When we talk about legacy fundraising, we often refer to successful communication, optimized lead acquisition or setting up an appropriate stewardship program to receive legacies for the important work that our organizations do.
What surprises me is that as fundraisers, we invest a lot of time legacy marketing campaigns but the settlement of legacies (the administrative side of dealing with legacies) often remains underexposed within our profession, especially considering how crucial it is to ultimately receiving a legacy. So here are three thoughts that underline the essential role legacy administration plays in legacy fundraising.
First: Never underestimate the potential workload
Legacy fundraising is on the rise, and more and more organizations are beginning to communicate about gifts in wills. We know that legacy fundraising is a long-term investment. An organization will not immediately be flooded with legacies (research shows that it takes an average of 7-8 years before your legacy program generates a more steady income). But an organization that would like to receive (more) incomes out of legacies must be aware that the administration of legacies also requires capacity and budget. Therefore, an organization must make a well-considered decision about who is actually responsible for the legacy administration. Will this be outsourced or taken care of by the organization itself? Which department is responsible for this? Fundraising, finance or another department? Do your employees have the legal/financial know-how and do they even have the time? Organizations need to take all of these decisions into account before setting up a legacy program. Those that already receive legacies regularly are aware of it: Sometimes receiving legacies can be very easy – your organization receives a notification that a bequest (perhaps worth tens of thousands of euros) will be transferred soon. How beautiful! But we also know this is not always the case. Complex, complicated legacies, with assets in other countries, legacies with no executor or an executor without any knowledge of how to settle a legacy, or legacies where relatives contest the testator’s decision are part of settlements. Not every organization has the capability to handle these kinds of situations.
Second: Responsibility and trust are essential
Let me be very clear because this is close to my heart. As soon as you start acquiring legacies as an organization, you must be able to also settle complex legacies. Once your organization starts to ask people to consider gifts in their wills (alongside their families and their loved ones) it is your organization’s responsibility to administrate their legacies properly. Consider the importance of dealing with households that need to be dissolved or complex legal aspects, caring for someone’s pets and being aware of the emotions of loved ones. I see this as ‘part of the deal’, part of the partnership that the organization is building with a pledger, rooted in trust. People consider, sometimes, leaving everything they own to an organization, so we actually become part of their family; we become their descendants. There is a tremendous amount of trust involved, and I believe that we as organizations should do our best to nurture and maintain this trust.
I want to be honest with you, even within my organization, things can sometimes go wrong during legacy settlements. We could have responded faster or better, but it’s important to be aware of the process, evaluate and learn from mistakes so that we can do better in the future. Which brings me to the third point.
Third: Settlement is part of the cultivation cycle
I believe that if we as fundraisers and relationship managers do the settlement of legacies properly, we can also have the chance to inspire new legacies. Settlement is, on the one hand, an administrative process. But it also has an emotional side. It is also the settlement of someone’s life who had loved ones, friends and acquaintances. Or at least neighbours, a care provider, a (financial) adviser or solicitor. If we show that we as organizations handle the settlement of legacies professionally, but also pay attention to the emotional or personal side of the settlement, we will cultivate goodwill and inspire others to follow in the testator’s footsteps. And giving the settlement a personal touch does not have to be that complicated: a handwritten card to loved ones, the interest in finding out why the testator named the organization in the will, a place or way in which the organization shows tribute and appreciation for the testators or updating the family on the impact of the legacy. All these small and large things give relatives confirmation that a legacy is carefully handled and the testator is seen and valued to show that someone’s legacy made a difference to an organization.
Lena Vizy, September 2021
Foto by Akil Mazumder