University of Oxford

Follow us

Legacy Giving

On 27th November 2013, 25 delegates from across the UK gathered at the Pitt Rivers Museum to share experiences and get top tips on legacy giving in the cultural sector.

Wellby Bequest (c) Ashmolean Museum

Learning about Legacies, Claire Routley, Legacy Fundraising
The training was delivered by , a consultant at Legacy Fundraising. Previously Claire was head of legacy giving at the Bible Society, and she began her career as the direct appeals manager at St David’s Foundation Hospice Care. Claire also has the world’s first PhD in legacy marketing and has authored several publications on legacy fundraising.

Claire started by weighing up the pros and cons of legacy giving schemes.


  • They are usually large gifts: just over £3,000 is the average for cash gifts and £20-50,000 for residuary gifts.
  • They offer excellent return on investment for organisations, an average of around 30:1.
  • The aging population offers potential for growth, with the legacy market expected to more than double by 2050.


  • It can be a sensitive issue to discuss, both for individuals considering leaving a legacy and fundraisers.
  • It is difficult to measure the impact of activity now on future income.
  • Only a small proportion of the population, around 6%, leave legacies.
  • There can be complex legal issues.

Claire introducing the group to Legacy Giving

Next the group discussed who is likely to leave a legacy and why.


  • Gender: Although surveys show no stated preference in life, 75% of legacies are left by women, but this is partly explained by the fact that women often outlive their husbands and therefore manage their shared assets.
  • Age: On average people make their first will at 44, and will include a charitable legacy around the age of 49, and may make a larger legacy pledge around retirement. However, around 36% of legacies are added in the last two years of life. 
  • Socio-Economic Status: Wealthy people, ie. those with assets, are both more likely to leave a legacy, and more likely to leave one to charity.
  • Bequest motive: Some individuals who choose to leave a legacy will not give to your organisation during their lives, or will give smaller gifts during their lifetimes, as they prefer to save and make a single legacy bequest.
  • Motivations/Behaviour:
  • Organisation: Individuals considering leaving an organisational legacy are more concerned with how an organisation is run than others, and will want to make sure that their legacy is left in safe hands and will make a difference.
  • Reciprocity: People like to give back to organisations that have helped them.
  • Family: Individuals with children and grandchildren are significantly less likely to leave a legacy bequest than those without children.
  •  Tax: Reducing inheritance tax is also a motive for leaving a charity bequest, and there is a significant jump in the number of legacies left when inheritance tax is a factor.

To get a better feeling for why people choose to leave a legacy, we watched a video posted by Action Hearing Loss in which one of their supporters explained why they were leaving the charity a legacy in their will.

Watch the video.

You can download Claire's slides here.

Case Study: Abigail Wilde, Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation, Brighton
To get a feel for how legacy schemes can work in museums, two case studies were presented, the first by Abigail Wilde, Development Manager for Individual Giving at the . Between starting in 2009 and 2013 Abigail has seen membership of the foundation increase from 900 to over 5,000 and has introduced a successful patrons’ scheme. Over the last 18 months Abigail also introduced the organisation’s first legacy giving programme, which she shared with our delegates.

Abigail talking about establishing a Legacy Giving sheme at the Royal Pavilion and Museums Foundation

Abigail explained that the first stage of developing the legacy giving programme was research, research, research. Starting with the foundation’s members, a survey was sent out to all of the foundation’s members, which included two questions about legacy giving: did you know that you could leave a legacy to the foundation, and would you consider it.  Of the 455 members that responded 80 said that they knew about the possibility of leaving a legacy and would consider giving one. These 80 respondents were invited to a behind the scenes event at the Pavilion to discuss legacies further, 7 attended.

Discussions with this group was augmented by one on one conversations with other members who Abigail had a good relationship with and trusted to give their honest opinion. With all these members Abigail discussed:

  • If they left a gift, what they would like to see it support
  • How they would like their pledge acknowledged
  • How they would like their gift acknowledged in memoriam
  • How they would like information about legacies presented to them
  • Who would be the best person to present the information.

These discussions gave Abigail several useful insights which helped form the foundation’s legacy giving programme.

Members consistently responded that they wanted very little recognition for their pledge, but did want to know that their pledge would be spent wisely and so would like to be kept up to date with what was happening in the organisation through something simple like a leaflet. In memoriam recognition should also be modest, such as being listed on a donors registry in the museum.

When discussing legacies members thought it important to avoid legal jargon, and to focus on the local community, and the meaning of the charity in the local area, rather than its international significance. They also advised that language should not focus too heavily on the aspirations or work of the organisation as a separate entity from the donor, but focus on what the potential donors support would help the organisation achieve.

