The Fundraiser speaks to Eifron Hopper, head of legacies at RNIB, about the realities of legacy marketing
How did you become a legacy manager?
I joined The Children's Society in 1993 because they wanted a lawyer to handle their legacy administration. I thoroughly enjoyed working in the voluntary sector and soon I was heading up a team of legacy fundraisers as well. Ever since then I have been passionate about ensuring that legacy administration and marketing work together.
What has been the greatest challenge you have faced in your role?
Persuading people that we can be trusted to talk to ‘their’ supporters, service users and donors about legacies. I believe that good legacy marketing is about getting appropriate messages out to as many people as possible, as often as possible, using all appropriate channels. Once you can demonstrate to colleagues that you can do this sensitively and show them the benefits legacies bring to the organisation, it can open up whole new audiences for the legacy message – but it's not easy.
What is your greatest success as a legacy manager to date?
Raising the profile of legacies in the charities I have worked for and integrating legacies into the whole life of the organisation. I have tried to do this everywhere I have worked so that everyone knows how important legacies are to us, as well as knowing the role they can play themselves in helping to promote legacy giving.
At what point do you typically find out that a gift that has been left to RNIB?
Our first intimation of a legacy is usually the Smee & Ford notification service or a letter from the executors. But we do have many pledgers who tell us while they are still alive that they have left us a legacy.
It is crucial to bear in mind the importance of looking after pledgers. It's a big thing they are doing and they need to be continually reassured that it's the right thing.
What have been the quickest and the longest cases?
In my first job we had a case that had been going on for over 20 years. It wasn't a life interest (they can often lie dormant for much longer) but a rather sad case in which one solicitor dealing with it had several breakdowns along the way, and another died during the administration.
In cases in which we share in the remainder of the estate it is not unusual for us to receive a cheque with the first letter from the trustees' solicitor telling us that the life tenant has died. These can often be cheques for quite large sums so, to the uninitiated, they can appear as pennies from heaven.
How have you seen the legacy admin and manager role change during your career?
When I first came into the sector we were still trying to frighten people into making a will by warning them about the problems of intestacy. Fortunately, things have moved on and now we spend much more time telling people what good things they can achieve by leaving us a legacy.
Once upon a time legacy admin was regarded as just ‘banking and thanking’. These days most charities are more aware of the need to be professional and proactive in their legacy admin function, which means that we often have to deal with the perception that we cannot be both charitable and professional.
What is the best piece of advice that you would give to other legacy managers?
I have a quotation on my office wall about being "wise as serpents and gentle as doves". It reminds me that in both legacy administration and legacy marketing we should behave decently and sensitively at all times, but we should be no pushover when it comes to standing up for the best interests of our charity and its beneficiaries.
How do you foresee the environment changing over the next year or more?
Legacy income is determined by two things: number of notifications and value of legacies. The immediate future looks pretty grim as falls in asset values continue to depress legacy incomes. In the medium term too, there are suggestions that the global financial crisis will make people think twice before leaving a legacy to charity and concentrate more on their families. On top of that we have the changing demographics of legators, as baby boomers come increasingly into the picture. All this will put the onus on each of us to work together to increase the size of the legacy cake and make an ever more persuasive case for leaving our charity a slice of it.
Eifron Hopper is head of legacies at RNIB