“Legacies have enabled us to do things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. They are vital to our future ambitions.”
Geoff Sweeney, Development Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, talks about the challenges of legacy fundraising in the arts and the ballet company’s evolution to embrace legacy fundraising as a core part of its fundraising strategy.
What has been your organisation’s experience of legacies at the Birmingham Royal Ballet?
We have been fundraising in legacies for the past decade. Our experience is relatively recent and has been nothing but positive.
We have moved from a place where the organisation didn’t really feel comfortable talking about legacies, to a place where we are much more confident and engaged in the importance of legacy promotion.
For our supporters, it is a natural extension of their relationship and support of the organisation and they are happy to engage in those legacy conversations.
How important do you think legacies are to the arts?
Up until recently, the arts didn’t have that much of a need to fundraise, but with all the funding cuts, we now have to earn much more of our income through philanthropy. That has meant that many organisations have been pushed into fundraising and legacies is an important part of that.
Certainly until five years ago, there was quite a lot of inexperience when it comes to fundraising in the arts.
We [Birmingham Royal Ballet] were slightly ahead of the curve as we have been doing this now for about ten years. Legacies are a key part of our overall fundraising mix and strategy.
What have legacies enabled Birmingham Royal Ballet to do?
For us they are incredibly important. They are the difference between delivering all the added value that we do. We still earn public subsidies and make money through ticket sales, but – increasingly – all our other projects are funded by generous legacy gifts. This has led to new community and school programmes, capital investment in our studio and more. All these things have been contributed to by people that have supported us in their Will.
Legacies have enabled us to do things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do and they are central to our future ambitions
What are the main challenges you face with legacies?
The challenges are that you can’t really predict when the income is going to come in. So for a charity of our size, not a large national organisation, we get peaks and troughs. We get nice surprises at key moments. Occasionally, some big legacies come across that are really transformational for the organisation.
The challenge is to create a steady volume of legacies that will mean it is an income stream that we can continually rely on.
Also, we can’t always qualify all the gifts of what people promise within their wills and this doesn’t give us the opportunity to talk about where their gift might make more impact.
How do you address this within your fundraising strategy?
We spend a lot of time communicating our needs and why legacies are so important.
We run a legacy giving circle to keep in touch with those that have expressed an interest in supporting us in their wills. This is where we can demonstrate our commitment to supporters, telling stories of what is being done with legacies, reassuring donors about how their gift will be will be stewarded. This is where we communicate that they will be remembered, they will have an impact and we celebrate that impact.
Typically the legacy giving circle might feature receptions where we invite supporters to meet with the top directors at the ballet company, our creative team and dancers, so that they can get a better insight, into what we do. It doesn’t’ have to be an expensive, glitzy event, but it is a great opportunity for them to learn more about how we work and the impact of legacy gifts.
This approach also means that senior members of staff understand the importance of legacies and that alone pays dividends.
What has been your experience of Remember A Charity?
We joined Remember A Charity in 2013 to be part of a much bigger campaign, gain confidence and normalise what was perceived as a difficult conversation both internally and amongst our supporters.
It’s worked well for us and last year’s Remember A Charity week was a real success. It was another opportunity for us to communicate with supporters about leaving gifts in wills. We had a good response to our ‘Words of Wisdom’ mailing campaign which gave us new supporter insights, deepened relationships, helped us qualify a number of legacy gifts and attract new pledges.
A particular highlight was that one gentleman responded by making an immediate gift of £5,000 because ‘he didn’t want to wait to die to do something meaningful!’
Find out more about Birmingham Royal Ballet.