Voluntary Sector newsletter, with analysis and opinion sent direct to you on the first and third Thursday of the month.

Chris Millward

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
How charities can maximise fundraising online | Prashan Paramanathan
People are almost twice as likely to trust smaller charities as big ones. Here’s what donors say encourages them to keep on giving

Prashan Paramanathan

28, Jul, 2017 @6:19 AM

Article image
GDPR: how charities should prepare for data protection changes
New regulations affecting fundraising, campaigning and volunteer management come into effect in 2018. Here’s how you can be ready

Daniel Fluskey

05, May, 2017 @6:45 AM

Article image
Treat donors well and they will give more, for longer | Giles Pegram
Our commission found donors want to be treated with respect, and are turned off by negative and manipulative appeals

Giles Pegram

06, Jul, 2017 @6:38 AM

Article image
Are women making progress in charities? Quiz
Does volunteering improve your sex life? Which charities are women more likely to donate to? What’s the third sector gender pay gap? Take our quiz

06, Mar, 2017 @12:00 PM

Article image
Will charities be able to deliver on plans to tighten fundraising rules?
New proposals endorsed by the NCVO board aim to ‘put donors in control’ – but these big commitments could prove costly hostages to fortune

David Brindle

27, Sep, 2016 @7:35 AM

Article image
Charities should also target Donor Dave, not just Donor Dorothy
It’s simple – if charities continue to ignore the potential male givers the competition for older women’s generosity will grow even fiercer

Peter Gilheany

25, May, 2016 @1:53 PM

Article image
Charity Commission reform vital for civil society strategy to work | Nathan Yeowell
The government’s plan could have a massive, positive impact on the sector, but we must be honest about what’s needed

Nathan Yeowell

25, May, 2018 @8:33 AM

Article image
The UK needs a DEC to ensure donations are secure | Sarah Miller
The Disasters Emergency Committee coordinates donations and volunteers for relief efforts abroad – why do we have nothing similar in the UK?

Sarah Miller

23, Jun, 2017 @6:11 AM

Article image
Small charities miss out on donations because public unaware of them
Research to coincide with Small Charities Week shows that – aside from more funding – having a greater public profile would be the single biggest help

David Brindle

13, Jun, 2016 @10:16 AM

Article image
Tap dogs: four-legged charity fundraisers with a difference
The animals wear jackets with contactless payment readers in the pocket so donors can tap their card and donate £2 to The Blue Cross

Aimee Meade

23, May, 2016 @9:58 AM