Bear with me. Kierkegaard the 19th Century theologian and Philosopher said “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”
It was 38 years ago when I was sitting at my desk as Director of Fundraising and Public Affairs at the Order of St John that I got a call from the CEO of CAF “I want you to join us and I have three positions. Choose the one you want”. I am not sure this had anything to do with talent; there were just very few young ambitious fundraisers and I was in the right place at the right time.
I took Director of Charity Services covering nine departments.
One of my first tasks was to look at the CAF research programme -led by a book called Charity Statistics. This sounded boring so I re-branded it “Charity Trends”. It analysed the whole philanthropy market: corporates, trusts, individuals and statutory. There was a big hole: legacy giving.
So, I started my research and contacted Smee & Ford – who had total legacy income figures but not a lot else. I was intrigued by the role of solicitors – so we did a survey. Results: solicitors are not influential in advising which charities their clients choose.
I was also planning the CAF annual conference (the biggest annual event for charities at the time) and presented the outcomes of the research.
My lifetime hero No 1 – David Ford
After my presentation David Ford (whose family had run Smee & Ford for over 100 years) introduced himself to me, and that turned into a lifetime friendship. David: big build, big brain, big humour, big wine drinker, big in generosity and awesomely talented in too many areas to list.
He died this year and I will miss him for ever.
In 1990 he was planning to retire but no family member wanted to follow in his footsteps so he said “I would love you to take over Smee & Ford when I retire – are you interested?”. Yes, I said without any hesitation. And for about12 years I ran this unique company.
But I had nothing to do – our Will readers read 1,000 Wills a day and reported them. So, I thought: “I wonder how it feels to be asked for a legacy: it is asking people to die”.
And so my journey of discovery started and still continues: asking stakeholders of charities how they feel about Wills and legacies. And even though I have now met over 34,000 charity supporters for about 400 charities in focus groups (which we call discovery days). I never stop learning. Donors, volunteers, staff and members are at the heart of my learning. And always will be.
Thank you, David. What a legacy you gave me.
My lifetime hero No 2 – Simone Joyaux
Having chaired the annual conferences of both the Chartered Institute of Fundraising and the International Fundraising Congress I have heard too many presentations! The presentations and most presenters turn into a blur.
But one stands out: iconoclastic, brilliant, earthy, honest, challenging and very different: Simone – she died this year.
Her widower Tom Ahern is possibly the greatest non-profit copywriter on the planet.
Simone did not light up a room. She set it on fire. Why? Because she never used slides, never read from a script – you just got Simone. You had to listen. She knew her stuff about every hidden corner of a fundraising strategy and the psychology behind every part of fundraising.
She never presented – she had audience conversations. There will never be another Simone but I pray there might be in the future. Most of us just follow the norm and head for PowerPoint. If we want to stand out: be different but with knowledge.
Thank you, Simone, for being different.
Lifetime Hero number 3 – Giulia Maria Crespi
I was running a legacy masterclass at the IFC in Holland. There was this rather obnoxious, old, Italian woman in the masterclass. Every minute or two she would just say “It won’t work in Italy” (Please read that with an Italian accent!). I got very angry and said “Oh yes it will. Please keep quiet. If you are not willing to learn then leave us”. She stayed.
About four weeks later I got a call . “It is Giulia Maria. You come to Italy. Choose a date” and she put the phone down. I chose a date feeling vey grumpy but I knew she was a trustee of a charity called FAI – the equivalent of the National Trust so it might prove an interesting visit. I was picked up at Milan airport by a man with a gun. Not what I expected. We drove to the Piazza del Duomo and entered her Palazzo. I now had (for three days) my own butler. This was the dream assignment.
Giulia Maria was not just a trustee but Founder and had bought and donated to FAI a large number of stunning properties. Dinner (for 20 people) was served on 17th Century silver. I discovered she was the third richest person in Italy and owned the Corriere della Sera. She also had cancer three times and was a leading authority on biodynamic farming methods. I was also lucky to visit twice her paradise: her private estate in North West Sardinia.
I have just found out she died last year aged 97.
“You were the first person in my life to tell me off and to tell me I was wrong” she told me when we met in Milan. The fact that she was (eventually) willing to change her mind, made me think “If she can, so can anyone”. Having worked in over 30 countries on legacy giving and Will writing, she taught me a big lesson: Believe in yourself, in your knowledge and be passionate. You can either be brave or a coward. Believe in yourself and in your prospects “doing it” and they will!
Nelson Mandela (another lifetime hero).
Nelson Mandela said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”
Many fundraisers, board members/trustees, staff and volunteers and some donors fear legacy giving.
Words in their brain link legacies to death and dying, a horrible legal document called a Will, complicated and (often unwanted) decisions about family and others.
This of course is all untrue: a Will is a fabulous document giving you freedom of choice for who inherits your lifetime assets. It offers peace of mind. And a legacy is a transaction-free way of giving which gives you a real kick at no cost.
Trustees – many are not my heroes
A turtle can only go forward if it sticks its neck out. But so often charity leaders keep their head in their shell because the income will arrive after their tenure. Bad leadership.
So, why has legacy income grown from £1.7 billion to £3.3 billion in just over a decade? Because legacy donors have understood the benefits of legacy giving faster than some charity leaders.
Legators are courageous and believe in the charity they invest their legacy in, without witnessing the impact. Trustees who recognise the long-term security gained by legacies are visionaries and courageous.
I am more passionate than ever about legacy giving. I am convinced the future is even more exciting than the past.
I might have to work until I am 85 (I have young children!) but every moment is filled with utter joy and excitement. And every day I will remember my heroes – which includes the clients who have the courage to believe in a great legacy future.