Tough love message to charities from Thursfields: ‘It’s time to get serious about legacies’

A top third sector lawyer at Thursfields Solicitors has called for charities not only to analyse the impact of COVID-19 on their usual fundraising methods but also to get serious about legacies.

The tough talking comes from Katherine Ellis, a senior associate solicitor in the Charities and Communities Sector team.

She explained that she understood that both the pandemic and the recession resulting from the recent lockdown had created “undoubted hurdles” for the charity sector.

“The reality is many charities currently have concerns about how they will bridge the gap between now and the end of COVID-19 and the recovery of the economy.

“The tragic thing is that at least a very good part of the answer is already staring them in the face, because legacy income is the key.

Before joining Thursfields, Katherine spent a number of years working in-house for two large national charities, initially the veterinary charity PDSA, and more recently the British Heart Foundation, managing complex legacy issues and contested estate matters.

She advised: “Charities need to be looking to the resources they have at their fingertips now, and unlocking the money that’s always been there but which has been long overlooked.

“I don’t wish to sound harsh, I am passionate about the work, success and valuable services provided by charities of all sizes, which is the reason for my ‘tough love’ message but many charities have often been simply employing what’s widely referred to within the sector as ‘banking and thanking’, and as a result they have been missing simple but effective methods to generate greater levels of income to help see them through the current situation.”

Katherine continued: “Want evidence? When it comes to fundraising income from gifts in Wills, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) is far and away top of the table, and it’s no coincidence that they have one of the biggest and most specialist legacy management teams of all UK charities.

“Beyond that, RNLI, BHF, Macmillan and RSPCA lead the way – again, each with specialist teams.

“At these charities their people are not only specialists in the law around legacy administration and management, but they have the skills to maximise those gifts, whilst maintaining positive public relations, and work hand-in-hand with their legacy marketing counterparts.”

Katherine predicted that many medium-sized or smaller charities might be thinking “that’s all well and good, but the legacy income success of those charities’ is because they are the third sector’s big hitters”.

But she said: “I can assure them that this is not the case. I’m not saying smaller charities’ legacy income will suddenly secure legacy income at the level   which the likes of CRUK enjoy but what I can tell them is that if they give me an hour of their time to look through a handful of their residuary legacy files, at the end of that hour I could provide them with simple but effective ways to secure a legacy gift of a greater value than they initially expected.”

Katherine, also a member of the West Midlands committee for the Institute of Fundraising, added: “The funds are sitting under the nose of charities, they are there to be had, and having worked for those big sector big hitters, I can show them how.”

For more information about legacies, charities can email Katherine Ellis at or call her on 0121 647 5419.

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