At the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), legacies account for less than 2% of all fundraising income. However, it is important to understand that arts organisations have traditionally faced a number of unique challenges when compared to mainstream charities…
Firstly, one of greatest challenges facing many arts and heritage organisations like the V&A is conveying to the public that we are a charity. After all, it is hard to imagine that the V&A is in need when you step inside a building that is ornately decorated and filled to the brim with awe-inspiring artefacts that few would even dream of owning. For many, the V&A is an enjoyable place to spend leisure time, so on the surface, we struggle to tug at the heartstrings of our audiences. It’s not a surprise that you don’t spot many people running the London marathon for a museum.
Secondly, there is also a perception that many art museums, particularly the larger ones, are fully funded by the government, even though at the V&A for example, grant-in-aid accounts for only 40% of the museum’s operating budget. Indeed, without voluntary donations the museum would no longer be able to keep its doors open free of charge, for 362 days a year.
Thirdly, like most arts organisations, our budget and staff resource for legacy fundraising is limited with just two people in our legacy team - which actually makes us one of the larger teams in the arts!
And so, we have been working tirelessly to address all of these challenges and have begun to see encouraging results. Here are four key tips to take home that we have learned at the V&A:
1) Offer transparency and tell compelling stories
Legacy fundraisers in the arts can learn much from our colleagues in the wider charity sector. At the V&A we are aiming to provide greater transparency about our funding sources and how we use voluntary donations, especially money left in Wills. Utilising case studies to show how donations support our work and illustrating the life-enhancing social, educational and health benefits of art will create more emotional and meaningful connections with our audiences.
2) Treat gift in kind legacies as an opportunity
Over a third of legacies to the V&A are gifts in kind and much time is spent researching objects that are left to us and declining them if they do not fit within our collections policy.
Gifts in kind bequeathed to the museum can be both a blessing and a curse. The V&A is very grateful to everyone who has generously donated or bequeathed a work of art to the collection, but while these donations are much appreciated, each new addition to the collection increases the museum’s ongoing costs in terms of exhibiting, storing, and preserving the objects in perpetuity.
As such, it is now part of the V&A legacy strategy to raise awareness of what it takes to look after its collections and use this as an opportunity to ask people to consider leaving a monetary donation alongside their artwork to support its on-going care. In addition, we encourage people to get in touch during their lifetime to discuss their works before they gift them in their Will, to ensure that when the time comes, the museum will be able to accept them. This engagement not only saves the museum and executors time in the future but gives the legator peace of mind that their much-loved possessions will find the right home. So far, we have found that this approach has been favourably received and several of our pledgers have gone on to include a cash donation with their object.
3) Make the most of existing resources
By working cross-departmentally we have been able to raise awareness of legacies at the V&A. Piggy-backing on membership and marketing communications has saved on costs and increased our audience reach. Educating our curators and volunteers about the importance of legacies has equipped us with an army of front-line ambassadors to promote our cause further. Some volunteers now specifically mention legacy objects in their free guided tours.
4) Create a feeling of belonging
The feeling of belonging to an organisation is a powerful motivator for those leaving a gift in their Will, which is why we have recently created a legacy supporter group called the Henry Cole Circle. The aim of this group is to create a more personal relationship with our legacy pledgers and to allow us to thank them regularly for their generous commitment. We hope that by keeping them involved with our work and inviting them to the museum to hear from our experts we can create engaging experiences that will help keep our supporters connected to the Museum over their lifetime.
We hope that by enriching people’s lives through our exhibitions, publications, learning programmes, volunteering opportunities, special events and membership schemes, we can encourage people to feel part of our organisation. Legacies are a perfect way for people to give something back and acknowledge the joy they have experienced during their own life.
Arts organisations may be punching below their weight, but increasingly they are waking up to the size of the opportunity that legacy giving brings. With the legacy marketplace now worth £2.8 billion and government funding increasingly on the decline, legacies as a source of potential income are now more important than ever.
Written by Julia Brown, Head of Legacy Giving, V&A
Julia will be taking part in a panel discussion on how to adapt and evolve your legacy strategy at this year's Legacy Strategy Summit on 13 June 2019, London. To find out more and to book your place, visit https://legacystrategysummit.com/