Surviving and thriving with legacies

Kerys Sheppard, Head of Fundraising at Shelter Cymru, highlights why gifts in Wills are so important to the charity, celebrating legacy giving during Remember A Charity Week.

When you stop and think about what we need in our kit bag to survive the challenges of fundraising in a global pandemic – beyond a crystal ball, that is – there are a few essentials that spring to mind.

Certainly, it includes a diverse funding base, without too much reliance on any one income stream. It includes the flexibility to move and adapt. But perhaps above all, it underlines the need for a solid bank of reserve funds; something you can draw on when that rainy day comes and when your beneficiaries – and your charity – are more at risk than ever.

A pot that gives you the ability not only to keep services running, but to change tack, make the shift to digital, respond to new areas of need and the freedom to spend where that need is greatest. And that’s where legacies have been so important for us throughout the pandemic and why they remain such a core part of our fundraising strategy.

Remember A Charity Week, which is now in full swing, is always going to be a peak time for thinking about legacies, but the truth of it is that without gifts in Wills, the pandemic could have made life near impossible for us at Shelter Cymru.

Surviving the storm

Before the crisis hit, our annual turnover had grown to just under £4 million. We didn’t have a huge operational budget to spend on our fundraising, but things were in pretty good shape and we were growing our annual net income each year. We’ve always been conscious of the need to build up our reserves with core, unrestricted fundraised income and of how best to spend those funds to achieve most impact. But like so many charities, almost overnight, we found ourselves facing significant losses as fundraising events and channels simply shut down. Our reserves became a critical lifeline. Reserves which, over the years, had been built up through legacies.

Legacy income has grown steadily over time and currently accounts for around 25% of our voluntary net income, which is quite significant. Regardless of the size of the legacy, the biggest reason why they are so important to us is that this funding is almost always unrestricted, meaning we have the choice in how best to designate this income to where it’s really needed.

Legacies gave us something to fall back on when we were faced with a huge financial quandary. But were it not for one particular legacy, we might have really struggled to keep our vital support services going during lockdown.

Shelter Cymru’s legacy promotion as part of Remember a Charity Week

Mobilising our front-line services

A few years ago, one of our supporters told us he wanted to leave a gift to Shelter Cymru in his Will. That in itself is a rarity; legacies are often unknown for us until the very moment they land. But on this occasion, we had the chance to open up a conversation and talk about what mattered to him and the difference he wanted to make. When it came down to it, he just wanted to help as many people as he could. On his passing, his gift (which amounted to hundreds of thousands of pounds) went into a reserve fund, some of which was used to pilot a helpline. This helpline now employs 13 people and is often the first port of call for those in housing need in Wales.

Having this remote service already established meant that when COVID-19 came our way and we couldn’t physically get out into the community to deliver our face-to-face services, we were able to re-designate additional internal resource to the helpline. Ultimately, that legacy gave us the capability to pivot quickly and to ensure that we could continue to help people who were worried about their jobs, keeping their families safe, and losing their safe place of refuge – their home.

New challenges ahead

The pandemic has changed life for us all. People’s needs and circumstances are changing and our charity has to be strong enough for what comes next. Whether that’s the economic fallout, a rise in unemployment or even legislative changes, each will have an impact on the housing crisis and, in turn, the demand for our help.

Shelter Cymru is now in its 40th year, and we’re far from being able to say that homelessness in Wales is a thing of the past. People often come to us at crisis point and the reality is that the worst of the economic situation may well be yet to come. We need to be here long into the future. Legacies help ensure we can achieve that.

For us, a key component of legacy fundraising is demonstrating the impact of those gifts, regardless of their size. So, this Remember A Charity Week, that’s what we’re celebrating.

Legacy fundraising doesn’t need a massive financial outlay to succeed, but it does need to stay front of mind – visible on the website, in supporter emails and newsletters throughout the year. We’ll be using this year’s campaign resources to showcase the impact of legacies on people we help, sharing Elin’s story to highlight how the right help, at the right time, can be truly life-changing for those at risk of homelessness.

Without that elusive crystal ball, legacies are helping us to safeguard and strengthen our services for the years ahead as our fight for home continues. It is predicted that over £43bn will shift from one generation to another via legacies in the UK over the next decade alone.

It’s never too late to start those legacy conversations and build an income base that your charity’s very survival could depend upon in the future.

Find out more about how you can make more noise about legacies this Remember A Charity Week.

Kerys Sheppard is Head of Fundraising at Shelter Cymru.

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