It was also felt strongly that testimonials from others on why they were leaving a legacy or on what a legacy had helped the organisation achieved would be compelling. The day’s delegates discussed this and there was a consensus that when doing something new, such as leaving a legacy, individuals did like to know what other people did, ‘what people like them did’. However, it was noted that individuals are often reluctant to give testimony on a legacy as a will is considered a very private affair, and individuals often did not want to advertise either their plans for the will or their wealth.

Abigail felt strongly that the right voice was needed to front any legacy programme, and there was much discussion on whether the voice should be the Chair of the Board of Trustees, the Keeper of the Royal Pavilion, a celebrity, or a patron of the foundation. In the end, through consultation, it was decided that the Chair of the Board was the best choice as he came across as authoritative and trustworthy as well as knowledgeable about the organisation and its vision.

Interestingly, although intergenerational images of children enjoying venues with their grandparents appear to be common to most legacy publication materials currently available, members said that this did not appeal to them and they considered it cheesy. They said that they preferred images of the building or collections they were supporting, or conservators and curators at work. Abigail took this advice on board but found that it left the material feeling very gold, so squeezed in a few images of children…

You can download Abigail's slides here.

Case Study: Elaine Bentley, Pallant House Gallery
Following Abigail’s case study of a fledgling legacy programme, Elaine Bentley, Development Manager at Pallant House Gallery, spoke about their legacy giving scheme which is now three years old. Elaine was responsible for raising £10.8m for a major capital redevelopment and is also the recent recipient of the Legacy 10 award for excellence in legacy giving.

Elaine agreed with Abigail that research while developing the programme was key, and that she spent a significant amount of her time over the space of a year talking to friends of the gallery to get a clear idea of what would speak to individual who might consider leaving a legacy.

Elaine emphasised that, unlike major donors, people did not want to be asked to leave a legacy, they want to be presented with the information to make their own decision. Individuals who left legacies also responded to a long-term vision for the organisation and what the gallery could do in 50-100 years.

For their Legacy leaflet Pallant House chose the most popular postcard in the shop as the front image, coupled with a few striking images from the collection. This was teamed with strong testimonials on what the gallery means to people, the gallery’s vision for the future, and a story of how a legacy has been used in the past. Elaine recommended always giving personal rather than generic contact details: leaving a legacy is a very personal experience and so people will want to know who they will be speaking to.

Elaine sharing the success of Pallant House Gallery's Legacy Giving scheme to date

In the first round of awareness raising this leaflet was coupled with a letter to around 4,000 Friends of the gallery signed by the Chairman of the Friends encouraging them, after friends and family are looked after, to consider the gallery. Just as with the leaflet, Elaine workshopped this letter, going through several iterations and getting feedback from trusted associates of the museum. When it was sent, it was only sent to individuals who already had a relationship with the museum, and the feedback was excellent. Elaine stressed the importance of taking time and care to make sure that the message is spot on.

In addition to this specific campaign, the legacy message appears in most promotional materials produced by the museum, both to keep the underlying message on the radar of people who the museum has contacted directly in what she calls ‘drip, drip, drip’ marketing, but also to raise awareness of the possibility of leaving a legacy among those who do not have that kind of relationship with the museum as a lot of legacies come from people who you don’t know.

You can download Elaine's slides here.

Round Up – Claire Routley
To finish up the day Claire took the group through some practical tips for developing a legacy fundraising strategy.

When developing your strategy Claire’s key message was to start by understanding where you are now, and developing a key understanding of both your key message and target audience. Only with this understanding in place can you develop a strategy. Claire also emphasised the need to evaluate, despite the difficulty in matching investment now with future returns: track your activity and any feedback.

Claire emphasised that with your message you should think about emphasising the history of your organisation – organisations with a long history and track record will appear like a more stable investment for the future – and your future vision for the organisation. She also suggested singling out what is special and unique about your organisation which makes it worthy of support. Further, a key message should be to encourage people who are considering leaving a legacy to do it sooner rather than later, as it can slip off their radar.

Claire also emphasised that in many organisations 50% of legacies come from people that the organisation does not know, so it is important to get the legacy message out in a variety of ways. The group ended the day by brainstorming places where legacy messages can be delivered, and we discovered a strange obsession among museum professionals for bathroom doors…

Brainstorming in action...

You can access summaries or all our Fundraising and Philanthropy training events on the ASPIRE website.

Useful links

Sign up for our newsletter

Keep in touch

Follow us on Twitter

Email us