Communicating with charity beneficiaries: 5 top tips

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Charities and the legal sector will often come at estate administration from a very different perspective. Understanding why that might be, as well as charities’ regulatory and governance requirements, can all help to improve these key relationships and to find efficient and effective ways of working.

And that’s exactly what we set out to explore in our recent Campaign Supporter webinar.  Matthew Lagden, CEO of the Institute of Legacy Management (ILM), and Gaynor Lanceley, Head of Legacy Administration at Shakespeare Martineau shared their top tips on how to communicate effectively with charity beneficiaries about gifts in Wills.

1) Be aware of charities’ governance requirements

Charities are required to navigate a complex maze of red tape in order to satisfy the requirements of both the Charity Commission and of their auditors, which mean that they have a duty to ensure funds are claimed and accounted for in a timely way.  

This includes maximising the value of assets disposed of on their behalf, making best use of tax exemptions (both in relation to Capital Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax on the estate), and to demonstrate they have done so to their auditors.

Gaynor and Matthew encouraged openness and dialogue, encouraging solicitors and Will-writers to keep charities in the loop wherever possible, giving timely updates on the estate. If charity beneficiaries are asking more questions than expected, there is usually a reason for that, so a quick call to discuss the situation is often the best way to ensure there is no misunderstanding and to give an outline of the likely next steps and timeline.

2) Identify and alert the charity of any potential issues as early as possible

Most probate cases run smoothly, but a small proportion will encounter some kind of issue – from disputes over the validity of the Will, to delays and complexities associated with the selling of properties. For a large charity this can mean dealing with hundreds of difficult cases each year. Alerting them early to any potential challenges means you can work collaboratively to find a resolution, saving you time and helping to prevent a frustrating to-and-fro of correspondence.

Timing is crucial, particularly when it comes to particularly sizeable legacies, which can have a transformative impact on the charity and could influence key investment decisions. Understanding when funds are likely to arrive helps charities manage cashflow and improve their forecasting, enabling them to plan ahead and budget for the future - a key factor for charities looking to maximise their efficiency.

3) Be aware that some gifts will be more difficult for charities to accept

Charities are grateful for all gifts, no matter their size and shape. However, some gifts will be more difficult than others for charities to accept. For example, they may be too hard to dispose of or selling/maintaining them will in fact cost the charity more than the gift is worth. For example, an ivory statue could cause problems for a charity with either legal issues or going against their ethical guidelines (depending on the age of the item).

Similarly, particularly valuable items such as a violin may need to be accompanied by care guidelines and may require funding to enable the charity to properly maintain them. And restrictive guidelines asking charities to use funds for a specific purpose, which the charity cannot meet when the Will comes into effect decades later, can also prove challenging.

So if a charity is unable to accept a gift in that form or requests an opportunity to discuss or explore alternative options, this is unlikely to be that they are don’t want or need the funds, but simply that they are keen to find a way forward that meets their own requirements, and is in keeping with the supporters’ wishes.

4) Remember that charity staff will have varying levels of legal understanding

Many charity staff within financial or legacy administration teams you deal with will be qualified and well versed in legacy management, but this won’t always apply, particularly when dealing with charities that are new to legacies and haven’t been named in Wills before.

It is therefore best to communicate by email wherever possible, and to be patient and allow sufficient time when it comes to any required decision making on the part of the charity, as the individual you are speaking with may need to double check with colleagues or seek other advice before proceeding. Try to keep the language in all correspondence easy to follow, minimising jargon and manage expectations in case they are unfamiliar with the process.

5) See charity communications as a networking opportunity

Charities will often seek out corporate support, and in turn this can offer you a great opportunity to build relationships and attract more clients. A positive relationship can be a win-win for business development – with potential opportunities to ask for your details to be featured in digital marketing collateral, or to raise your profile by offering support at a Q&A session for the charity’s staff and/or supporters.

The continued support of legal professionals is a key reason why legacy income is increasing. Via consistent prompting, and by joining with Remember A Charity through initiatives such as our Campaign Supporter scheme, and participation in Will-writing schemes, you are helping public awareness and appetite for gifts in Wills to continue to grow - with this form of giving being up 43% in the last decade.
Thank you – without you, this wouldn’t be possible!