One of the headline figures in this year’s Ross-CASE results is the 19% increase to donation income from bequests. Legacies accounted for £109.6m of the total income last year. While this increase can partly be attributed to an 11% drop the previous year, income in this area is increasing and will continue to do so.
Many organisations still see legacies as lucky surprises that crop up from time to time from individuals they were not aware of, and that have little to do with fundraising. We can see that this is not the case. There is a clear correlation between the length of time that a Development Office has been actively fundraising and the number and size of legacies received. ‘Developing’ universities had almost three times the mean cash legacy income of their ‘Emerging’ counterparts. In my most recent role, several of the bequests received in that time could be linked back to one advertising campaign that went out in a local newspaper in the mid-nineties.
Despite making up almost 12% of cash income to universities, we are still not investing in our legacy programmes in a way commensurate with their potential impact. It can be tough to ask for investment in a revenue stream that can take decades to materialise. This short-sighted thinking is at odds with the very thing that makes universities such an appealing proposition to legacy donors – their longevity.
If we begin to think long term about our income, the urgency with which we need to tackle our legacy fundraising becomes apparent. The post-war baby boomers are now aged between 55 and 73. They are the wealthiest generation in history. Smee and Ford’s Legacy Trends 2018 paper tells us that the average legacy donor will sign their last will at 77 and will die at 85. Given the 8+ years it takes to nurture a relationship to the point at which a legacy is on the cards, immediate investment in this area is critical.
The baby boomers are your best individual and major donors. They are the trustees that sign off your grants and they lead the companies that make up your corporate portfolio. With the right approach, the end of their lives could result in transformative gifts to your institution. The average legacy to a UK university in 2017-18 was £82,834.
Your best prospects will die over the next 10 to 30 years. This could impact your institution in one of two ways; you could simply lose out on the current lifetime income from this group, or their lifetime giving could culminate in legacy donations that could transform your organisation.