CDE project 10 sec­tion 6: the pro­bate and lega­cy admin­is­tra­tive expe­ri­ence and approach

Written by
The Commission on the Donor Experience
April 22, 2017

The donor experience is complex, and there are a variety of experiences that donors may with a charity during their journey. From the initial thought and first contact through to appointing a solicitor, the experience needs to feel joined up and satisfying. For many, the first experience with a charity in terms of legacies may be as an executor or as a family member. How the charity deals with this important part of giving can make a tremendous difference to future giving cased on the way in which donors and prospective donors experience this sensitive time.

Legacy teams report a sense that the challenging of wills by connected families is on the increase, possibly in line with more people leaving gifts and possibly due to media coverage. This can be countered to some extent by creating a more donor-friendly environment and educating supporters earlier to avoid any misunderstandings. 

Much progress has been made to ensure the experience at probate is a positive one, but there can often be a disconnect, which may sometimes be of the charities’ making. Separating the legacy administration from fundraising can create this disconnect. Equally, charities need to protect themselves from claims that entail challenges or defence. A balance needs to be struck. 

The Fundraising Regulators’ Code of Practice on Legacy Fundraising (formerly the IOF Codes of (practice) provides a framework to ensure legacy fundraising takes place without undue influence being exerted. The principles of the code are presented below:

a. A fundraiser MUST NOT* exert undue influence on a potential legator.

b. Organisations MUST ensure that all legacy fundraising activity is done whilst considering:

  • the duty of trustees to optimise the benefit to the fundraising organisation;
  • the potential legator’s freedom to provide for her/his family and others; and
  • the sensitivities of the potential legator and his/her family and friends.

c. Organisations MUST ensure fundraisers do not provide legal advice.

The ILM (Institute of Legacy Management) was established in 1999 as the membership body for legacy professionals – those responsible for the successful and sensitive administration of donors’ final gifts to charitable organisations. Its purpose is to ensure that every donor’s charitable legacy achieves its greatest potential. This body, along with the Institute of Fundraising and others, has helped to improve the professionalism of legacy administration. It has done so against a backdrop of families increasingly challenging wills, possibly in line with more people leaving a gift to charity and possibly due to media coverage. This can be countered to some extent by creating a more donor-friendly environment and educating supporters earlier to avoid misunderstandings.

Therefore, when asked about this dimension from the donors’ experience viewpoint, legacy practitioners identified the following five core principles or actions:

1. Whenever possible, combine the fundraising, marketing, communications and legal aspects of legacy fundraising so that they operate in a holistic and donor-centred way

  • Bringing these together creates a shared purpose supported by a donor-led philosophy
  • A common behaviour emerges, with a common donor-friendly journey and approach
  • The donor has a joined-up experience

2. Create a charter or statement of principles that are donor-focused for everyone to work on concerning legacies

  • A charter or statement that puts the donor first creates a platform and self-guiding rules for working together
  • They can be seen by donors and will encourage and engage them further

3. Build a welcome programme and stewardship model for donors’ executors of wills

  • This is a practical way to engage donors in the experience. An executor has great influence, and this is an opportunity to influence them positively
  • Drive the legal process alongside a ‘customer’ or ‘donor’ journey
  • Acknowledging and helping families and executors builds trust 

4. Involve and engage executors, solicitors and partners in the work of the charity and invite them to events

  • Those involved in the probate process should be looked after and influenced in a positive way as potential supporters and partners
  • They act as powerful allies and advocates if they have a positive experience
  • A negative experience can be disastrous

5. Ensure that all communication, including legal and probate content, is donor friendly 

  • This ensures that all communications use the learning and insights presented in earlier sections of this report
  • It is more donor friendly and provides a consistent experience
  • It minimises conflict and maximises future support

Click on the image below to view project 10 in full - PDF format.

About the author: The Commission on the Donor Experience

The CDE has one simple ideal – to place donors at the heart of fundraising. The aim of the CDE is to support the transformation of fundraising, to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money. It is based on evidence drawn from first hand insight of best practice. By identifying best practice and capturing examples, we will enable these to be shared and brought into common use.

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