Part 1 by Fusien Verloop and Lena Vizy
Legacy giving has a rich history at universities worldwide. While universities might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about successful legacy fundraising, higher education has received spectacular gifts in wills. In the Netherlands, universities have received some of the most significant legacies ever. These gifts have even caught the media’s attention. Let’s look into the world of legacy fundraising at universities, explore the challenges and successes that arise, and compare how this form of fundraising has evolved in different countries.
Legacy Fundraising at Dutch Universities
In recent years, Dutch universities have received some notable legacies. From a generous bequest of 1.2 million euros to the University of Utrecht in 2019 to a remarkable 4 million euros to the University of Amsterdam in 2016, and the incredible legacy valued at 35 million euros to the University of Groningen in 2020. These gifts often came unexpectedly from alumni wishing to support specific purposes and are restricted to research or scholarships.
Although legacy fundraising is a relatively new field for many universities, they have long-standing experience with alumni relations and soliciting individual giving. Many alumni hold their university in high regard. For many, the university was where they had “the best time of their lives,” and in their later years, they often realise how pivotal their education was to their societal success.
Scientific research has validated that positive memories and gratitude provide fertile ground for legacy fundraising
It’s a logical step for universities to embrace legacy fundraising more wholeheartedly. The literature review What We Know About Legacy Giving  shows that leaving bequests to organisations is closely tied to one’s life story and often contains a nostalgic element. Reflecting on one’s own life, known as “life review,” plays a crucial role when considering bequests to organisations. Furthermore, evoking nostalgia can positively influence giving behaviour. Given these findings, it makes sense for universities to more actively engage in legacy fundraising.
Universities that have actively begun this process are already seeing the initial fruits of their labour. Although not everyone spontaneously thinks of their former university when drafting a will, many find the idea appealing.
Legacy Fundraising at Universities in the US and UK
In both the United States and the United Kingdom, gifts in wills to universities have a deeply rooted history and have played a pivotal role in supporting education. In the US, John Harvard left a bequest in 1638 that led to the college being named after him. And while George Washington never attended university himself, he left bequests to several higher education institutions in his will. Stanford University already published its first legacy brochure in 1937. In the UK, University College Oxford, was established directly as a result of a bequest from William of Durham, who died in 1249.
In these countries many big gifts were given to famous universities including a special book collection from William Scheide to Princeton University in 2015, valued at around 300 million dollars, and a notable gift of 35 million pounds from Ray Dolby’s legacy to Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 2013.
Smaller universities also benefit from legacies. For instance, the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, received a legacy gift of about 125 million dollars in 2013. The Southeastern Louisiana University received the largest donation in its 92-year history in 2017: a legacy of about 10 million dollars from Seth W. Ryan, in honor of his wife, who never had the chance to receive higher education.
Getting comparable data on the total scope of legacies in both countries is challenging. However, 2014 data indicates that in the US, legacy gifts to higher education totalled around 2.7 billion dollars, accounting for approximately 17% of private fundraising. In the UK, total legacy revenues amounted to 95.6 million pounds in the academic year 2014-2015.
The Role of Legacy Societies
Interestingly, many US universities have established “Legacy Societies,” exclusive giving circles for pledgers, playing a pivotal role in encouraging especially larger legacies. These clubs offer members exclusive perks, such as commemorative pins, invitations to special events, and newsletters, thereby showing their appreciation and recognition to donors and alumni wishing to leave a legacy. European universities make less use of “legacy societies”. We only know that a few universities, like the University of Oxford, has followed the American example and established a legacy society.
Legacy fundraising has played a highly valuable role in universities worldwide, where substantial legacies foster academic growth, innovation, and opportunities for future generations.
In our next blog, we’ll delve deeper into the topic with an exclusive interview with three experienced fundraisers from various universities. They will share their insights and experiences regarding legacy fundraising.
 What We Know About Legacy Giving, A Literature Review By Dr. Claire Routley, Prof. Adrian Sargeant, Dr. Lucy Lowthian. https://legacyfutures.com/legacy-literature-review/
 The 2016 Planned Giving Study Building Lasting Legacies: New Insights from Data on Planned Gifts https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/server/api/core/bitstreams/bfcdc7d5-2b04-4fa8-afb2-583fedb37764/content
Lena Vizy co-authored this blog with Fusien Verloop:
Since 2002, Fusien Verloop has garnered expertise in the world of fundraising. As the founder and partner of LVWB Fundraising, she has dedicated herself to projects within the cultural sector and at various universities. Her expertise primarily lies in the fields of sponsorship and major donor fundraising. Fusien believes in a hands-on approach and often delves into the day-to-day operations by taking on interim assignments.
Other links used for this blog:
Poto: Laura Garcia