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Legacies: an untapped income stream for UK arts organisations?

Legacy Foresight

In this guest blog, Meg Abdy, Director at Legacy Foresight shares insights on legacy fundraising for arts organisations. 

Legacy Foresight and Arts Quarter LLP recently teamed up to research legacy fundraising in the UK arts community, building on previous surveys in 2010 and 2012.

Meg Abdy, Legacy Foresight

We looked to explore current levels of investment in legacy fundraising – both human and financial – and went on to examine just how high a priority legacy fundraising is seen to be. We gained responses from over 100 organisations, ranging from prestigious international venues to much-loved community arts bodies.

Still punching below its weight

Gifts in wills are a vital source of income to UK charities – in 2015 some 40,000 people left charitable bequests, worth over £2.5bn. Legacy giving is growing, with the proportion of people leaving a charitable will rising from 4.3% of deaths in 1990 to 6.2% of deaths today[i]. However, despite the potential, it appears that arts organisations are still punching well below their weight in legacy income.

Our latest survey shows that while there have been some gains in terms of income and number of gifts, legacy giving – and fundraising – still tends to be concentrated into the hands of a few large, well-known organisations. Just 38% of the organisations we surveyed received any gifts in wills over the last three years. Of this 38%, 70% earned less than £25,000 p.a. in legacy income. Just five of the organisations surveyed received income averaging £250,000 or more p.a. and only one averaged over £1m p.a.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that only 27 arts organisations feature in the top 1,000 legacy charities[ii] and in 2014/15 these organisations received £14m in legacy income – well under 1% of the total market. To put it in context, the highest listed arts organisation, Art Fund, was ranked at number 82, flanked by St Barnabas Hospice (a local charity based in Worthing) and the Cinnamon Trust (a charity caring for the pets of elderly and terminally ill people).


Legacy promotion is hampered by lack of capacity

In terms of strategic focus and resource allocation, there is still much more to be done. 58% of the organisations we surveyed stated they were yet to encourage stakeholders and/or members of the public to leave gifts in their wills. Just one of the 116 organisations had a full-time team member dedicated to legacy activities, and 48% had no discrete staff allocated. One respondent commented that they had access to “one day every two months” … another  “about 10 minutes a year”!

Furthermore, 50% of respondent organisations had no budget for legacy fundraising in the current financial year, while most of those who promoted legacy giving spent less than £5,000 p.a. For many smaller arts organisations, the idea of legacy fundraising is well off the radar.


Strong relationships prevail

However, compared to other charities, arts organisations are significantly more likely to know the supporters leaving them a gift in their will. On average, two-thirds of the people leaving a bequest to arts organisations were known supporters, suggesting that within the arts community specifically, there are closer donor relationships than in the wider charitable community as a whole, where approximately half of all legacies come from people who are completely ‘unknown’ to the charity concerned. Of course, while it’s positive that arts organisations know so many of their legators,  they may be missing out on a larger group of supporters from their wider interest groups.

Strategic priority for the future

Over a third of the organisations surveyed saw legacy fundraising as an emerging activity and stated that it will play a key part of their work beyond next five years, with a further 7.5% believing that in the future it will provide them with more revenue than any other form of fundraising.

Looking ahead, changes in the wider legacy market bode well for arts organisations. Over the next ten years all legacy fundraisers will benefit from the sizeable but ageing Baby Boomer generation. Boomers are an affluent, active group and open to the idea of leaving a charitable legacy. If they support the arts during their lifetime (as indeed many do), there is the potential to engage them in the idea of helping something they love to carry on when they are no longer there.

We hope our findings will help arts fundraisers to benchmark their current performance against their peers and provide inspiration for those looking to generate new income through this vital form of giving. We invite fundraisers who are interested in finding out more about legacy fundraising, both in their sector and the wider market, to contact Legacy Foresight for a free copy of the full report.


Meg Abdy has been analysing the legacy market since 1994 when she coordinated the first ever legacy forecasting project, now known as Legacy Monitor. Today she is responsible for programme management and is a Director at Legacy Foresight. She has particular interests in in-memory giving, international markets and donor research.

[i] Legacy Monitor, 2016

[ii] Charity Commission Register of Charities

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