Regrets, I’ve had a few….

So sang Ol’ Blue Eyes in that high-kicking classic looking back on a life well lived. Hopefully, the author and everyone reading this won’t be talking about courses chartered and each and every highway for some time, but one of my niggling regrets from many years as a Development Director was to marginalise legacy fundraising, which celebrates that life well lived long after the music has subsided.

The more we worked with our clients, the more we sidelined legacy fundraising in favour of other activities, which arguably created greater additional work for a lower return. This is often contrary to the long-term aspirations of those organisations to enhance financial sustainability through growth in endowment and unrestricted major gifts. Sizeable lifetime gifts of this type generally require longstanding donor relationships based on deep trust and understanding of mutual needs around philanthropy, which can be a challenge in school operations where turnover of key staff such as Heads, Bursars, and Development professionals can put the brakes on such relationships.

The latest IDPE & Graham-Pelton Schools’ Benchmarking Report shows a clear correlation between number of legacy gifts received and annual philanthropic income. Given the average value of a legacy gift received between 2016-2018 was £311,000 (median £74,000) compared to the overall average donation of £2,536, this is not really surprising.

What is surprising, however, is that there are not more legacy programmes – at least a society through which those who pledge can be stewarded. Across many schools, the activity to encourage more legacies can be limited to a mailing or two a year, and in some cases much less, whereas an increasingly personalised approach appears to deliver much stronger results. The existence of legacy societies seems to have a positive effect: half of the schools participating in the benchmarking survey had a legacy society in place, with those schools receiving 10 legacies worth a total of £246,000 on average. This is five times the number and almost ten times the value of schools without a society.

Return on investment is very much viewed against the short horizon of a year or a handful of years. Legacy fundraising lives outside these perceived norms. We have all experienced the serendipitous legacy that is the cherry on the cake in a good fundraising year, or a gift from the gods in slower years. In many cases – and given the relatively short tenures of Development professionals – these gifts were not of your making and nor were you aware they were in the pipeline. There is also the feeling that you and colleagues will be long gone (professionally) when the fruits of your labours appear.

Taking the time to assess the scale and effectiveness of your current legacy programme is an investment that can have profound repercussions in the future, and sometimes the not-too-distant future. My colleague Alice Sockett talks about the demographic incentives of a robust legacy programme in her recent column.

In an uncertain and ever-changing future landscape for schools, isn’t it about time to give fresh impetus to one of the more old-fashioned fundraising channels, and leave a professional legacy which shows that doing it ‘Your Way’ was right all along?

For more information on Graham-Pelton’s fundraising services, including legacy strategy development, contact inside@grahampelton.com.

This article is part of a series providing our analysis and key takeaways from the 2016-2018 Graham-Pelton/IDPE Benchmarking Report. Read other articles or sign-up for our email list to have the latest news on the benchmarking report and other fundraising tips sent straight to your inbox.

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