Last year, for the first time, the RNLI’s income from legacies (£135m) was more than double its total income from all other sources (£67m). John Bines, Fundraising Director at RNLI and speaker at the Legacy Strategy Summit on 14 June, explains how charities can nurture this extremely important asset…
At RNLI, we talk about our legacy income in certain ways. We say that two thirds of the lives we save are only saved because of legacies. That is around 375 lives a year, by the way. Whichever way you look at it, if it were not for legacies left to the RNLI, the risks associated with shipping, sailing, fishing, kayaking and swimming around our coasts and in our inland waters would be far, far greater.
Legacies are critically important to the RNLI’s work. I suspect that, as a reader of this article, you are already well aware of this. Further I suspect that your organisation, to a greater or lesser extent, is in a similar situation. This dependency has increased in recent years as demographic trends and strong growth in the property market have swelled legacy income. This, in turn, has created a degree of anxiety in some quarters. What do we do about our reserve levels? How long will this last? Are demographic trends starting to move in the wrong direction? What will Brexit and the accompanying uncertainty do to property prices? Sometimes, so perversely, it can start to feel like legacies are actually a bit of a problem…
Optimise legacy income
So, what to do? I believe that there’s another, and a better, way to talk about legacies. A way that can help to guide us through some of the challenges we face and lead us to a greater understanding of how legacies can be managed and ultimately optimised.
At the RNLI, we talk a lot about assets. We call our lifeboats assets. We call our lifeboat stations assets. At the end of 2017, our lifeboats and our lifeboat stations were valued, as assets, at £96m and £210m respectively. The total fixed assets in our balance sheet were valued at £455m. Now, at this point, I can sense some of you glazing over with all this talk of fixed assets and balance sheets. Bear with me. Conversely there may be some accountants out there whose juices are starting to flow. Welcome!
Treat legacies as an asset
At the RNLI, we have an asset which cannot be launched out to sea, an asset which cannot be visited, an asset which physically exists only as ink on paper, an asset which dwarfs, in value, our other assets, which are considerable. I conservatively estimate that the RNLI has an asset of around two billion pounds (£2bn!) of legacies in tens of thousands of wills in filing cabinets in solicitors’ offices across the UK and Ireland.
At the RNLI, we look after our assets. We have a small army of expert mechanics and engineers ensuring that our lifeboats perform at their highest level. I can only imagine the millions of hours our wonderful volunteers spend cleaning and tidying our boats and our lifeboat stations after the rigours of a ‘shout’. We work hard to ensure that our fleet of lifeboats, our launch capability and our lifeboat stations remain ‘state of the art’. Our assets are really well looked after.
Impact on the value of legacies
How, then, do we look after that most valuable of assets; that ink on paper in filing cabinets in solicitors’ offices?
- By promoting legacies to our existing supporters and external audiences we can increase the value of the asset
- By encouraging people to pledge, we can put ourselves in a position to better understand and manage the asset
- By taking care of our pledgers, we have the potential to increase the value of the asset; we can also impact the timing of receipt of the asset by better understanding the needs of pledger
- Solicitors are effectively the creators and the guardians of the asset – by delivering excellent service to them, their goodwill can only result in an increase in the value of the asset.
Most profoundly, for many of us, the asset is so vast that, before doing or saying anything, we need to consider the impact on its value.
So, the next time you’re asked about legacies by a colleague, a director or a trustee, I suggest you talk about an asset that can be, and indeed must be, protected, managed and developed.
John Bines is Fundraising Director at RNLI
John is chairing the Legacy Strategy Summit on 14 June 2018 in London. This one-day conference is designed to help charities reinforce their legacy strategies to capitalise on the soaring legacy income stream.