Legacy giving has huge potential as a source of future funding for the arts, especially in Scotland. Richard Radcliffe offers tips for getting started.

Photo of elderly couple

When it comes to legacy fundraising via people’s wills, cultural organisations punch well below their weight in comparison to medical research, religious organisations and educational institutions (the National Trust for Scotland being a notable exception).

I’ve been working with Arts & Business Scotland in recent months to highlight to their members and stakeholders from across the arts and heritage sectors the millions of pounds in untapped private funding that arts and heritage organisations could potentially target. A series of focus groups I ran established that almost one in five Scots currently has a charitable legacy in their will and that up to one third of the Scottish population plans to leave money to a charitable cause in their will in the future.

Research suggests that people rarely change the beneficiaries of their will over their lifetime

With around one million Scots currently aged over 65 and assuming an average individual legacy donation of £15,000, this equates to £5bn of potential legacies to the Scottish charity sector over the next 30 years – equivalent to £165m per year.

These figures show the rising popularity of legacy giving and a growing desire from Scots of all ages to give something back to good causes for the benefit of future generations. Official figures from research by Smee & Ford also show the cultural sector to be the fastest growing recipient of legacy donations in the UK.

For a growing segment of the population then, leaving money to the arts or heritage says something important about what defines them as people – whether that’s experiencing the arts as an important inspiration for their life choices and goals, or heritage as a key expression of their culture and identity. These are life-affirming experiences that a rising number want to see preserved for their children and grandchildren to share.

Long-term prospects

The long lead times involved in realising the benefits of a legacy fundraising strategy can be a turn-off for many organisations that are understandably focused on sourcing short-term funding. But with a generation of wealthy baby-boomers currently writing and reviewing their wills and an increasing number intending to donate to charity in the future, now seems a prudent time to look again at the long-term pipeline potential of legacy funding.

In addition, research suggests that people rarely change the beneficiaries of their will over their lifetime. With many first wills written on getting married or at the birth of a first child, there is an argument for engaging with younger generations too.

Despite the growing popularity of cultural legacies, I remain concerned that the cultural sector is not taking proper advantage of this opportunity. Legacies currently provide a much smaller proportion of funding revenue for arts and heritage organisations than for the charity sector as a whole. This problem is further compounded by a particular reluctance of Scottish charities to source additional funding from legacies compared to their English counterparts.

Planting a seed

So, what can arts and heritage organisations do to ramp up their legacy fundraising?

Efforts to pursue legacy fundraising needn’t be expensive or resource-intensive or involve a hard sell. Instead, it could simply start by planting a seed in the minds of loyal supporters by means of informal and indirect conversations. This could even begin with your volunteers as one in three of them will leave a gift, but you must never ask for it directly as you risk offending them by implying they are of a certain age. You may then find yourself not only short of a legacy gift but short of a volunteer.

Recruit legacy voices internally and make sure your leadership has suitable talking points on legacies. It is important that legacies are front of mind, not only for your CEO but also for someone within the organisation who exemplifies your success, such as a producer or curator. These legacy ambassadors must be able to communicate why such funding is important to the organisation as well as being able, when required, to describe the impact in detail.

It is also critical to think about different audiences in order to communicate effectively. Older generations love nostalgia and looking back, whereas baby boomers and younger generations may find that off-putting. Instead, when they visit the website of an arts or heritage organisation for the purpose of researching their potential legacy beneficiaries, this audience wants a clear sense of your vision for the coming decades and how their gift might contribute to realising that vision.

The most effective way of communicating is to tell stories through a variety of means including animations, videos and newsletters. Merchandise that provides information on the benefits of legacy-giving to your organisation is also useful, such as bookmarks, keyrings, bags and fridge magnets.

Pursuing legacy funding should never be daunting. It needs to start quite simply with a shift in mindset within the organisation. With public-sector budgets for culture under significant ongoing pressure, legacy giving has huge potential as a growing future source of funding.

Richard Radcliffe is Founder of Radcliffe Consulting.

If you are interested in attending a legacy training workshop in Scotland, contact Arts & Business Scotland on events@aandbscotland.org.uk or call 0131 556 3353.

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